And there we go. The second steep completely opened up the leaves and a much better cup results. Why do tuocha get packed so tightly? Are they “superior” in some way to fermented pu-erh which isn’t pressed?
I don’t think it’s about superiority. It all comes down to storage and trying to preserve the leaves for as long as possible. If you’re not going to drink a piece of pu’er for years and years, it might as well be packed tightly. This way, even if you move it around over decades, it won’t be as easily damaged. However, it’ll also age more slowly (less leaves exposed to less oxygen).
Loose pu’er is easy for ready drinking and ages faster. However, if it’s not going to be used for years, you’re likely going to end up with a good portion of your stock turning to dust and fannings at the bottom of your jar/what-have-you. The leaves are more exposed, more delicate, more easily damaged.
Pressed pu’er is more traditional just because it was meant to be traded..traveling over long distances in journeys that could take years. Also, the more tightly packed, the less volume the cargo takes up.. the more you can pack on your bags. Tea isn’t traveling by horseback anymore, but it still has a long international journey to get from Yunnan to North America.
So in part tradition, in part practicality, with a healthy does of global trade.
A big sack of toucha is probably a pretty good balance of the benefits of loose vs bings. They’re not going to fall apart, but you can also just take a little bit at a time (just one head) without damaging the integrity of the whole.
Then again, they don’t need to be so tightly packed. That really only comes from hydrolic presses. Toucha’s generally only come from bigger, more industrialized factories, since a smaller traditional one would probably prefer to put their leaves in a more traditional brick.
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