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: Pu-erh
Where to Buy: Teavivre
Tuocha, a compressed tea in hollowed hemispheric shape, is mainly produced in Yunnan. This 100g Tuocha is from Fengqing, Lincang, Yunnan.
The materials of Tuocha are from Fengqing large tea speices. Fresh tea leaves will be made into dry tea in traditional craft method after being picked, then will be pressed into nest shape. The appearance of Tuocha reminds you of mountain. While smelling the faint scent of Sheng Pu-erh, you will have the feelings of being in beautiful scenery of Yunnan.
Sheng Pu-erh has strong flavor for first sip. Yet the sweet aftertaste will bring you a wonderful impression. You can feel a hint of sweet as sugarcane remaining in your mouth.
Learn more about this tea here.
Sweet! This Fengqing Raw Pu-erh Tea from Teavivre has an enjoyably sweet flavor, a sweetness that is balanced with notes of sharpness and notes of vegetation, wood and earth (think mushroom). As I continued to sip, I started to pick up on notes of stone fruit.
I like that with the very first infusion (following a 15 second “rinse”) the flavor is strong and well-defined. I could taste these flavors with this first cup, I didn’t have to wait until the third or fourth cup to start experiencing the lovely flavor. I usually find that Pu-erh tends to have a mellow flavor, but this is a bold Pu-erh, and I’m appreciating the differences that this tea offers.
Later infusions surprised me with even stronger flavors! I still experienced the amazing sweetness, fruit notes (I think I even tasted a hint of grapefruit!) and woodsy tones. Full-flavored with notes vegetation, but this isn’t like the same kind of “vegetation” that I’d experience if I were drinking a green tea. This is more like the vegetal flavor you’d experience from a woodsy mushroom. It’s deep and earthy and flavorful, but in the distance you can taste notes of vegetation.
A deep sweetness – the description above suggests a “sugarcane” like sweetness, and I agree with that assessment – is present throughout the sip, from start to finish. It lingers in the aftertaste.
A really enjoyable pu-erh experience! I managed eight infusions from this tea and I suspect I could have gotten even more – the flavor wasn’t quitting! This tea has many different flavors to explore – a delightfully complex tea.
And when I visited Teavivre’s webpage for this tea, I noticed that this will be part of the #3 Sale Round from August 4 through August 5. Mark your calendars!
Leaf Type: Pu-erh
Where to Buy: Teavivre
Aged Pu-erh tea is created by secondary-oxidation and post-fermentation tea. This type of Pu-erh tea is referred to as ripened, or cooked, Pu-erh, which has a rich, mellow and earthy flavor. Unlike many other teas which should be consumed shortly after production, such as green and white teas, Pu-erh tea can either be brewed immediately or it can be stored and aged for many years, much like a fine wine. Most Pu-erh teas are classified by the year they were produced and the region they were grown in, much like many wine vintages. In fact, when it comes to Pu-erh tea, the longer it is stored and aged properly, the more complex the flavor and the more valuable the tea gets. Many aged Pu-erh teas are served in Chinese restaurants after heavy meals, as Pu-erh tea is known for it’s ability to break down fat, also making it a great weight loss tea!
Learn more about this tea here.
I was a little afraid to try this Pu-erh, as I worried it might end up tasting a little too earthy for my palate. It was the name of the tea that frightened me … “ripened aged” usually says to me “very earthy.”
But after unwrapping the individually wrapped tuocha and inhaling deeply, I noticed only a hint of earthiness to the aroma. In fact, the aroma of the dry leaf is very indistinct, with mere insinuations of an earthiness.
The flavor is more earthy than the aroma of the dry leaf would suggest, but, I am not finding it to be TOO earthy. Perhaps it is because beneath that earthy overtone, I taste this underlying note of delicious caramel-y sweetness. And even the earthiness here I find to be very interesting, as it seems to interchange with a deep, woodsy kind of flavor.
Overall, this has a very rustic kind of flavor to it … very masculine. It is very smooth and mellow, with no bitterness whatsoever and no astringency either. After my first couple of sips, I added just a little bit of turbinado sugar to see how that would affect the flavor and it ended up giving the caramel-like sweetness I mentioned earlier a very molasses-y kind of taste … very nice indeed! I like how that molasses flavor marries with the masculine flavors of wood and earth. This would also probably taste wonderful as a latte! Might have to try that sometime soon!
Leaf Type: Pu-erh
Where to Buy: auraTeas
At the time of writing this review, auraTeas had not yet added this tea to their website, so instead, I shall provide you with some information about auraTeas:
We at [auraTeas] strive to bring the best tea to the world, and we hope you could to join us. We insist to purchase from tea growers around the world to insure the quality, and show our respect to tea growers and masters. In tea, we live.
OK… it’s no great secret that I’m just a little scared of Pu-erh. I had some not so successful experiences with it in the past and the memories of those bad experiences taint my current day encounters with the tea. Slowly, though, I find myself getting over those bad times, and the more I try it, the more I really enjoy Pu-erh!
This is a lovely Pu-erh from auraTeas. It comes packaged in a cotton-y paper, and it’s shaped like a bowl (a Tuocha). I placed the little Tuocha in my gaiwan, and added some near boiling water for 15 seconds just to awaken the leaves. Then I began brewing with near boiling water – 30 seconds for the first infusion, and 45 for the next… and so on.
The aroma of the brewed liquor is a bit intense. It is earthy, and it can be a little off-putting to those who don’t really like earthy flavors. But, rest assured, that the flavor is not quite as earthy as the aroma would lead one to believe. For those who might find the aroma off-putting, though, I would recommend not inhaling the aroma just before taking a sip (this is something I often do when sipping tea, as it usually enhances the experience). I find that when I do this, the earthy tones of the tea are brought into focus.
The tea is exceptionally smooth. One might think from the fragrance of the tea that it would taste a bit more rough or rugged, but, this is anything but! It has a deep, profound sweetness to it that is quite enchanting. There are some earthy notes to the taste, but they are not nearly as pronounced as they are in the aroma.
I love the caramel-y sweetness to this tea! This is a Pu-erh I would recommend to anyone who is finding themselves curious about Pu-erh. The tuocha makes it very easy to steep (and it’s kind of fun watching it steep too!) and you just may find that you really like Pu-erh.
I also recommend sipping this tea while enjoying a piece of chocolate (dark chocolate, if you please!) – it is a perfect match! Then again, what doesn’t taste better with a little chocolate?