Navigating the beeng


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Navigating the beeng

Postby dsh » Sep 25th, '08, 13:36

Hi. So I'm new here and pretty new to tea, but it is awesome to have a place to ask questions. This is great; thanks!

Anyway, I bought a beeng of cooked 2005 pu'er a while ago and am making my way through it. I've noticed that I get really inconsistent results even though I've more-or-less settled on how much and how long I steep. E.g., a few days ago I got a very acrid cup that I didn't even finish. It was too strong and tasted like some bad espresso. Sometimes I get a nice wet-log smell out of the tea, which I like. But today! I actually got something very sweet that almost smells like flowers. I think this is what it is supposed to be like since the merchant told me it was sweet (I thought he was just making stuff up until now).

What gives? Does it depend on from where in the beeng the tea comes from? This is the only reasonable solution I can come up with. I always steep with the same water at 205-207F. I expect the outside of the beeng which has been exposed to air would taste different from the inside. In this case, what's the best part? Any other advice for getting this sweet flavor?

Thanks! and nice to meet you all! :o
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Re: Navigating the beeng

Postby wyardley » Sep 25th, '08, 14:30

dsh wrote:Anyway, I bought a beeng of cooked 2005 pu'er a while ago and am making my way through it. I've noticed that I get really inconsistent results even though I've more-or-less settled on how much and how long I steep. E.g., a few days ago I got a very acrid cup that I didn't even finish. It was too strong and tasted like some bad espresso. Sometimes I get a nice wet-log smell out of the tea, which I like. But today! I actually got something very sweet that almost smells like flowers. I think this is what it is supposed to be like since the merchant told me it was sweet (I thought he was just making stuff up until now).

What gives? Does it depend on from where in the beeng the tea comes from? This is the only reasonable solution I can come up with. I always steep with the same water at 205-207F. I expect the outside of the beeng which has been exposed to air would taste different from the inside. In this case, what's the best part? Any other advice for getting this sweet flavor?


Well a lot of things can affect the taste of tea. And your tastebuds (and mood) change from one day to the next. Over time, I think you will learn to brew tea in a way that's increasingly consistent (hopefully consistently in a way you like), but it's not something that comes easily and quickly.

Aside from the factors mentioned above, the speed of the pour, proportion of broken and intact chunks, how much of the leaf is broken (either when it's compressed, or by you, though this shouldn't matter much with ripe pu'er), the speed of your pour, the way you preheat the brewing vessel, and yes, sometimes the part of the cake, though ripe tea shouldn't have that much difference between the outside and inside, unless it was horribly stored, or unless it's the type of cake that has nicer looking leaves on the outside, and cheap ones on the inside (factories have been known to do that to make their cakes look nicer).

I probably missed some there, but you get the point... brewing tea is not simple, and there are lots of things that can change the taste from day to day. The way I try to approach it is to try and appreciate the tea even if it didn't come out exactly the way I wanted it to or remembered it tasting before.

Maybe try some other teas and see if they brew more consistently. Ripe pu'er is pretty cheap, so shouldn't cost you too much to buy a couple more cakes or some loose tea.

BTW, did you get the cake in LA, and if so, where?
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Postby dsh » Sep 25th, '08, 15:18

OK, thanks for the advice. I didn't know you could get that much variation out of one tea without going to such lengths. I have found that the amount I break up the pressed leaf makes a difference and am tending to not break it up quite as much as I did at first.

I'm brewing this in a gaiwan, so there should not be too many variables to mess with (I have no gung fu skills, BTW), and it's glass so I can see the color as it steeps. I usually don't bother timing it and just wait for a nice reddish-brown.

BTW, did you get the cake in LA, and if so, where?


Funnel Mill in Santa Monica. Website:
http://www.funnelmill.com/tea/pu-erh.php

Thanks!
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Postby wyardley » Sep 25th, '08, 15:37

I didn't know you could get that much variation out of one tea without going to such lengths.


Well maybe I'm being overly dramatic. :> But that's the thing that's both fascinating and very tricky about tea.

You might try using something that retains heat a little better than a glass gaiwan - don't know if that will make much difference or not, but always worth a try. If you use a ceramic one, you can always tilt the lid down a little to get an idea of the color of the broth.

Are you doing a rinse? I'd do at least one, maybe two quick rinses with a ripe cake like that one.

dsh wrote:
BTW, did you get the cake in LA, and if so, where?


Funnel Mill in Santa Monica. Website:
http://www.funnelmill.com/tea/pu-erh.php


Oh - wow. I have been there, but not recently. It's very close to me, and I feel like I should support them more often (I'm always surprised to find out they're still in business, honestly). But they're definitely way better than most of the other (way frou-frou) west side tea offerings, and I doubt the cake from there is anything really horrible.

LA is not a great city for tea, but If you're willing to venture out a little, I can suggest a few places you might want to check out.

#1 is Tea Habitat in Rancho Palos Verdes. It's a bit of a drive, but check it out sometime. Imen (the owner) specializes in dan cong (an oolong from near Chaozhou), but she's got some good puer tea also. She's usually happy to brew different teas for you to try, and if she's not busy, might even show you some

#2 is Wing Hop Fung. They now have an offshoot - Bird Pick - which has a retail store in Pasadena, but there's actually more puer (by far) in the Monterey Park store (not sure about the Chinatown store - haven't been there in a little while). Their puer is a little overpriced, but (much) less so than that at anywhere on the west side.
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Postby thanks » Sep 25th, '08, 16:48

dsh wrote:OK, thanks for the advice. I didn't know you could get that much variation out of one tea without going to such lengths. I have found that the amount I break up the pressed leaf makes a difference and am tending to not break it up quite as much as I did at first.

I'm brewing this in a gaiwan, so there should not be too many variables to mess with (I have no gung fu skills, BTW), and it's glass so I can see the color as it steeps. I usually don't bother timing it and just wait for a nice reddish-brown.

BTW, did you get the cake in LA, and if so, where?


Funnel Mill in Santa Monica. Website:
http://www.funnelmill.com/tea/pu-erh.php

Thanks!


I can't tell you how many times I've read reviews of tea and hear them talk about the lengths they go to in separating every little leaf! I've dismantled chunks into individual leaves, and I've just brewed chunks whole before, and I have to tell you that I prefer brewing the chunk by far. If you want a tea to last a long time, evolve over infusions, and really surprise you throughout your session then I believe leaving the chunk of tea whole is a big part of it. Try not to shake up the leaves either in between sessions, your patience will be rewarded.

As for inconsistency, unless it's a recipe cake (which can still have inconsistencies throughout one cake but less likely), you're going to have at least a few different experiences with the same tea cake. That's odd about ripe tea though, seeing as how they're usually homogeneous throughout. Also really try timing your brews, it can help you out tremendously when trying to pin down variables that produce a good cup. Color can lie, time lies slightly less often. Speaking of time, I highly recommend doing traditional gong fu timings, but with a personal twist. Do a quick rinse, have your first real brew at 7 seconds, and then field it from there, but always increasing, even if by just a few seconds. Usually for most teas I'll do quick rinse, 7 sec, 12 sec, 15 sec, 16 sec, 20 sec, 30 sec, 45 sec, 60 sec, 90 sec, etc. if it still has anything left after that. If you left your tea a whole chunk and let water and temperature do it's work, then you should be getting some pretty different flavors throughout, usually much more enjoyable than just simply trying to recreate one cup infusion after infusion.
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Postby dsh » Sep 25th, '08, 17:02

thanks wrote:I can't tell you how many times I've read reviews of tea and hear them talk about the lengths they go to in separating every little leaf! I've dismantled chunks into individual leaves, and I've just brewed chunks whole before, and I have to tell you that I prefer brewing the chunk by far. If you want a tea to last a long time, evolve over infusions, and really surprise you throughout your session then I believe leaving the chunk of tea whole is a big part of it. Try not to shake up the leaves either in between sessions, your patience will be rewarded.

As for inconsistency, unless it's a recipe cake (which can still have inconsistencies throughout one cake but less likely), you're going to have at least a few different experiences with the same tea cake. That's odd about ripe tea though, seeing as how they're usually homogeneous throughout. Also really try timing your brews, it can help you out tremendously when trying to pin down variables that produce a good cup. Color can lie, time lies slightly less often. Speaking of time, I highly recommend doing traditional gong fu timings, but with a personal twist. Do a quick rinse, have your first real brew at 7 seconds, and then field it from there, but always increasing, even if by just a few seconds. Usually for most teas I'll do quick rinse, 7 sec, 12 sec, 15 sec, 16 sec, 20 sec, 30 sec, 45 sec, 60 sec, 90 sec, etc. if it still has anything left after that. If you left your tea a whole chunk and let water and temperature do it's work, then you should be getting some pretty different flavors throughout, usually much more enjoyable than just simply trying to recreate one cup infusion after infusion.


Cool advice; thanks! Also, I like your nick a lot! :D although I could see it easily leading to ambiguous sentences. :lol:
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Postby wyardley » Sep 25th, '08, 17:56

thanks wrote:I can't tell you how many times I've read reviews of tea and hear them talk about the lengths they go to in separating every little leaf! I've dismantled chunks into individual leaves, and I've just brewed chunks whole before, and I have to tell you that I prefer brewing the chunk by far. If you want a tea to last a long time, evolve over infusions, and really surprise you throughout your session then I believe leaving the chunk of tea whole is a big part of it. Try not to shake up the leaves either in between sessions, your patience will be rewarded.


Chan Kam Pong, author of "First Step to Chinese Puerh Tea" and "A Glossary of Chinese Puerh Tea" (Wu Shing) has this suggestion w/r/t proportion of broken leaves / intact chunks. He thinks this is a good balance between the two.

http://community.livejournal.com/puerh_tea/210491.html

(hopefully these direct links won't change)
http://www.cloudsteacollection.com/html ... 001_e.html
http://www.cloudsteacollection.com/html ... 003_e.html
http://www.cloudsteacollection.com/html ... 004_e.html
http://www.cloudsteacollection.com/html ... 005_e.html

I think, at least with tea that's loose enough to separate without breaking, that it's a good idea to break it up *somewhat* - using one or two big chunks only will give you a very inconsistent experience, and as long as you don't break too many leaves when you separate things (which, with sheng puer anyway, can create bitterness), shouldn't cause any problems.
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Postby orguz » Sep 25th, '08, 18:24

Another thing which improves the taste is to break up more from the cake and letting it to... air out. Making tea from freshly flaked leafs isn't as tasty as from aired out puerh, strictly personal. I read in the forum here that others prefer to break off a chunk for every session. Like Wyardley said experiment with all the different factors influencing brewing a good cup of tea. You'll be surprised each time. Glass retains heat the least, try it in a porcelain brewing vessel that keeps the heat longer, which forces more out of the tea leaf.
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Re: Navigating the beeng

Postby tenuki » Sep 25th, '08, 18:27

dsh wrote: Any other advice for getting this sweet flavor?


By good quality aged green puerh. ;P
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Re: Navigating the beeng

Postby wyardley » Sep 25th, '08, 19:52

tenuki wrote:
dsh wrote: Any other advice for getting this sweet flavor?


By good quality aged green puerh. ;P


That's good advice (advice I considered giving as well), but difficult to find, even if you're willing to spend the money. Yes, there are a few vendors who sell samples or even whole bricks / cake, but overall, it's easier advice to give than to take.

I think starting with ripe tea is better than starting with young green pu'er at least.
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Postby thanks » Sep 26th, '08, 13:19

wyardley wrote:
thanks wrote:I can't tell you how many times I've read reviews of tea and hear them talk about the lengths they go to in separating every little leaf! I've dismantled chunks into individual leaves, and I've just brewed chunks whole before, and I have to tell you that I prefer brewing the chunk by far. If you want a tea to last a long time, evolve over infusions, and really surprise you throughout your session then I believe leaving the chunk of tea whole is a big part of it. Try not to shake up the leaves either in between sessions, your patience will be rewarded.


Chan Kam Pong, author of "First Step to Chinese Puerh Tea" and "A Glossary of Chinese Puerh Tea" (Wu Shing) has this suggestion w/r/t proportion of broken leaves / intact chunks. He thinks this is a good balance between the two.

http://community.livejournal.com/puerh_tea/210491.html

(hopefully these direct links won't change)
http://www.cloudsteacollection.com/html ... 001_e.html
http://www.cloudsteacollection.com/html ... 003_e.html
http://www.cloudsteacollection.com/html ... 004_e.html
http://www.cloudsteacollection.com/html ... 005_e.html

I think, at least with tea that's loose enough to separate without breaking, that it's a good idea to break it up *somewhat* - using one or two big chunks only will give you a very inconsistent experience, and as long as you don't break too many leaves when you separate things (which, with sheng puer anyway, can create bitterness), shouldn't cause any problems.


I guess I should have prefaced with, "In my experience", or something along the lines of, "Not everyone will agree with me, but". One thing that makes tea so wonderful and diverse is taste is largely subjective. I guess I've just never been wowed by a gong fu session unless I've left an intact chunk. The flavors really changed throughout the session, when the tea never really did that before. I'm always experimenting.
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Postby wyardley » Sep 26th, '08, 13:38

thanks wrote:I guess I should have prefaced with, "In my experience", or something along the lines of, "Not everyone will agree with me, but". One thing that makes tea so wonderful and diverse is taste is largely subjective. I guess I've just never been wowed by a gong fu session unless I've left an intact chunk. The flavors really changed throughout the session, when the tea never really did that before. I'm always experimenting.


Right - I wasn't trying to suggest that the method proposed by Mr. Chan (or even breaking up the cake further) was the only method, or the "correct" method (and, in fact, he says the same thing in his posts).

Do you mean ".... unless I've left an intact chunk", or "...unless I've only used an intact chunk" (emphasis mine)?

I think everyone here agrees that one or more intact chunks are necessary; he is just suggesting that there should *also* be some amount of broken leaf. Since breaking up cakes typically results in some loose / broken bits anyway, they've got to be used somehow.

In the past, I have seen people recommend breaking up the cake a lot, provided it can be done without too much extra breakage (i.e., leaving the leaves intact). I used to try this sometimes, but recently, I've been experimenting more with leaving some intact chunks.
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Postby Dizzwave » Sep 26th, '08, 13:45

I agree that with shu, it's important to leave chunks...
But with sheng, it varies a lot from tea to tea. In my experience, there are some teas that I almost have to break up almost all into individual leaves (the 07 Mengku LBZ seems to benefit from this, and the flavor still changes from cup to cup), and there are some that benefit from not breaking up at all (like a Bu Lang that can be *too* bitter if broken up).
As many have said before me, experiment and have fun!

I used to go "all chunk", but then I found that I wasn't getting enough flavor in the first 3 steeps. And those are where the candy often is.
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Postby dsh » Sep 27th, '08, 15:22

Thanks for all the tips. I've been getting the best results so far with a larger ratio of compressed leaf, rinsing twice and using the approximate timing thanks mentioned. If it comes out too weak, then the next brew is OK, and I haven't found it to be too strong. Anyway, I've been having fun getting familiar with this tea and appreciate the help with experimentation. :D
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Postby drumhum » Oct 6th, '08, 12:08

It makes absolute sense to me that the leaves in a cake will taste differently depending on where they "lived" in the cake. Surely leaves from the centre - which are so often more compressed - will taste different to those from the surface or edge. Surface leaves are exposed to the air!

I'd written off a pretty expensive 6 Famous Mountains ripe cake as unexciting and deeply average. I was just hacking chunks off, starting from the edges. When I got properly into the cake the taste changed to a much more satisfying drink.

I think the best way is to properly break up your tea cake, mixing up chunks from the centre of the cake with those from the edges etc. Perhaps its psychological, but it seems right to let the tea breath loose a bit before you brew it too. If you don't want to break up a full cake, why not use a bread knife (or saw!) so you can get a good cross section of leaf (ie take a slice out of the tea cake like you would a birthday cake).

These are my thoughts as much as experiences - I'd welcome any comments to my theories!
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