If you like beer, then Belgium, with its dizzying array of spectacular ales, is the place for you.
If you actually move there, as we did, then initially it feels as though you are the proverbial kid who has been given the keys to the chocolate factory, and been told to get stuck in, and fill their boots.
After a while, however, the novelty wears off, and you make the “whizz-bang” beers a weekend indulgence.
If you fancy an intoxicating beverage during the week, you tend to side with one of the more ordinary, workaday, unglamorous brews. Back in the day, Jupiler was my weapon of choice.
Which brings me to Pu-erhs in general, and this tea in particular.
Pu-erh tea belongs to a class of teas known as post-fermented teas, known in Chinese as Hei Cha, which translates as dark, or somewhat confusingly, black tea. What is known as black tea in the West is known in China as red tea, or Hong Cha, due to the finished tea liquor’s colour.
Pu-erh is as complex and vast a world as Belgian ales. The variety of teas on offer is mind blowing. When you start to get to grips with the subject, it’s hard to know where to begin. The Wikipedia page is probably as good a place as any.
Until relatively recently, Pu-erh was almost unknown in the West, but nowadays is becoming increasingly popular, perhaps as a consequence of its alleged health-giving properties, particularly claims that regular drinking can help reduce weight.
This particular tea is a product of the China Tuhsu Guangdong tea import and export Corporation, and is sold under the “Golden Sail” brand name. At the time of writing I paid 30 Swedish Crowns for a ½lb. / 227 gram packet.
I’ve read elsewhere that this tea is probably made by taking smaller leaf from lowland tea gardens, wet piling them with the Wò Dūi method to produce a “ripened” or Shou Pu-erh, and then at some point in the manufacturing process giving it a little CTC ( Crush, tear, curl ) attention, resulting in the smaller tea “pellets” similar to a lot of the black loose leaf tea on the market today.
This means that it is never going to have the complexity or depth of flavour you would expect from even a ripened / Shou Pu-erh in cake form, let alone a naturally aged “raw” / Sheng Pu-erh cake.
But, as was the case with my Jupiler, I have a nostalgia driven fondness for it. After reading about this mysterious and somewhat elusive type of tea, I happened across it in a Chinese supermarket in this particular form. I tried it, liked it, and it became one of my regular teas.
So, no matter how many expensive or rare Pu-erhs I go on to sample in my tea drinking career, this will always be my first Pu-erh, and will always be one I return to whenever I want a quick and easy Pu-erh fix with a meal.
This is a tea that works best steeped Western style, I find. My method is to steep 2½ teaspoons of it in a 500ml teapot, using water fresh off a 100°C rolling boil. I use a large paper tea filter.
Brewing up this way, it’s good for 2 infusions. The first infusion is for 2 minutes, with the second at 2½ minutes.
It also works to steep it Asian style, too, but not in a gaiwan, which I find a little tricky due to the small size of the prepared leaf. This makes it particularly hard to keep the leaf in the gaiwan when decanting the tea out into a tea pitcher, which frequently clogs up the tea strainer.
So, if I want to steep this tea Asian style, I use my Samadoyo E-01 teapot, with a 5g load going into the infusion chamber.
Using freshly boiled water, you can comfortably get 5 or 6 quick 5-10 second infusions out of this tea. The clean-up is slightly trickier than with larger leaf teas, but the filter cleans up after a good rinse under running water.
As I say above, the taste is not anything near as complex as you’d get from any Pu-erh compressed cake made from whole leaf, but it’s a good enough drink, nevertheless.
It still gives those earthy, mushroomy, clean, “forest floor after a rain-shower”, umami flavours associated with Pu-erh.
The tea liquor on early infusions is quite dark, a bronze colour bordering on black…
Subsequent steepings see the colour change to a pleasant red….
As you might expect, it pairs well with robust flavours, especially if the meal is a heavy, fatty one. This is why Pu-erh is often drunk as an accompaniment to a Dim sum meal.
Perhaps my fondness for it makes me overlook this tea’s flaws, but for all that it’s good enough to drink with food, or season a teapot with.
Also, if you’re simply looking to try Pu-erh, and are a bit intimidated by the choices available, or unsure how to hack lumps off of a scary looking compressed cake, then steeping this loose leaf tea could be a good, cost effective introduction to the subject.