GreenTeaChad wrote:I am also very interested in aged tea, Pu-erh. I have been reading alot about that the last few days and it is even more mind boggling than the green teas. I'm not sure where to start with it, but I will keep reading the post, and trying what they suggest. I also contacted Kevin at Yunnan sourcing based on alot of the positive reviews, and am waiting to hear back from him.
Pu-erh (or just "pu") is a confusing world to navigate, especially for beginners & Westerners. There have been a number of posts on introducing a newbie to pu; hopefully you can find some by browsing the pu forum. I will give you a quick rundown of pu to lessen your confusion:
There are three kinds of pu that tea drinkers are generally interested in:
- Young sheng (sheng can be translated as "raw") pu, which is in some ways similar to green tea; it is relatively cheap and easy to find but can taste bitter and unappealing;
- Aged sheng. Tea that has been aged by natural processes, often aided by ample heat and moisture. Good examples of aged sheng are the holy grail for pu-drinkers; this is what many people refer to when they talk about pu. Good aged sheng is expensive and difficult to come by in the West;
- Shu (translated as "cooked") pu. This is artificially aged pu. The most common kind of pu in the West (and even in the East). Bad examples taste dirty, moldy, rotten. Good examples taste earthy, woody, and rich.
To brew pu, the simplest tool to use is a gaiwan, which is a thin porcelain lidded cup. They are Chinese in origin and generally only available in specialty tea shops in the West, but they are cheap and easy to find on the internet. You probably want one between 50mL and 150mL, or about 2 ounces. Don't worry if you think this is small - you will get a dozen or more steeps from even an average pu. There is a little bit of a learning curve when it comes to using a gaiwan, but it's worth it - the gaiwan is a very versatile tool that can be used for almost any tea, and since they are so cheap, it's a good idea to keep one around anyway.
The connoisseur's method of brewing pu is with a Yixing or similar ceramic pot. Don't worry about these teapots yet - they're a whole different world, and you will likely find yourself buying more than you need if you start trying to collect these types of teapots before you know what you're doing. Explore tea and find out what kinds of teas you like before you get into the world of Chinese teapots.
Oh - and as a final word, if you haven't learned this already - in general, it's a good idea stay away from teavana, and stay away from flavored teas (e.g. teas that have things in them that are not tea, like spices, herbs, dried fruit, etc.). I'm not saying that these things are worthless (though sometimes they are), but rather that they often masquerade as "authentic" Chinese or Japanese teas when in fact this is not the case. There's a lot of bogus marketing out there, and this is one trick to help stay away from that stuff.
Wow this is a much longer post than I anticipated. There is a lot more to tea than meets the eye and it can be overwhelming to attempt learning about tea. If I could suggest anything, it would be to keep reading and asking questions. It also helps to always categorize tea based on country of origin and type of tea (e.g. green, black, oolong, and their subcategories). This just helps keep your mental compartments organized and makes it easier to figure out what kind of tea you're looking at when you come across a new tea. After you drink a few different kinds of tea, you will quickly discover that you have a favorite country of origin and/or type of tea. The differences between these categories are much greater than for other kinds of beverages, so it's easy to develop this system of categorization.