some suggestions for new puerh drinkers -- SHENG

I hope Gingko will forgive me. I have taken her suggestions for new puerh drinkers, SHU, and modified them for sheng. There is some material added, too. I worked this up for my meetup group’s discussion board, then decided to share it here. Gingko, let me know what you think … :)

Anyone can open a bottle of expensive wine and it tastes great (decanting considerations aside). The quality of a tea experience, however (assuming you start with good tea and good water), depends to a great extent on the person brewing it.

A lot of people taste pu-erh and decide once is enough. The reason? Either they have started the pu-erh journey with the wrong type of pu-erh for a pu-newbie, or the tea has been incorrectly prepared.

Steeping pu-erh is a lot like steeping oolong. If you have no experience with getting 5 or more good steeps from a well-made oolong, you are ill-equipped to correctly prepare pu-erh tea. And if you are steeping good oolong or pu-erh tea just once, well ….. I have to say, that is a sad and sorry shame.

Before steeping, many sheng puerh’s need to be rinsed once or twice. Pour hot water to cover the tea, leave on a few seconds, and drain the water off. How long is a few seconds? Usually 10 to 30 seconds. You will determine how long, and whether to rinse once or twice, from experience. Some people like to let the pu-erh “rest” a minute or two after rinsing, before the first steep, to allow the leaves to begin to open.

For young (< 10 years) raw/sheng pu’er, I would experiment with cooler water as well as boiling, and see what you prefer. If you just want a good tasting result, cooler water (and smaller amount of tea) may give better results; if you want to stress the tea to see whether it’s good, or if you have a higher tolerance for bitterness or astringency, boiling water may be better.

Still want to brew sheng pu-erh? Here’s some advice from Gingko at Life-in-Teacup.

Some suggestions for new puerh drinkers — for “sheng” (green/raw ) puerh

This writing focuses on general suggestions, but not specific products. There are a few cheap and ok Asian grocery puerh products that people might take as a “test drive” to experience puerh.

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

1. Selecting a sheng puerh. 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 sheng 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. Look for sheng products of about 3-years in age, or older. It’s not that all younger sheng products are bitter and astringent. I’ve had some new sheng that was hardly bitter and astringent at all (which left me happily puzzled). But we are talking about being conservative here. Many raw products need several years for the less agreeable tastes to begin maturing into sweeter, yet complex, flavors.

1b. To be careful, go for the large-factory products first. Many people believe, when you look for a puerh, don’t even bother with small factories, go for the large factory products. I do believe there are some very good products from small factories. A most conservative list of large factories would include (and their products are widely available in western market):

Menghai “Da Yi”– Possibly the most popular factory.
Douji (or Dou Ji) — Brightest rising star in sheng puerh.
Xia Guan — Another classic brand, and their small tuos are easy to collect.
CNNP – It’s the factory for some classic products.

Unlike Da Yi, Dou Ji, and Xia Guan, CNNP does contract out a lot of their products, which is less than ideal (but they don’t for some of their classic cakes). But there is still the quality control, and usually when a product is bad, it’s merely bland-tasting, not 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 sheng, I think Da Yi products can already keep them busy for quite a while.

1c. Sampling is almost essential. You don’t have to buy a whole cake or tuo to experience a product. Most vendors who sell a lot of puerh will sell samples, especially for their higher-priced products.

2. Brewing a sheng – whether gongfu style or a big teapot is used, I think following tips may help:

2a. Rinse the tea; the younger the tea, the more rinsing. Rinse the tea with heated water for 10-15 seconds, and discard the water. If rinsing once is not enough, then twice. Some sheng doesn’t require rinsing, 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 soften the flavor of a sheng as much as possible, and therefore you can have a more pleasant first encounter with the tea. However, for an expensive sheng for which you have only a sample, you may want to taste every drop.

2b. Start with low leaf:water ratio and increase it in future sessions if necessary. When using gongfu style, I would start with 2-3g tea in a 120ml vessel, and 5 seconds for each of the initial infusions. The older your sheng puerh is, the more likely that you will be able to increase the leaf:water ratio.

8 Replies

thanks – very good information here!

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Thank for the great information, it’s very helpful.

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Pamela, I enjoy reading it! We could form a writing team :-D

When selecting sheng, I do use very different criteria from those used for shu. For shu, I tend to stick to large factories. But for young sheng, I tend to stay away from them.

Gingko, how nice to hear from you! Would you care to mention a few names of the smaller factories which you prefer for selection of younger sheng? I’ve seen these names on your Life in Teacup site (did i manage to pick out the actual factory names?):
1. Mang Fei
2. Guan Zi Zai
3. Bu Lang Mountain
4. Da Dian

Pamela, it’s extremely hard to recommend small factories, because there are so many of them. Many of them operate in small scales and don’t make much tea each year. Eventually one has to rely on tasting a lot of samples.

Dou Ji mentioned in your writing is a bright star of small factory. It’s relatively new but has gained reputation very fast.

Guan Zi Zai is another fast growing one.

Mang Fei and Bu Lang are names of tea regions, and many producers make tea from these regions.

Da Dian is a relatively new one. I like it very much but it’s still unknown to a lot of people.

And there are many, many more. Currently I just taste whatever tea I could bump into, and decide whether I want to stock up based on the taste. But there are a lot more samples than I could ever finish tasting. So I would just let faith take me to teas, and make decisions based on what I’ve tasted :-D

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Very nice posting, with good advice! I wish I had this information before I first tried pu’erh tea. Now that it has been a few years, I laugh at my first efforts, and am glad that there are some good tea people out there that gave me their pearls of wisdom. If you do buy pu’erh tea from an Asian Market — don’t be intimidates, and ask for advice. I found that almost every market has at least one person who is a bona fide tea aficionado. And they may know more about the pu’erh’s they carry than some random salesperson in a big mall tea store. I have been lucky that way, and was even treated to my first gong fu tea experience from a young man who came from Yunnan and was so glad to find someone to share a cup of tea with. :)

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Missy said

Thank you for sharing! I’ve been researching pu’eh tea a bit. It seems pretty interesting. I have to say I am intimidated by it a bit. I feel I need a bit more experience to fully understand what I might like or not. I was also intimidated because it seemed like a mysterious ritual was involved in the preparation. Your guide really makes it seem less complicated. I’m glad you took the time to put your thoughts out here. :D

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