What is Puer?
Puer, fermented Chinese tea, has a long and complex history. From acting as a principle trading good on the ancient horse roads to its modern incarnation as a globally embraced hobby, this tea variety offers a wide array of flavor profiles. The tasting notes in puer can be affected by several factors, including terroir, processing, storage and age.
Typically sourced from Yunnan Province, China, there are two main processing styles: raw (sheng) and ripe (shou). Sheng puer is either stored and consumed as Maocha or it is pressed into a shape, usually in the form of a cake or brick. For pressing the tea, the leaves need to be malleable. First, they are weighed out into a form and steamed. After an initial steam, they are put into a cloth, placed back in to the form and then re-steamed. The tea is then pressed either under large stone forms or by hydraulic press. The pressed tea is then set out to dry. Once the desired moisture level is reached, the Puer is ready to drink or be aged.
Shou puer was developed in the 1970’s. The goal was to accelerate the fermentation process that would take 10 – 15 years through natural aging to meet the demands of the domestic and Hong Kong market. After withering, heating, rolling, and sorting, the Maocha is formed into large piles. water is added and the leaves are covered. The tea is left to ferment over the course of a few months. The piles are turned throughout to maintain consistency in the fermentation. A secondary fermentation process is implemented by uncovering the piles and spreading the leaf out, which also begins the drying process. Once the tea has finished drying, it is sorted. Some tea will be designated for being sold loose and others will be pressed (often by a hydraulic press).
What is gong fu?
Brewing puer can be as important to the drinker’s experience as the tea itself. While most shou puer can be brewed Western style (2.5 grams per 12 ounces of water in an infuser basket for 5-7 minutes), sheng puer is better complemented by a multi-stage brewing process called gong fu, or “with skill”.
A tea brewing practice originating in the Chaoshan area of Guangdong Province in China, gong fu is ideal for puer, oolong and black teas due to their re-steep value. Gong fu incorporates either a gaiwan, a lidded cup typically crafted from porcelain, or a small teapot to yield several consecutive infusions.
What will you need to brew puer gong fu style?
Gong fu style brewing setups can vary. A full traditional gong fu setup is extravagant and would include accessories such carefully designed sniffing cups, or wen xiang bei. For the sake of simply enjoying the tea, a basic arrangement can suffice. This would include the following:
a) Gaiwan or small teapot (preferably a Yixing, or porous clay teapot from China)
b) A small pitcher (to evenly distribute flavor)
c) A strainer to fit over the pitcher
d) Puer knife or an implement to break apart puer cake
e) Puer tray
f) Hot water (anywhere from 195F to boiling is fine)
g) Serving cups
h) Gong fu tea tray (a wooden tray with a drainage box)
Brewing puer tea: A step-by-step
1. Gather everything needed to brew gong fu;
2. Unwrap your cake on a puer tray (they are typically covered in a mulberry paper outerwrap);
3. Using a puer knife or sharp implement, poke your puer cake a ¼ inch from the outer edge. Using your other hand to hold the cake in place, shift your knife from side to side, breaking off portions of tea from the parameter of the cake;
4. Bring the puer you’ve broken off of your cake to your scale. Having tared the weight of your brewing vessel, portion your puer into your gaiwan or teapot according to your brewing capacity;
The general ratio is 2 grams to 1 ounce of water;
5. Once you’ve measured your tea, pour hot water (195F or boiling works fine) over your leaves until you’ve filled your brewing vessel;
6. Cover and let sit for 10 seconds;
7. If using a gaiwan, shift your lid slightly to one side to create a small slit between the lid and the lip of the dish. Grab the gaiwan carefully by resting the bottom dish on your middle and index finger and placing your thumb on lid’s center groove;
8. Pour out your liquid through the small strainer placed on the mouth of your small pitcher;
9. Remove your strainer. Pour the liquor from your small pitcher into your serving cups;
10. Discard this first brew into your gong fu tea tray;
Steps 10 and 11 serve to preheat your vessels while ridding your puer of any residue from aging;
11. Pour hot water over your rinsed leaves;
12. If using a gaiwan, use the lid to stir leaves evenly throughout the broth. Cover and let sit for 15-30 seconds;
13. Repeat steps 9 and 10;
14. Sip and enjoy. After your first serving, you can typically re-steep puer 5-7 times. We encourage re-brewing to maximize your tea drinking experience;