Alongside dozens of organic teas from around the world, we at The Naked Leaf are happy to boast one of the largest pu-erh selections in Calgary. Comparable to scotch whiskies, this tea is culturally specific to a province of China and known for the complexity it develops as it ages. Pu-erh (sometimes written as ‘pu-er’ or ‘puer’) is best known for its earthy scent, full-bodied flavour, and its ability to be steeped upwards of a dozen times. As the seasons shift and the furnaces start to kick in, you won’t find a better tea to last you through a snow day.
One of the first things you will notice about pu-erh tea is its shape. While most of the teas are packed to look like a disc (such as our Wild Arbour Braid Cake), they also come in the shape of mushrooms or small coins. These discs, popularly known as “cakes”, have a history reaching as far back as trade along the Silk Road. In the transportation of tea over great distances, leaves would crumble to dust in the cloth bags they were carried in, but by molding the tea leaves into these stackable cakes they held their shape and could be easily traded in measurable quantities. An important development took place when old cakes were compared to new: the cakes that had matured along the route developed richer, deeper flavours than their younger counterparts. It seemed that the longer a cake sat to age, the darker a cup of tea it would brew. This aging method gives us tea commonly known as “raw” or “sheng” pu-erh.
On the other end of the spectrum we have “ripe” or “shou” pu-erh. This method is far less ancient than its counterpart, having been introduced to tea producing factories in the 1970s. Through the introduction of moisture to packed teas, a rapid fermentation process takes place, simulating the affect that age has on a raw pu-erh cake. Since it is essentially skipping the aging process, ripe pu-erh is cheaper in price and usually made with a lower quality tea-leaf. That being said, this kind of pu-erh is still revered and coveted for its woody, petrichor (the smell of the earth after the rain) taste.
Generally, pu-erh is prepared with a 7 gram chunk of tea in a 100ml brewing vessel called a “gaiwan,” which allows the brewer to do multiple short infusions one after the other. By adding 5 seconds every steep, a tea can last you all day. Each new infusion of the tea opens up in flavour and complexity. If you don’t have that small of a brewing vessel, any other kind will work, just make sure you adjust the amount of tea you’re using accordingly! Pull off layers of your cake with a knife (such as our Pu’erh picks) to minimize any breaking of the leaves that will give you an astringent flavour. If the tea is too weak, add more leaf. If it is too strong, shorten the steep time. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the cup with a whole lot of history.
If you have any questions, we are always happy to answer them! Send us an email at info@thenakedleaf, direct message us on Instagram @nakedleaf, or stop by the store.