Raw vs cooked puerh: what gives?

One of the intentionally aged teas, Pu-Erh has a loyal following.

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May 24th 10 9:35 pm
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Raw vs cooked puerh: what gives?

by spinmail » May 24th 10 9:35 pm

Pardon my naivete, but a puerh issue nags at me.

I've sampled several raw and cooked puerh teas, mostly from larger cakes. You'd expect the cooked cakes to have a richer color and taste; I have also found that raw cakes, even well-reviewed ones, seem a little lacking in taste.

Are there any raw puerh cakes that have a rich taste and color? Or, put another way, do I have to wait years and years before a raw cake starts looking and tasting relatively full and mature? Every time I've sampled a raw puerh, the taste just hasn't been there (yet).

Thanks in advance for your expertise.

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Re: Raw vs cooked puerh: what gives?

by rabbit » May 24th 10 9:48 pm

Don't quote me on this because I'm no expert on pu, but I'm pretty sure the taste of raw gains complexity and depth with age, and the cooked is an artificial way of speeding up the process.

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Re: Raw vs cooked puerh: what gives?

by spinmail » May 24th 10 10:25 pm

Thanks for your response.

Does that mean that all raw puerh teas taste relatively bland? When I've tried samples of well-reviewed raw teas from 2007 - 2009, they're uniformly pretty insipid. Does that mean that all raw puerh teas have to aged for 10 to 20 years or longer? It seem impractical to manage one's teas this way? Or do people actually like some immature puerh teas?

I'm fairly well tutored on most teas, but it seems that puerhs require reserving a fair part of your natural life before they reach their peak. Am I interpreting the issue correctly?

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Re: Raw vs cooked puerh: what gives?

by wyardley » May 24th 10 10:31 pm

I don't think young sheng (raw) puer is bland. Young raw puer tends to be somewhat bitter and / or harsh tasting to many people (myself included), though of course some teas may be better quality than others and / or more to one's personal taste. If your young sheng is tasting "insipid" and "bland", I would venture a guess that you are not brewing it right -- this kind of tea may have some faults, but usually "insipid" or "bland" are not among them. Can you give us an idea of how you are brewing these teas? Are you using boiling water?

Some people do like to drink it young, and I have heard people say that it's fine for your system to drink young sheng if it's old tree tea, or better quality material. That said, many people prefer to drink it after some time (15-80 years) has passed.

In any event, my suggestion is to try some representative samples of aged (>15-20 years) sheng kept under different storage conditions, and if you don't like aged tea either, maybe you should drink other kinds of tea, or stick to shu. Finding good quality aged puer is difficult, and it's usually not cheap. If your focus is on taste and aroma, oolong teas may be a better bet.
Last edited by wyardley on May 24th 10 10:35 pm, edited 3 times in total.

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Re: Raw vs cooked puerh: what gives?

by TomVerlain » May 24th 10 10:31 pm

It might help if you post what you have tried. Raw is a bit of a misnomer as a 100 year old cake is "raw" as well as a 2010. Some people might say pu'erh is only aged raw tea.

There are cakes still very new (past few years) which have flavor, but it is not the aged flavor. Brewed lightly, there may be floral, honey, fruit, vegetal, smokey notes. Brewed strongly, turn towards bitter.

You probably will not find a new cake that tastes like a 20 year old cake, shu or sheng. That is why 20 year old cakes are expensive. Good aging tastes good.

Good new cakes, if treated delicately, have delicate tastes, but not aged tastes.

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Re: Raw vs cooked puerh: what gives?

by spinmail » May 24th 10 10:57 pm

Thanks - your information has been very instructive, and I'm sure a few others will profit from it. I'll try to be as specific as possible in my responses.

When I tried 2008 Xiaguan FT Baoyan "Mushroom Tuo" Raw Pu-erh puerh, the taste was watery, almost grassy, even at 212F water; if anything, it seemed harsh and bitter. A 2007 Menghai Tea Factory "Secret Aroma" had a light amber liquor, but still seemed harsh - like over-steeped green tea. Multiple infusions showed similar faults, albeit to a smaller degree.

By contrast, 2008 Menghai "0532 Premium Ripe" was deep brown, clear, and with a fuller flavor. Lacking the nuance of a non-cake puerh, but still appealing.

Based on this, is it fair to say that I'm not one of those tea drinkers who will profit from trying younger puerh tea cakes? Or are there any raw puerh teas that will still be drinkable? Tell me about your successes (and failures) re: raw puerh tea.

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Re: Raw vs cooked puerh: what gives?

by MarshalN » May 24th 10 10:58 pm

How are you brewing them? How much leaves are you using?

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Re: Raw vs cooked puerh: what gives?

by bearsbearsbears » May 24th 10 11:04 pm

MarshalN wrote:How are you brewing them? How much leaves are you using?
+1

if 2008 menghai and xiaguan aren't bitter and harsh, you likely brewed them too weak...

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Re: Raw vs cooked puerh: what gives?

by bearsbearsbears » May 24th 10 11:06 pm

spinmail wrote:Based on this, is it fair to say that I'm not one of those tea drinkers who will profit from trying younger puerh tea cakes? Or are there any raw puerh teas that will still be drinkable? Tell me about your successes (and failures) re: raw puerh tea.
If you brew these teas stronger and still don't like them, i'd say save your money for aged teas (20 years plus) or wet stored raw pu (<20 years). If you still like cooked pu better, you're lucky to have an inexpensive pu habit. :)

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Re: Raw vs cooked puerh: what gives?

by spinmail » May 24th 10 11:34 pm

Interesting chat. There's the info you requested.

I used somewhere between 4 - 5 grams in my infusions of raw puerh, with about 1/4 cup 212F water. (Interestingly, the same proportion of tea in cooked puerh is more than enough.)

What surprises me is how some reviewers of a well-regarded raw puerh will get rave notices, claiming that it's "perfection in a cup," to quote one reaction. That's why it's so confusing to me. If harsh, sharp, immature tea equals perfection, I don't get it. And logistically, does that mean that there's a large population of tea drinkers who actually like this kind of tea?

My other questions are: do you like immature raw puerh? If so, what kind, and why?

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Re: Raw vs cooked puerh: what gives?

by entropyembrace » May 24th 10 11:57 pm

I like drinking puerh maocha from old trees(loose raw puerh)...the si mao mao cha Jing Tea Shop had a couple of years ago was my favourite but I dont have any left now...

to me it tasted like green tea with a heavier body and some smoky and bitter bite...which is what I liked about it xD

shu is too soft and smooth for me most of the time...I enjoy tea with bite :lol:

and I dont like the dui wei from unaged shu

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Re: Raw vs cooked puerh: what gives?

by debunix » May 25th 10 12:56 am

I find that my raw puerhs take a bit more individualized brewing than my cooked puerhs. I can't just toss the boiling water at them and expect a good brew. Some are very forgiving and will tolerate a lot of variation (eg, the Yi Wu 2008 bamboo-aged sheng from Norbu, or the 2005 'Early Spring' Sheng Tuo by Menghai Tea Factory from YSLLC), some I have to treat almost as a green tea, with lower temps and very short steeps, to get the brew that I want--spicy/earthy/sweet without the bitter--like the 2009 Lao Mansa sheng from Norbu.

I don't like bitter either, but I find more variety of flavor and mood in the sheng puerhs than in the cooked, so it's worth it to me to find a way to enjoy the shengs. BTW, other than a loose puerh purported to be from the 90's, the oldest sheng I've had was from 2005. So I've found highly drinkable stuff in the young shengs, but until I've tried a pu a few times, I'm very careful with quantities and brewing conditions: I start with 1g of tea per 50mL water just off the boil, and my infusion times might be 10", 10", 15", 15", 20", 20", 30", 30", etc--shorter is sweeter. I lengthen the infusions if the tea seems weak, shorten or drop the temp or both when it gets bitter.

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Re: Raw vs cooked puerh: what gives?

by wyardley » May 25th 10 12:58 am

spinmail wrote: What surprises me is how some reviewers of a well-regarded raw puerh will get rave notices, claiming that it's "perfection in a cup," to quote one reaction. That's why it's so confusing to me. If harsh, sharp, immature tea equals perfection, I don't get it. And logistically, does that mean that there's a large population of tea drinkers who actually like this kind of tea?
I'm confused - I thought it was "bland and insipid"... it can't be both harsh and sharp and bland and insipid.

Anyway, a few things.

1) Different people have different tolerances for bitterness and astringency. This has to do with both their taste buds (i.e., whether they're a so-called "super-tater", a "taster", or a "non-taster"), maybe their diet, and also their exposure to bitter foods or drinks (bitter melon, Campari, etc). And of course drinking lots of tea tends to reduce your sensitivities to these things over time as well.
2) Different people brew the tea tea differently and have different goals. For example, you can brew puer like a green tea (cooler water, less leaves), and you can often get a fairly pleasant tasting brew. However, if your goal is to stress the tea to see if it's suitable for aging, you might use hotter water and more leaf and / or a longer infusion time.
3) In some cases, people might be making the case that the tea has a lot of traits that make it desirable for aging, even if the tea doesn't taste "good" as it is at the moment. One theory is that teas which are pleasant and smooth now may not age as well as teas which are overwhelmingly strong now.
4) Going back to #1.... different people simply have different preferences. If you are a newer tea drinker, you would be wise to take the opinions of people with more knowledge / experience somewhat seriously, but you still have to trust your own taste buds most of all. Just because a bunch of other people like a tea doesn't mean you should.

I know a lot of puer drinkers who will also argue that the taste is either besides the point, or at least not the only thing that should be considered. The tea's qi and how it makes your body and mind feel should also be taken into consideration.

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Re: Raw vs cooked puerh: what gives?

by spinmail » May 25th 10 2:19 am

Yes, I'm afraid the young puerh noted above was bland and insipid - that is, watery and deficient in flavor; but what flavor that was there had the harshness of green tea that was over-brewed. And it wasn't perfection in my cup.

I found each of the responses to this post very interesting, because it goes to describe why certain teas have special appeal. I find some competition winning oolong burnt-tasting, and nearly all teas from some vendors (like Ten-Ren) too intense for my tastes. But for the most part, I really enjoy good tea, and a professional firm like Upton's gets it right nearly all the time. (I've never tried Adagio.)

But puerh threw me for a loop. Based partly on the advice in these posts, I'm going age my top raw puerhs as long as I can. I'll continue to enjoy good ripe puerh. Finally, I'll enjoy brewed puerhs at the Imperial Tea Court, where I know I can taste superior aged puerh without fear of improper brewing.

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Re: Raw vs cooked puerh: what gives?

by shah82 » May 25th 10 2:56 am

Cheap young raw puerh is bad green tea. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. If it's the good green tea or better variety, it won't be cheap anymores, if it ever was. Getcherself lao baozhang maocha from Norbu (I think) to find out why that stuff is expensive. And pu-head are jealous folks. If someone finds out that a particular brand and make is unusually good young, there's a chance (if it's not major factory like Menghai or Xiaguan) that they won't tell anyone until they've saved the bucks for a couple of kilos of tea.

After all, puerh is basically green tea that hasn't been fried/baked/steamed/whathaveyou hot enough to prevent certain kinds of decay, because they decay of these particular green teas offer better taste, eventually, instead of just going stale.