How to get more flavor out of pu'erh

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

Jan 24th 20 4:43 am
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How to get more flavor out of pu'erh

by shronk » Jan 24th 20 4:43 am

I'm relatively new to gaiwan style brewing and pu'erh. I bought some aged raw and ripe pu samples from a local tea shop and Yunnan Sourcing, including the Kunming aged sampler . Some of the YS reviews describe complex and long lasting flavors. I am a bit underwhelmed by what I've tasted so far. Besides bitterness, the flavor and aroma seems to fade quickly after just 2 or 3 steepings. I wonder if there's anything I can do to get better brews.

My current brewing parameters:
I'm using 3-4g in a 60ml gaiwan. I've been following the YS brew guide. One 20s wash for raw, or two 15s washes for ripe. I let the leaves sit in the gaiwan with the lid off for 1-2 min to let them awaken. Then my usual steep times are 15s, 20s, 30s, 45s, 1min.

Some potential problems with my brewing:
  1. I keep the samples in their packets. I've mostly brewed them right after opening the seals. I've seen some discussions on aerating (xingcha) pu for days to weeks in paper bags before steeping! e.g. here and here. How important is this for pu samples? Do I want to aerate them in a humid or dry environment?
  2. I reboil the water many times during a session to keep it close to 100C. My kettle has a "maintain temp" mode, so if the temp falls a few degrees it will reboil. I typically have a lot more water in the kettle than I end up using, so I figure the increasing impurity concentration from slight reboiling should be negligible, but maybe I am underestimating the effect.
  3. I am using filtered tap water. If that's not good water to use, should I try buying purified water?
  4. I am not careful about not pouring the water on the leaves. I've heard pouring directly on the leaves this is bad for green and white tea, but does it matter for pu erh?
This all feels like a bit much. I would like to know if any of these things have a big effect on flavor so I can prioritize what to try experimenting with. Is there anything else that matters which I am missing? Thank you!

Jan 25th 20 1:10 am
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Re: How to get more flavor out of pu'erh

by emsipuu » Jan 25th 20 1:10 am

For me, a 20 second wash seems like a very long time, I would certainly feel that this is a wasted steep. I pour the water in, give the pot a bit of a wiggle, then pour straight out. The tea will not be completely opened, but I do not feel that is necessary. There is a reason the best steep is the 2. or 3.
Also, I never reboil the water, I might be crazy, but it just seems a bit more "flat" to me if I do that.
Also, by 'more flavour', do you mean more steeps? I would say with confidence that pu erh is one of the most, if not the most flavoursome tea, so if your tea is tasteless – it is probably the tea.
Now, you called the tea bitter – and I don’t know what exactly you mean by that or if you are referring to raw or ripe/cooked or both. I drink a lot of ripe, not a lot of raw – but ripe pu erh rarely is bitter – and bitter is usually a sign of over brewing. A mistake I often do, is to over brew my pu erh, which will result in less good steeps. I do this because pu erh is so hard to get wrong, I might do the first two steeps for 50 seconds and I wont realize until the 4. Steep because it tasted right the first times, but suddenly it has lost a lot of its richness.
Try this:
Quick rinse, in and out, then time your steeps with a timer. Do first 3 steeps at 20 seconds. Do 3. And out 30-40. Use the colour of the tea to evaluate. In my experience, if you have to wait over a minute and the taste still isn’t really there, then its basically over.
Use the first three steeps as a guide, if it tastes fine, try to go lower in time, and see if it still tastes the same. Get the right amount of tea, make sure it gets enough space to fully expand. In my experience, I want my fully expanded leaves to take up about 70% of the contents of the pot.
And sometimes, even though you buy good quality tea, the tea doesn’t really suit you and your brewing style and you never seem to get it right – it’s the tea. Buy a new one next time, has happened to me a lot.
Another few tips – experiment with lid on/off between steeps, and also the time. Sometimes the leaves need time to cool down between the steeps, give it a shake so the leaves in the middle don’t “cook”. If you think it is too bitter, lower the temp – some pu erhs want boiling water, some around 80 degrees.
Another thing is the gaiwan and how it holds heat, maybe it loses heat quickly, pu erhs like it hot. You have a really small gaiwan, which I would think loses heat quickly, this might be a big reason for losing flavour, but I don’t have enough experience to confidently comment on that.
Lastly, just read a review on the link you included, were someone called the tea very bitter. IMO (ripe)puehrs are not bitter at all, very sweet with a creamy texture and a wet autumn leaves-ish lingering taste. My guess is that it is probably the tea, but I hope and believe some of the things I mentioned will make for a better experience.

Jan 25th 20 2:06 pm
Posts: 5
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Re: How to get more flavor out of pu'erh

by emsipuu » Jan 25th 20 2:06 pm

For me, a 20 second wash seems like a very long time, I would certainly feel that this is a wasted steep. I pour the water in, give the pot a bit of a wiggle, then pour straight out. The tea will not be completely opened, but I do not feel that is necessary. There is a reason the best steep is the 2. or 3.
Also, I never reboil the water, I might be crazy, but it just seems a bit more "flat" to me if I do that.
Also, by 'more flavour', do you mean more steeps? I would say with confidence that pu erh is one of the most, if not the most flavoursome tea, so if your tea is tasteless – it is probably the tea.
Now, you called the tea bitter – and I don’t know what exactly you mean by that or if you are referring to raw or ripe/cooked or both. I drink a lot of ripe, not a lot of raw – but ripe pu erh rarely is bitter – and bitter is usually a sign of over brewing. A mistake I often do, is to over brew my pu erh, which will result in less good steeps. I do this because pu erh is so hard to get wrong, I might do the first two steeps for 50 seconds and I wont realize until the 4. Steep because it tasted right the first times, but suddenly it has lost a lot of its richness.
Try this:
Quick rinse, in and out, then time your steeps with a timer. Do first 3 steeps at 20 seconds. Do 3. And out 30-40. Use the colour of the tea to evaluate. In my experience, if you have to wait over a minute and the taste still isn’t really there, then its basically over.
Use the first three steeps as a guide, if it tastes fine, try to go lower in time, and see if it still tastes the same. Get the right amount of tea, make sure it gets enough space to fully expand. In my experience, I want my fully expanded leaves to take up about 70% of the contents of the pot.
And sometimes, even though you buy good quality tea, the tea doesn’t really suit you and your brewing style and you never seem to get it right – it’s the tea. Buy a new one next time, has happened to me a lot.
Another few tips – experiment with lid on/off between steeps, and also the time. Sometimes the leaves need time to cool down between the steeps, give it a shake so the leaves in the middle don’t “cook”. If you think it is too bitter, lower the temp – some pu erhs want boiling water, some around 80 degrees.
Another thing is the gaiwan and how it holds heat, maybe it loses heat quickly, pu erhs like it hot. You have a really small gaiwan, which I would think loses heat quickly, this might be a big reason for losing flavour, but I don’t have enough experience to confidently comment on that.
Lastly, just read a review on the link you included, were someone called the tea very bitter. IMO (ripe)puehrs are not bitter at all, very sweet with a creamy texture and a wet autumn leaves-ish lingering taste. My guess is that it is probably the tea, but I hope and believe some of the things I mentioned will make for a better experience.

Jan 29th 20 4:38 pm
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Re: How to get more flavor out of pu'erh

by shronk » Jan 29th 20 4:38 pm

emsipuu wrote: For me, a 20 second wash seems like a very long time, I would certainly feel that this is a wasted steep. I pour the water in, give the pot a bit of a wiggle, then pour straight out. The tea will not be completely opened, but I do not feel that is necessary. There is a reason the best steep is the 2. or 3.
20s is what YS recommends. I wonder why they suggest a long wash.
Also, I never reboil the water, I might be crazy, but it just seems a bit more "flat" to me if I do that.
Is lower water temp also going to make the steeps come out worse? Seems like there is a trade-off here. If I was very picky, I could boil fresh water ever few steeps.
Also, by 'more flavour', do you mean more steeps? I would say with confidence that pu erh is one of the most, if not the most flavoursome tea, so if your tea is tasteless – it is probably the tea.
I mean more flavor in each steep. More experience for my tongue is what I'm after. There is some flavor. I just may be expecting too much based on people's elaborate tea reviews. Also bitterness may be covering up some of the flavor.
Now, you called the tea bitter – and I don’t know what exactly you mean by that or if you are referring to raw or ripe/cooked or both. I drink a lot of ripe, not a lot of raw – but ripe pu erh rarely is bitter – and bitter is usually a sign of over brewing.
I'm referring to raw. I agree the ripe I've tried is not bitter. Bitter means the taste of bitterness.
A mistake I often do, is to over brew my pu erh, which will result in less good steeps. I do this because pu erh is so hard to get wrong, I might do the first two steeps for 50 seconds and I wont realize until the 4. Steep because it tasted right the first times, but suddenly it has lost a lot of its richness.
Try this:
Quick rinse, in and out, then time your steeps with a timer. Do first 3 steeps at 20 seconds. Do 3. And out 30-40. Use the colour of the tea to evaluate. In my experience, if you have to wait over a minute and the taste still isn’t really there, then its basically over.
Use the first three steeps as a guide, if it tastes fine, try to go lower in time, and see if it still tastes the same. Get the right amount of tea, make sure it gets enough space to fully expand. In my experience, I want my fully expanded leaves to take up about 70% of the contents of the pot.
And sometimes, even though you buy good quality tea, the tea doesn’t really suit you and your brewing style and you never seem to get it right – it’s the tea. Buy a new one next time, has happened to me a lot.
Another few tips – experiment with lid on/off between steeps, and also the time. Sometimes the leaves need time to cool down between the steeps, give it a shake so the leaves in the middle don’t “cook”. If you think it is too bitter, lower the temp – some pu erhs want boiling water, some around 80 degrees.
Another thing is the gaiwan and how it holds heat, maybe it loses heat quickly, pu erhs like it hot. You have a really small gaiwan, which I would think loses heat quickly, this might be a big reason for losing flavour, but I don’t have enough experience to confidently comment on that.
Lastly, just read a review on the link you included, were someone called the tea very bitter. IMO (ripe)puehrs are not bitter at all, very sweet with a creamy texture and a wet autumn leaves-ish lingering taste. My guess is that it is probably the tea, but I hope and believe some of the things I mentioned will make for a better experience.
Thanks for the tips! I tried the experiment on the same raw pu'erh I had a few days ago and it was indeed less bitter, though the flavor was also subtle. I used a bit less tea, and I shook the gaiwan and emptied the leaves into the lid often to cool them down between steeps.
Another thing is the gaiwan and how it holds heat, maybe it loses heat quickly, pu erhs like it hot. You have a really small gaiwan, which I would think loses heat quickly, this might be a big reason for losing flavour, but I don’t have enough experience to confidently comment on that.
You mean that the gaiwan is losing heat during steeping? At the same time, you are saying that the leaves can get too hot and cook. Quite the balancing act :P

Feb 5th 20 3:42 pm
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Re: How to get more flavor out of pu'erh

by BenHK » Feb 5th 20 3:42 pm

1) 20s is long, some extreme measure is to wash with only warm water to keep flavor
2)your steps and timing are not wrong generally, each tea has its own character
3) if the bag is paper, don't worry about the aerating, the tea was breathing all the time
4)keep it in cool place without other odors, not too humid is okay
5)personally i don't like reboil water, a few degrees is fine, reboil water I don't like the taste
6)purified water is a final choice, mountain water with less minerals is good, too much
minerals make the water feel so 'hard' in mouth(difficult to describe the feeling)
anyway, the 'soft' feeling is good, you drink the tea water and feel so smooth
7)when your tab water is too hard, and no less-mineral mountain in supermarket, if you
live near by nature, mountain stream water with no human activities actually is best
8)For PuErh, pour water on leaf is okay