some suggestions for new puerh drinkers - shu
Just some of my personal thoughts. The writing focuses on general suggestions, but not specific products. But if I can find some photos, I can recommend a few cheap and ok Asian grocery puerh products that people may take as a “test drive” to experience puerh.
Feedbacks and sharing of your thoughts will be highly appreciated!
First, I have to admit that I have very limited knowledge about puerh, and I am not learning fast. I think what makes me qualified to give new puerh drinkers advice is, I am not crazy about puerh – This may sound a little illogical. But what I mean is, just because I don’t have a broad love of puerh (I don’t like most shu and I don’t like a lot of sheng), my advice might be useful to those who don’t have a broad love of puerh either. Sometimes when I recommend a puerh to someone, I would say, even I love it – if I can enjoy it, probably you can too :D
I will start with shu, because most shu tastes stinky to me. Therefore, if a shu tastes good to me, chances are most people would like it.
1. Select a shu – most of the suggestions here only make sense when the products considered have clear information about production year and manufacturer. Such information is almost essential, but more than a few products in the market don’t have such information. If a product is just named “puerh” without additional production information, then there is no way to give any general advice on it.
I select shu with very conservative criteria. I look forward to expanding my horizon (mostly by getting free or cheap samples instead of making bold purchases). But I suggest beginners to use very conservative criteria in choosing puerh. Here are some criteria:
1a. I would look for shu products of about 3-years in age, or older. It’s not that all younger shu products are stinky. I’ve had one or two new shu that are not stinky at all (which left me happily puzzled). But we are talking about being conservative here. Many products need a year or two to shed off the stinky flavor from deep fermentation.
1b. Many people believe, when you look for a shu, don’t even bother with small factories, go for the large factory products. I do believe there are some very good shu products from small factories. But I agree it’s a safe way to go for the large factory products first. A most conservative list of large factories would include (and their products are widely available in western market):
- Da Yi – probably the most popular factory for shu
- Xia Guan
- CNNP – It’s the factory for some classic products. Unlike Da Yi and Xia Gua, CNNP does contract out a lot of their products (but not for some classics such as 7581), which is bad. But there is still the quality control, and usually when a product is bad, it’s bland tasting, not of worse problems.
- This list can expand with a few more factories, but that’s where debates may start. For people who have just started exploring shu, I think Da Yi products can already keep them busy for quite a while.
1c. It’s probably common sense now – you don’t have to buy a whole cake or tuo to experience a product. Sampling is almost essential.
Finding a good shu Pu-erh is difficult because they are rare. Good shu Pu-erh requires quality base leave and a skilled and experienced tea master to administer the fermentation (wo dui) process.
The reasons why most shu Pu-erh taste stinky or flat are that most shu Pu-erh are made from inferior leaves source – i.e. leaves from plantation bushes and/or leaves from the summer harvest, which is the least flavorful harvest of the year. Second, the fermention process of the leaves in making shu Pu-erh is much like “cooking.” The temperature control of the leave pile and the timing to flip the leaves pile need to be very precise. Otherwise, the leaves could be under or over “cooked.” If the tea master who administers the “wo dui” is not skilled, the resulting tea will be compromised, thus giving the tea an undesireable odor. The water used to spray on the leaves during the “wo dui” is also a factor that can affect the resulting tea. Some factories use their local mountain spring water while others use water from the tap. What it comes down to is how much care the manufacturer is willing to give to its products. While it is true that most newly made shu Pu-erh require a couple of years to shed the unpleasant odor from fermentation, a well and carefully made brand new shu Pu-erh can be very drinkable immediately.
Drinking a good shu Pu-erh is very satisfying – it’s smooth, sweet and easy on your stomach. I like aged shu-Pu-erh (those that are over 10 years old) and those made from the wild leaves. Because the wild leaves inherently are more complex in its flavor, they add more liveliness and characters to the taste profile of the tea.
I agree that you should always sample before you buy a cake.
2. Brewing a shu – whether gongfu style or a big teapot is used, I think following tips may help:
2a. Rinse the tea generously. Rinse the tea with boiling water for 10-15 seconds, and discard the water. If rinsing once is not enough, then twice. Some shu doesn’t require rigorous rinse, but even in that case, a thorough rinse will not exhaust its flavor. When you know a specific puerh better, you will have more precise sense how much to rinse it. But at the beginning, rinsing the tea generously can reduce the off flavor of fermentation as much as possible, and therefore you can have a more pleasant first encounter with the tea. :D
2b. Start with low leaf:water ratio and increase it in future sessions if necessary. When using gongfu style, I would start with 3-4g tea in a 120ml vessel, and 5 seconds for each of the initial infusions. When using a large teapot, I would start with less amount of tea than what I would normally use for red tea, and add more boiling water whenever the teapot is less than 1/3 full. If the tea liquor looks like dark soy sauce, then probably less tea leaves or shorter infusions should have been used.
Thanks for writing this and posting it here, I found it very informative.
I came across these great pu-erh pages today:
Anyone have any good ideas for a daily Shu Pu-erh that is pleasant tasting ( I prefer pu-erhs, more on the floral/earthy side) and good for the stomach!! I just got a Yixing teapot that I would like to dedicate to Shu puerh’s!! How long before a sheng pu-erh becomes “ripe”? Any suggestions/recommendations??
Misty Peak Teas (Nicholas) should join this topic. I do believe he knows his Pu-erh. I have yet to try a single cup of Pu-erh tho I am very interested to know more ^^
Firstly, lets discuss Shou Chaa.
This tea is far more interesting and romantic than that of its counterpart, Sheng Chaa(Green/Raw Pu’er Tea). Shou Chaa is the Pu’er that gets most first interested in Pu’er, or perhaps even tea. The wonderful story of the aging and cellar storage and horseback rides across Tibet; the odd taste and smell and interesting benefits that so many claim.
The sad truth of this tea is that it is much more often of poor quality than of any kind of quality that could benefit anyone. Many of the vendors in the West understand the curiosity of their customers and buy a product that is as entry-level Pu’er. This Shou Chaa is one that we can love, or hate, and very often we drink it in order to acquire the taste for it and to reap in the benefits of this “aged” tea. The dark “soy sauce” look is sign #1 of a poorly processed Shou Chaa. In China they have a saying, “Do not drink Shou Chaa until after the fifth steep”, we couldn’t agree more! There are hundreds of other indicators of poor quality, some I list on my website www.mistypeakteas.com. But understand that poor quality green tea or poor quality white tea is just not to your standards of taste; but poor quality Shou Chaa is dangerous and often contains mold and harmful bacteria.
This is NEVER aged Tea, Shou is a Chinese word meaning COOKED. If you have a green Pu’er Tea(Sheng Chaa) and a Black Pu’er Tea(Shou Chaa) side by side, they could be extremely, vastly, different in taste/looks/smell, but be picked from the tree the same day. Its an artificial process that Menghai, and demand, in the 70’s created to replicate the TRUE Aged Pu’er.
Aged Raw Tea, truly called "Lao Da Sheng Chaa(aged raw Pu’er-Not Shou Chaa), is often hundreds or thousands of dollars per Bing(cake/disc). It is of the finest craftsmenship and, MOST importantly, the finest raw materials. The composting method of the Shou Chaa creates the flavor much more than the quality of the leaves at times. There can be “good” Shou Chaa, but, if you can, invest in good Sheng Chaa and age it, or buy AGED Sheng Chaa(at least 10 years or so).
We could go on and on and about this, but lets answer the question. The best Pu’er, and the best tea, to drink daily is that of Sheng Chaa, preferably from Yiwu. The big leaves of the ancient trees allow for the most humble and exquisite teas on the market. Tea originated in this region and the oldest tea trees in the world still remain here. You are diving into a new world of tea when you sit with Sheng Chaa. Anyone living in the large Province of Yunnan ONLY drinks Sheng Chaa, and few drink Shou Chaa, as they “save that tea for their later years.”
Allow Sheng Chaa to lift you, calm you, humble you, delight you, interest you, and bring meaning to the ordinary. The beauty of this tea is its ability to be greatly enjoyed today, and to be a priceless pleasure in 10+ years. Shou Chaa does NOT get better with age, it may even do the opposite. If you are interested in the aged teas, buy aged teas.
Sheng Chaa Pu’er is said to be the first tea ever enjoyed, let us be interested enough to keep doing so.
There is loads more info on our site, but feel free to message me if you have more questions to.