Having read about instant Pu-erh tea paste (Cha Gao) in a book I have, I thought it sounded like something that would be interesting to try.
This ancient method of producing a concentrated resin from tea leaves was lost after the end of the Qing Dynasty in 1912, but recent advances in technology mean that tea paste production is once again viable.
To use the paste one simply dissolves it in hot water. I’ve seen people steep larger pieces in a gaiwan gongfu style until all the paste has been used up, but with smaller bricks such as I have here you just let the paste dissolve completely and then drink the result.
This method of preparing tea also struck me as potentially very useful for when we are out travelling. No need to have any special equipment to hand – just a cup, some hot water, and a Cha Gao brick. I do worry, though, what some people might think if they see you unwrapping a small, foil parcel containing a resin-like substance…
I found out that Yunnan Sourcing stock Cha Gao when I was there ordering some Liu Bao, and so it came to pass that a 25g packet of Cha Gao went into the same box as my 100g Liu Bao order, with an additional US$12.00 going the other way into Yunnan Sourcing’s coffers. That 25g comprised of 27 small, foil wrapped bricks.
This particular Cha Gao is made from 2013 Jing Mai mountain area Pu-erh.
All well and good so far, but here comes the tricky bit – the correct water / paste ratio that you should use for making the tea.
I started off by trying 1 brick in my 600 ml Ikea Riklig pot. This produced a tea with a nice colour, and a pleasant creamy, mouth-feel, but very little in the way of taste.
My second attempt saw me using 1 brick in my 200 ml capacity lidded Chinese mug. I used water fresh off a rolling boil, firstly using a little to warm up / rinse out the mug. I then dropped the brick in, and slowly poured hot water over the brick, until the mug was slightly less than filled.
There was a couple of strands of paste left undissolved, floating around in the tea. I found the best way to deal with them was to thin them out significantly by smearing them against the inside of the mug with a teaspoon, and then scraping them off and stirring them vigorously into the tea.
The tea was now approximately 3 times stronger, something that was instantly noticeable in the colour. The tea now also boasted a nice, milky creamy taste, and an even better mouth feel.
It has to be said, though, the tea didn’t taste like a sheng Pu-erh at all – I picked up no earthiness or umami qualities, no mushrooms, leather, or woodiness. The nearest thing I can liken it to is a green gunpowder in terms of body and flavour. Please note that I’m not saying that makes it a bad tea, just not in my opinion like a sheng Pu-erh.
I’ve read a review (I can’t for the life of me remember where) which said that although the tea-head concerned hadn’t been convinced about Cha Gao made from sheng Pu-erh, they had been quite impressed with paste made from shou (ripe/cooked) Pu-erh, so that might be my next port of call.
We’ll be out and about this week, so I’ll get a chance to “road-test” the tea during our trail-by-train. I think I’d better perfect a discrete unwrapping technique first, though…