Some things are worth to wait for, even if it takes years! In this instructable we're going to brew an over 10 years old tea! This 2016 pu erh tea is from the Xiaguan tea factory in Yunnan, and is compressed tightly into a dome shape (tuocha). In the following steps we show you how to loosen the leaves, awaken the aroma (if it smells fishy) and start brewing! Optionally, you might want to watch the video instead of reading all the steps, it's up to you!
What is pu erh tea?
Like green and black tea, pu erh is simply another tea type. The classification of tea types, has therefore nothing to do with the raw material as they're all made from the Camellia Sinensis tea plant. The difference is that each type is produced following a different processing method. Green tea is unfermented and black tea is fully fermented. What makes pu erh tea different is that besides full fermentation, it's stored away for post-fermentation.
Why is aged tea compressed?
Because of the fact that further fermentation is required, compression simply makes those teas easier to store, as it requires less space. In the past, compression was also useful to make the teas easier to transportation.
Step 1: What You'll Need...
Here's what you'll need to brew pu erh tea yourself:
- Compressed pu erh or loose pu erh
- If the tea is compressed, you'll need a tea knife to loosen it.
- If the tea has a bad smell, you'll need to awaken it first in a tea caddy.
- Yixing teapot for brewing
- Cup for serving
Step 2: Pry and Loosen Compressed Pu Erh
To pry and loosen the tea, you'll need to stick a tea knife into the pu erh. Because some pu erh can be compressed pretty tight, you sometimes need to rotate the knife a bit, while you stick it in the tea. Do this a few times, focusing on one area of the tea, until you an easily pry off a chunk.
Once you've done this you're ready to steep the tea! If you want to 'awaken' the tea, then you'll might want to fully loosen the tea into many chunks. Read in the next step, why this sometimes is needed.
If you want to brew loose leaf pu erh tea, then you can skip this step. Watch the video in this step on how to brew loose leaf pu erh.
Step 3: Put the Tea in an Yixing Tea Caddy
Sometimes, aged tea can smell fishy. This could be, because the raw material isn't of great quality or because the storing conditions weren't ideal. For instance, the storage area could've been too hot, too humid or there was a presence of bad odors. In such, cases it helps to store pu erh tea in small chunks in a Yixing tea caddy first and let it sit for some time.
Yixing tea caddies are made from a special clay that's porous, known as 'zisha'. Because of this feature, it allows the tea to breath inside and let it air properly. Some pu erh tea lovers always store their pu erh in Yixing caddies first, whether or not their teas smell fishy.
Step 4: Wait for 2-6 Weeks
Once you've stored the tea in a caddy, you'll need to wait for 2-6 weeks before the tea is ready. Every tea is different, so try out different periods to see what works.
What we can highly recommend is to try the tea first before you store it away in an Yixing caddy. Take notes of the flavor and aroma, and compare this later with the same pu erh that has awakened inside the caddy.
Step 5: Brewing Pu Erh: Rinse First
Once the 'awakening' period for your aged pu erh has passed, you ready to give it a nice infusion!
To properly home brew your pu erh tea, you'll need a gaiwan or Yixing teapot. Add a few grams of pu erh into your Yixing teapot (1 gram per 50 ml of water) and discard the first infusion directly. We call this 'rinsing'.
Rinsing makes sure any potential impurities are removed (if there are any) and allows your teapot to preheat properly. As you might know, pu erh tea taste the best when the water is as hot as possible, and when your teaware can retain the temperature level as long as possible.
Step 6: Brew It!
Once you've performed your first rinse, you can now brew the leaves. Brewing tea isn't as much as science as brewing coffee is, but here's good guide to start with:
- Leaf-to-water ratio: use 1 gram of tea for each 50 ml of water. So let's say your Yixing teapot is 200 ml, then you'll need about 4 grams of pu erh tea.
- Water temperature: as hot as possible. Apply the water right after it has reached boiling point.
- Steeping duration: go for a 20 second steep and increase the steeping duration with 5 seconds for every subsequent steep. Feel free to increase the steeping time when you feel the flavor is too weak, or decrease when you feel it's too strong.
Above, we've added another video as a brewing example.
Step 7: Serve & Brew More
Serve pu erh in small tea cups for better appreciation of the flavor and aroma.
Did you know that pu erh can be steeped multiple times? If you've applied a leaf to water ratio of 1-to-50 as we suggested, then you'll be able to steep the same leaves for 5-12 times. This is one of the reasons why pu erh drinkers love this tea! A compressed pu erh can sometimes cost quite much...but compare this to how much tea you can make relative to tea bags, and you'll find out it's super cheap!