I’m not usually a pu erh tea drinker but I saw the lovely label from Kelly Puissegur on the Yiwu Spring 2016 blend from Bitterleaf Teas and had to give it a go. This is a limited run of tea, so you won’t be able to get this exact blend anymore, but the same tea harvest for 2017 can be found in the year of the rooster blend.
This tea starts off like many of my past pu erh tea sessions. The scents are intense and fermented, and off-putting to me as a prelude for something I’m about to taste. The aroma isn’t bad exactly, in fact with smells like old books or leather or wet grass, I find the flavors to be nostalgic and dreamy; they just aren’t something I’d personally want to smell right before I take a sip.
I steeped this tea over the course of a session, brewing several times. Before I even tasted it, I stepped for 1 minute in 200F water to rinse and let the leaves open up. After that I steeped for increasing 5 second intervals.
The first brew had the typical hay barn scent I expect, but less fermented and much more fresh. Almost like green grapes or wet peony flowers. The brightness in the first steep was a pleasant surprise.
In the second steep there was more white tea buttery earthiness, but still the green grapes and peony came through on the aftertaste. The tea is very smooth on the tongue.
In the third steep the hay scent was more gentle and the overall flavors were more relaxed. The brew was sweeter almost like cacao earth tones and smooth honey floral flavors, paired with a very pleasant caramelly mouthfeel.
On the fourth steep and beyond, the tea still holds up the fresh grape and peony tones, but eventually the earthy cacao flavors end up taking over.
I’m not a pu erh expect but this tea took me by surprise and contained pleasantly complex flavors that I wasn’t expecting. Be bold and try one of Bitterleaf Teas’ pu erh harvests for your next brew.
Here’s the scoop!
Leaf Type: Pu erh
Where to Buy: Bitter Leaf Teas
This Yiwu raw puer is one of our two Year of the Monkey puers. The material for this tea comes from a recently transitioned fang yang (literally meaning “left to grow”) garden that receives minimal human interference, to the extent that all weeding is done once a year by hand (taking up to one month) and is harvested only in the Spring. The tea itself has an initial and surprising honey-like sweetness at the front, which yields to some slight roughness and unique lasting aroma. With good cha qi/tea energy and a solid mineral fragrance that lingers, this is a strong candidate for storage.
Typical of Yiwu teas, this one is on the softer side of things for now, but still maintains a solid backbone with plenty to offer. This also makes it a very drinkable young raw puer, and well suited for beginners and experienced drinkers alike. Don’t be fooled though, Yiwu teas tend to age well, even if they seem lighter in their early years.
Learn even more about this tea and tea company here!
I am far from an expert, but I’ve always been both intimidated and entranced by pu erh tea. The tea comes packed in cakes and wrapped in decorative papers, and you might even have a tea pick especially for breaking up these tightly packed leaves. There’s a proper way to brew and taste pu erh, and all kinds of special teapots and accessories. There’s something inherently magical about having the right tools for an ancient ritual. With the Mini Yunnan Toucha mix sampler from Teasenz, I could give the whole thing a try at my kitchen table.
I’ve brewed enough bad cups of pu erh tea to know that it’s worth following the instructions. For this sampler I used the following process for each: 20 second awakening rinse (pour off the liquid), 5-10 second brews following. I only did three brews for each tea, though a good pu erh session would have many more. I only used a small piece of each tea cake for my taste-test– I would not recommend throwing the whole thing in your teapot, no matter how small and cute the tea cake is.
I’m going to use the same naming convention that Teasenz used on its website, referring to the teas by the color ink on their wrappings.
First up was the brown wrapper tea. This smelled like what I typically associate with pu erh: wet hay, earth, and old leather. If you’re new to pu erh, these flavors may take a little getting used to. Feel free to shorten your steep times to as little as 1 to 3 seconds if anything gets too intense. This tea very much smelled like the outdoors after the rain, with notes of wet mulch and damp leaves. I mention all these wet adjectives because there was definitely a sense of age or plant decay in the smell and taste.
The mouthfeel of pu erh is worth noticing, known for being exceedingly smooth, some might even describe it as creamy. Black teas can be bitter or have a strong astringent bite, but no such sensation was present in the brown wrapper tea. By the second and third steep, I continued to notice wet garden flavors, with more mineral tones like mushroom or beets or kale, especially on the aftertaste. The wet hay fragrance remained throughout, coming on the strongest when first brewed and dissipating slightly as the tea cooled.
Next was the red wrapper tea, in a cube shape. This tea felt similar to the brown wrapper, with notes of wet earth and grass. However there was a bit of brightness in the red tea that wasn’t present in the brown, maybe citrus or orange, a touch of something tart. The second steep had more of this brightness, like lemongrass, along with the typical pu erh wet hay flavors. By the third steep, the citrus verged to more of a bright pine note. If the brown wrapper tea was a deciduous woods full of wet, autumn leaves, then this red wrapper tea was a damp, evergreen forest with crushed hemlock needles and pine resin.
After the brown and red teas, the blue wrapper tea was quite a departure. As soon as I rinsed the leaves, I was hit with a striking popcorn scent. According to Teasnez, this “sticky rice” flavor is a staple of certain pu erh teas. My boyfriend was walking by the room at this point and said it smelled like Fritos corn chips! As for the taste, this tea still had the expected wet grass notes, but the brew was more savory, like a soup broth. The plant-like flavors were a little different than the brown and red tea cakes, this time tasting more like corn or celery. As I tried more steeps with this tea, the sticky rice note became more mellow, and the damp earth and corn husk flavors were more prevalent, smelling more like an autumn cornfield maze.
Finally we get to the yellow wrapped tea. This is a different type of pu erh tea entirely. The brown, red, and blue wrapper teas were all pu erh shou tea. The yellow wrapped tea is a pu ehr sheng. Shou tea is fermented prior to packaging, while sheng teas are packaged “raw” and age in the package over time. This yellow wrapped sheng tea occupied a flavor profile somewhere between the wet earth flavors of the brown wrapper tea, and the toasty rice notes of the blue wrapper tea. The yellow wrapper tea had flavors like starchy baked bread and old paper alongside the damp grass tones. This tea had the most variation between steeps, the second steep having flavors that reminded me of black licorice or roasted nuts, and the third steep brightening up to more of a celery and sweetgrass blend.
Personally, I find the smells and tastes of pu ehr tea to be memory-inducing, reminding me of playing and exploring as a kid. The scents of damp paper or old leather are akin to going into an undisturbed attic, and the damp earth scents make me think about playing in neighbors’ barns or crawling under the porch for hide-and-seek, while the wet leaves flavors make me think of walking in the woods after the rain. The flavors of these aged tea leaves provide me with a strong sense of nostalgia and history.
Or maybe I’m just waxing poetic here, and I’ve just brewed one too many cups of tea for one afternoon. Either way, I highly recommend this sampler as a great way to experiment with pu ehr tea and its traditions.
Here’s the scoop!
Leaf Type: Pu erh
Where to Buy: Teasenz
If you are new to pu erh tea and have yet to discover the different types of aromas it offers, then this mini tuocha tea mix is the right place to start. Reap the weight loss benefits of this pu erh while enjoying the diverse mix of flavors that ensure you will never get bored.
Leaf Type: Green
Where to Buy: 52Teas
Our cakey- and gingerbread-flavors were getting mixed reviews in our black tea blends, so I decided to give it a try with a lighter base, and oh man, did that do the trick!
Here’s a light, refreshing Young Hyson green tea base blended with cinnamon, ginger and organic flavors like gingerbread, cake batter, butter and brown sugar.
Learn more about this tea here.
Learn more about Zoomdweebie’s fundraising campaign to reopen the Tea Bar here.
I’ve been looking forward to trying this Gingerbread Coffeecake Flavored Green Tea from 52Teas! I absolutely loved their Gingerbread Chai that they made for their Christmas blend a few years ago, and I was certain I’d enjoy this too.
And … this might even be BETTER than the Gingerbread Chai – and that’s saying something because I love chai! Of course, it could just be the fact that it’s been quite a while since I’ve had some Gingerbread Chai so I’m basing this all on memory … although I must say that was a very memorable chai! At the very least, I must also say that this Gingerbread Coffeecake is a very memorable flavored green tea!
The light Young Hyson green tea base is a perfect match for the buttery, cake-y, zesty ginger-y tastes of the flavors in this tea. I thought that the green tea would be overpowered by the flavors … but it isn’t. I taste the light, crisp flavor of the Young Hyson … with hints of grassy flavor that – oddly enough – really seem to complement the flavoring.
The gingerbread flavoring is perfection. This tastes like my favorite ginger cookies that have been liquefied and mixed with green tea. The flavors are nicely balanced. There is a peppery ZING from the ginger … not too much, but enough to let you know that there is ginger in this tea! I taste the buttery, cake-y tastes and the brown sugar. It is sweet and decadent and delicious. Truly a delight to drink!
I wanted to take a moment to mention that 52Teas/Zoomdweebies wants to reopen it’s tea bar in Wichita, Kansas, and is holding a “crowd-funding campaign” through Indiegogo. Please consider contributing to this fundraising event to help a small businessman. Every little bit helps … and it would be great to get Zoomdweebies BACK on the map, don’t you think?
Leaf Type: Pu-erh
Where to Buy: ESGreen
This mini tea cake was made by high-level material made from broad-leaved wild tea trees. Traditional court recipe.
The vintage year is 2002, which is over 10 year now.
Learn more about this pu-erh here.
As I’ve mentioned (more than once!), I’ve had a very difficult relationship with Pu-erh. It started off really bad … and I think it is those bad memories that taint my experiences with Pu-erh even now. And really, I don’t think it was the fault of the Pu-erh back then… it was my lack of knowledge. I didn’t know how to brew a Pu-erh properly, and I ended up with a very earthy dark tea that made me think I was drinking a very thin mud rather than tea. It wasn’t pleasant.
But that was then, and this is now!
And I have learned quite a bit since then, I have learned better ways of brewing tea. I have come to embrace the gaiwan as not a “gadget” but an essential tool for tea making. I love my gaiwan, because I have not only rediscovered the joy of Oolong but have also learned there is much joy to be discovered even with a tea I once disliked: Pu-erh!
It’s the earthiness that was off-putting. And when brewed improperly, a Pu-erh can be overwhelmingly earthy, so much so that it is really REALLY off-putting. But when brewed correctly, a Pu-erh can be so delightfully complex while maintaining a mellow character that is really quite enjoyable.
This Pu-erh is indeed earthy – but the strongest earthy tones are experienced in its aroma, when the tea is in its dry cake form. After a quick rinse and a 30 second infusion, I smell and taste only a very delicate earthiness, which is layered with an intense sweetness that is like caramel. It is very smooth.
I’ve often heard Pu-erh compared to a “fishy” taste but I don’t taste that here. There is a slight mushroom-y/earthy flavor to it, but not at all fishy. The sweetness is what I taste most, it is very mellow and remarkably smooth. It’s a really excellent value, too, because I got six very flavorful infusions from one mini tea cake, and I think it would have given many more!
This is one of those Pu-erh teas that I’d recommend to someone who has had bad luck with Pu-erh in the past … this is a good one and certainly worthy of a try. You might just find this one to your liking!