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 My goal is for Los Angeles to have an awesome tea house, one that I want to (and have time to) hang out in. The most direct way for that to...

Thursday, December 13, 2018

I got stickers!!!

I’m excited that my Sheng Life (.org) stickers came in. That’s fun. Not entirely sure what I’m going to do with all these stickers (other than stick them on everything I own)… but I had fun having them made, so it’s already good enough. When I received them, my first thought was “oh no! I’ve been slacking off on my blog… I need to create content!” Then I remembered that my intent here is not to create a blog (although I do have a new found appreciation for how much effort goes into starting a blog, hats off to you bloggers). The reason this is a blog format is because that is the format that was available for free… and since I don’t really know what I’m doing with this website yet, it didn’t make sense for me to spend money on a format, yet. So blog format it is… but this is a general information page about the tea stuff I like and of course, the fact that I want a cool tea house in my area!

A lot has happened since my last post (in addition to me getting stickers). Adam had the first session of Portal, a tea and art pop-up in Echo Park. I believe this was an amazing step in the direction of bringing a tea community together in LA. Check his page for info on the next event. I visited Tea Habitat for the first time, which was amazing. She has some really good teas, oolongs in particular, and I highly recommend sitting with her for a tasting. She was a lot of fun to sit and drink tea with. Lastly, the Devan Shah Tea Festival in Los Angeles was a couple weeks ago. Some of my favorite vendors were there, and I got to meet some of our local tea people. As much as I enjoyed my trip traveling to tea houses and a festival… local tea stuff is just super cool.

If you want a sticker, please let me know, I will send them out free of charge, at least until I feel like I’ve spent too much on postage… I’m thinking of doing tee shirts next (which would be an excuse to make the Shenglife.org site its own thing) and then maybe, if I can get all the pieces in order, a run of gaiwans. At the moment this is all fantasy, but I am excited at the idea of turning this fantasy into a reality. Please let me know what you think!

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Hidden Peak Teahouse

In an earlier post, I mentioned that I might do an entire post on the Hidden Peak Teahouse, as this was an amazing experience for me. This is that post. In September 2018, I went to Seattle for the Northwest Tea Festival. Along the way there and back, I stopped by as many tea houses as I could. Hidden Peak was the first. That morning I flew out of LAX to the San Jose airport. While waiting for my flight, I had a little gong fu session in the airport. I thought that was quirky and fun, so I did it again on the plane, and on the bus ride to the train station, and at the train station, and on the train... Sometimes I might not know when to quit.

From there, I had one final bus ride... I did not know what I was in for! This bus ride took me to Santa Cruz via the 17, which winds its way through some beautiful areas... but it really winds, and the bus driver (this surely being his regular route) took those turns fast. Not knowing that this was going to be the case, I was just sitting there, mildly oblivious, looking at the pictures of all my gong fu sessions along the way... until I felt that queasy feeling, cold sweat and hot ears the first signs of motion sickness coming on fast. This trip had my attention! I sat up and faced the front of the bus, knowing my only hope to make it to my destination without puking was to keep my eyes on the road. This allowed me to take in the beautiful scenery, quelled my motion sickness, and allowed me to be mildly terrified at the speed this bus was traveling on this mountain road.

We arrived safely in Santa Cruz. I checked into my hotel, dropped my bag, and headed off to wander around Santa Cruz. There is something special for me about the beginning of a trip. This feeling of freedom and anticipation for things to come. This feeling was intensified for me, because I had not yet planned the second half of my trip, and I didn't even have plans yet for that evening. Somehow I had misread the website for Hidden Peak, and was under the (incorrect) impression that they were not open on Mondays, I was only in Santa Cruz for the tea house, and it was Monday evening, so aimless wandering around an unfamiliar city was on the agenda! Exciting. I had walked about half a mile from my hotel when I realized I did not have my gaiwan with me, so I could not take gong-fu-around-Santa-Cruz. I briefly considered going back for it, but decided that I probably had enough gong fuing around for one day.

As I roamed, enjoying being in a new place with no agenda, I decided to put eyes on the tea house, just so I knew exactly where it was. When I got there, to my surprise, it was open! I walked in and started talking with David, the owner. I told him about my tea journey, which was starting with a visit to his shop, and my intention to spend most of the following day there. As we talked, he mentioned that he does not sell or consume young sheng (which is probably at least 85% of the tea I drink at the moment). When I inquired as to why, and his response was "do you have time for this conversation?"  of course I do.

As he poured a really nice shou for us, he explained that in his experience, and school of thought, young sheng was not ready for consumption, that most shengs are not mature enough to drink until around 30 years of age, and that's why shou puer exists, not to imitate an aged sheng, but to have a drinkable version of puer, that can be ready in months instead of decades. At this point I mentioned that the oldest sheng I had tried to date was 2002. He decided that this was a situation he could and would change. Caution to the reader, flowery descriptions ahead...

He went into the back and returned with a tiny clay teapot, and two thimble sized cups, all antiques if I remember correctly. He told me that in the pot was some of the Human brick, a 1980's sheng (contains no actual humans, I'm relatively sure). He poured me a thimble size cup full, and I took a smell. Rich aromas, unfamiliar to me filled my nose, dark and sweet. I took a sip. The first flavor that jumped out at me was that of autumn leaves. I tasted dried fruit, like raisins or cherries, all of a sudden, shou puer made a little more sense to me. This was similar in the darkness of shou, and I could feel the warmth throughout my body like a shou, but the flavors seemed much brighter, better defined. He poured a second thimble full and  started describing some of the effects that I was experiencing, as I was experiencing them. I could feel the tea from my head to my toes, normally I feel a young sheng in my chest and shoulders, and shou in my belly, but this was a full body experience. Colors seemed a little bit brighter, objects in my view seemed a bit more defined, and imbued with some sort of life force, or spirit. My thoughts seemed a bit more profound. Suddenly I was on sacred ground.

I left hidden peak feeling deeply thoughtful, but at the same time with a relaxed lightness. I walked the night streets of Santa Cruz feeling good from head to toe.

The next morning I returned and had a seat at one of their many draining tables. I turned my phone off and put it away, as this is a digital free zone. I sat there for 5 or 6 hours, and drank 3 different teas. I enjoyed some of the snack foods on their menu, and visited their restroom several times. I looked at various books from their library. One had pictures of people all over the world making and drinking tea in many of the various ways that people make and drink their tea. I would thumb through this book, pick a picture, have a couple cups with that person (well their image anyway), and then find another. There was a Banksy book. I thought this was a pinnacle. Reading a book about an amazing street artist (full of pictures), while drinking amazing tea, with my phone off. How can it get any better?

This visit was a turning point for me. Like it was here that I first started to realize that LA really needs a bad ass tea house, AND tea house with LA vibe would be amazing. Here are the elements I want to incorporate from hidden peak: draining tables, really good snack foods, books, music, tea served in a tea pot or a gaiwan or in a to-go cup, a great selection of tea ware for sale, and a menu of amazing teas. There are obviously items I would do differently in my tea house. First of all, I want to serve young sheng, I love the stuff. Also, as much as I loved that that was a digital free zone, I don't have the balls to incorporate that into my vision yet. LA needs a digital free zone, badly, and a gong fu tea house is a logical place for that to be... notice I said "a" gong fu tea house... not "the" gong fu tea house. I think the digital free zone would be a very worthy follow up project, as in: if the tea house does really well, and we decide to open another location - that second location could be declared digifree (or something like that). I'm just not ready to burden the original concept with this type of rule. The feelings that I experienced after drinking that first tea are the basic elements I want the tea house to have. Thoughtful in a deep way, yet light and fun at the same time.

If you are ever anywhere near Santa Cruz, or feel like taking a trip to somewhere really special, put Hidden Peak on your list. I definitely plan on going back.

Friday, November 16, 2018


Its been a couple days from my last post, and I want to keep my momentum up, but I was unsure what to post. There are many tea blogs out there, most of which are mainly reviews of tea, tea ware, tea vendors, etc., and those bloggers do quite a good job of that. This blog is not that. Actually, I didn't really intend for this to be a blog at all, really just a statement of purpose, but the blog format was free, and I don't have anything to sell... so here we are. Anyways, I think it is good for me to provide public updates, since I have publicly stated my desire.

I want a tea house in Los Angeles that features gong fu service, and puer. I do not have a business plan (I don't even know for sure that I want to be the person who would write the business plan for the tea house, or if this will be a team or a partnership... I do want a role though!) Right now I am really just doing research. This blog is part of the research. I am gauging (and hopefully generating) interest. I recently went on a trip to several tea houses on the west coast, this trip is actually what inspired me to want to make a tea house in LA. I plan on going on more of these trips soon, but with the intent of discussing what works and what doesn't with the owners (over tea of course). The idea of this trip excites me. Tomorrow, there is a tea pop-up in Echo Park hosted by imagesoftea.xyz. I am going to that for several reasons: 1) to drink tea, 2) to fellowship with tea people 3) to see what kind of interest there is in gong fu puer right now in this town 4) because it interests me and sounds awesome! this last point is the most important to me. I know that if this becomes a business, there will be a lot of hard work associated with it, I have no delusions about that, but I want it to be fun as well! If I'm not having fun, then whats the point?

Here's what else I'm doing to have fun with this. Shenglife.org (no need to click the link, it just sends you right back here at the moment) I ordered stickers! like 1500 of them. Just like the sheng life logo ta the top of my page. I'm going to start giving those to people. maybe generate some traffic for this page. My first attempt at marketing. Creating the sticker image was a ton of fun for me, and I am really excited to get those stickers and to start putting them on all my stuff. I am thinking about getting some tee shirts made, and then selling those on the sheng life site. That sounds like a ton of fun to me as well. Even if no one buys the shirt, creating it will be fun, and I think I can do it with out sinking too much money into it. Then I can play around with marketing the shirts and all of that.

In summary, I am in a research/data gathering phase of tea house development. I am testing the local interest in having this type of tea house. I am planning another trip to check out tea houses, but this time I will set up appointments to talk to the owners to find out how they make their money. I have stickers on order, and am thinking about making some tee shirts. As always, your feedback is greatly appreciated! thanks

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

You like gong fu?

I am by no means the expert here. I should probably include a list of links to blogs and videos of people who know more than I do. I can share with you the basics and my experience thus far. Gong fu is the same as kung fu (like the martial art) it means “with skill”, so gong fu cha (or kung fu cha) means to make tea with skill. There are many things that go into this, way more things than I intend to get into in this post, actually more things than I even know! This is a quick list of the basics as I know them.

1) Water quality – This is arguably the most important variable in the outcome of your tea (although, since this is a basics list, everything I am writing about here is very important to the result). Here is how I have noticed the effect of water quality in my tea practice. I live in Los Angeles, but I work in Riverside. Most of the tea drinking I do is during the day at work. Essentially, I have three different water sources available to me – LA tap water, Riverside tap water and bottled water (with several different bottled options obviously). I prefer the bottled water (at my work we have Sparklets). The bottled water gives the cleanest and brightest tasting tea of all the options. On the weekends however, due largely to convenience, I use LA tap water and find that it is good enough. The higher mineral content (I am speculating that this is the cause) of the tap water dulls some of the brighter, lighter floral/fruit notes in the tea, but helps to bring out the mineral and earthy flavors. I like to taste my teas with both water sources, as some teas work very nicely with the LA tap water. Riverside tap water however, has a very high mineral content, and really muddies the flavor of the tea (my opinion, of course). The Riverside tap water also dirties my tea ware very quickly. Qi Fine Teas in Portland tested various water sources available in the United States, and compared them to mountain stream water in China (I do not know which mountain(s) or which stream(s)). They made this list of good water sources for tea:

2) Tea – I guess this is obvious, but since I put water first, I didn’t want to move on until I mentioned the thing that makes tea tea… It’s pretty clear that the type and quality of the tea you are brewing is going to make all the difference in the world. I have a list of tea vendors that I particularly like on my page, but I recommend experimenting and sampling. Find what you like!

3) Brewing vessel – This can be anything that allows you to put your leaves in contact with hot water. I like to use a 100 mL gaiwan or a small teapot. The size of this vessel will depend on the number of people you are serving and your brewing parameters (next few sections). The material type, wall thickness, and shape of the vessel will also affect your outcome, but this is mostly outside the scope of this post on the basics. The main thing I will say here is that the two main options for the material will be porous (like an unglazed clay) and nonporous (like porcelain or glazed clay). The nonporous options are neutral, while the porous options will interact with the tea. Some (many? most?)  people say that with porous vessels, you should dedicate each vessel to a specific type of tea. One last note on the vessel, take the pour time into account. If I am brewing 5 second steeps, but my vessel has a 10 second pour time, my tea may come out quite a bit stronger than I intended.

4) Water temperature – As with everything in this post (possibly every post on the internet) people will disagree with what is said here. With very little research you can find out what different people say the proper temperature is for each tea. White2tea sends a little card with their tea that list their suggested temperatures for each type of tea. Me, personally, I use boiling water for everything except green teas. I find the green teas get too bitter for me if brewed that hot, and have not had any bad results with any of the others. I have heard that some white teas will brew bitter if the water is too hot, but I have not had that problem yet (also have not had a ton of whites). Since it is really easy to just use boiling water that’s what I do. If I decide to start drinking a lot of green teas, I’ll invest in an adjustable electric kettle, and I would use water in the 160-170°F range. Again, like everything in this post (and most things in life) experiment, and see what works for you.

5) Leaf to water ratio – We are getting a little bit more technical now! Personally, I do not weigh my tea, I just eyeball it. Something like the first four or five times I weighed, just so I could get a good idea, and I just estimate from there on out. This is a trial and error process, and I have had teas that were way to strong doing it this way, but I have enjoyed learning it. Here too there are multiple schools of thought. My preference is the 1 gram per 15 mL water ratio, and I use this for all types of tea, but will sometimes adjust down for an individual tea based on experience (very tippy blacks and shous do well with lighter ratios for my tastes). There are other approaches. Denong Tea for example suggests using only three grams of tea when brewing.

6) Steep Time – If you haven’t anticipated that I am going to suggest that you should experiment and see what works for you, you should probably start over and read from the beginning. Here’s what I do. I rinse all my teas. This might not be necessary with all loose leaf teas, but I do it anyway (some sweaty person made this tea). For tightly pressed teas, I will go as long as a 10 second rinse, most pressed teas I give 5 seconds, and loose leaf I do a flash rinse (no wait time between putting water in the vessel and pouring it off). For tightly pressed cakes I will also use a 10 second steep for the first steep, everything else, I start at 5 seconds (unless the rinse was really dark, then I will start with a flash steep). Each subsequent steep I add 5 seconds, until the 5th, where I start going up by 10 seconds each time. If I make it past 10 steeps, which is fairly rare, I start increasing by 20 to 30 seconds each time. Of course your mileage may vary. Also, just like I don’t weigh my leaf, I don’t use a timer or count seconds I just estimate my times, and sometimes I screw it up.

7) Procedure – Some of this was covered under steep time, but I will just quickly run through the steps of a typical gong fu session for me. If I’m just making tea for myself, I just use a vessel with about 100mL capacity, and a cup that is just about the same size. If I am brewing for more than just myself, I will also use a serving pitcher, to make sure everyone is getting tea of the same strength. If im really trying to be fancy, I will use a filter also, but I have literally only done that twice! I start by boiling water… duh! I warm the vessel by filling it a bit over half way with the boiling water. I then pour that into the serving pitcher, and then the cups, so that everything is preheated and sterile. I then select the leaf, and allow everyone in the session to look at and smell the dry leaf if they like. Leaf goes into the vessel, lid goes on. The steam/warmth of the vessel at this point will wake up fragrances in the leaf. I then allow everyone to smell the warm leaf. Then I rinse the leaf (see above) and let it sit for about 30 seconds after the rinse to fully hydrate. Another chance to smell, this time usually just smell the lid, as the steam directly from the hot leaf can be unpleasant in the nose. I then begin session with the first steep. After several steeps, smell the dry pitcher and your cup. At the end of the session, look at the leaves once again. If you are so inclined, take notes on each step (and each steep) throughout the session.

As always, thanks for reading! Please feel free to reach out to me with any questions or comments you might have.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Why puer?

My mom asked me yesterday, with all the different teas out there, why did I get all goofy (my words not hers) for puer? On the spot, I had a tough time coming up with an answer. I sort of stuttered/stammered something about it just "sort of speaks to me" and crap like that, but then finally came up with two valid points: 1) its the first type of really high quality tea I experienced, 2) I like the way it makes me feel. So..... allow me to elaborate!

1) Until fairly recently, I never really knew anything about good tea. Probably the closest I ever got was a cup of jasmine pearls from a coffee chain store. Not that there's anything wrong with that! I like a certain tea, and I use the words "quality" or "good" to describe teas that have traits that I like (and usually make them cost more) but in no way am I trying to put down any other tea or tea drinker. If you enjoy tea bags that come from the $0.99 store, god bless you! I just had no idea that teas with these traits that I now regard as quality existed. Even the first few puers I tried were not fantastic... but they were different, and something about them captivated me. I wanted to try more and more. I liked the way they tasted, and the seemingly endless variety available... but there was something else, something subtle, something that took me a little while to notice. That something is the topic of item two...

2) I don't know exactly which tea was the first that I noticed it in... I'm pretty sure it was either Crimson Lotus Tea 2017 Slumbering Dragon or white2tea 2017 swinedog 76. If you are familiar with these teas, you will know they are really powerful. I remember the first time I drank each of them. The Swinedog made me feel like I was wearing a bullshit proof vest, which is an amazing superpower type thing to have. Slumbering Dragon gave me an "I've got this" feeling of strong confidence, like it somehow made me extra savvy for a little while. Like I said, these are both particularly potent teas, but these experiences clued me into the effects that tea can have. I started paying attention to the way I felt when I drank tea, how each tea made me feel. This was an amazing exercise in mindfulness, and I recommend it highly. Paying attention like this made me realize how powerful a drug coffee is. I began to see the wide range of effects, from calming to energizing, that different teas could have. My eyes were opened to a new dimension, and I was amazed at how good they could feel. Some teas feel like a warm blanket, others like a cool breeze, some strong and some very subtle. I've heard good tea described as "comfortable in the body", I think that's a great description. Some people talk about being "tea drunk", I like that too... but its nothing like being drunk drunk, its an relaxed and open, yet aware and fully functional (well... kind of) state. I know that if you have not tried quality tea, that this probably sounds a bit crazy, but this is my experience, and it didn't jump out and smack me in the face right away. I had to be open to it. I had to pay attention to how I felt. I had to be present to receive what was offered.

Now this is not to say that other types of tea don't produce amazing sensations in the body, they do, and I definitely drink other teas. Lately I have been trying a lot of white teas that are amazing in this regard.  However, (at least at the moment) I am really enjoying exploring the world of puer and its effects and flavors.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Why a tea house?

As my tea drinking approached (and probably passed) obsessive levels, I began to try different teas from different vendors. I was quickly amazed by the options available. I was (and still am) getting samples by the dozen, buying cakes of the teas that I really like. I soon amassed several kilograms of tea in my collection. I became interested in what other people were drinking, and what they thought about it. I started reading blogs, watching podcasts, reading reviews on steepster, instagram and reddit. I basically dove into a rabbit hole. In this strange new tea world, I started to hear about tea festivals. My work schedule at the time prevented me from getting away long enough to go to one... until I finally finished a project. All of a sudden, and with very little notice, I was able to take a couple weeks off, for the first time in years. This was about 10 days before the Northwest Tea Festival. So I planned around that. I had been doing a little bit of research into visiting tea houses (I had thought that this project was going to end a few weeks sooner than it actually did), and had come up with just a couple that I really wanted to hit. The first was in Santa Cruz. But before I left, I had tea with Adam Yasmin in Echo Park. Adam is a wealth of tea knowlege, and a pleasure to be around. We had a nice long tea session, and great conversation. People being brought together by tea, that's what this is about.

Hidden Peak Teahouse - this was a special experience for me. Perhaps I will do an entire post just on this visit in the near future, but it was the first stop on my trip, and the first time I ever tried a 30 year old sheng. I spent most of a day here, and greatly enjoyed it. I can't wait to go back!

From there I sent to San Francisco, where I stopped at several tea houses. I liked them all, had some good teas, and some good conversation, but the one that stood out to me as a place where I could really just chill for a while and drink some tea was Teance in Berkeley.

From there it was time to head on to Seattle... For the festival. The Northwest Tea Festival was my kind of place. It was a seriously eclectic. Like someone mixed the pieces from 4 or 5 different puzzles together, then put them together and magically the pieces all fit. They definitely don't look like they belong together, but none the less, they fit perfectly. There are so many different types of tea, from so many parts of the world, thus, there are so many different types of tea drinker... all coming together to do exactly that. Some people were there in costume. Some people were there in the full regalia of their tea culture (different from a costume... kind of), and there were just regular people in regular clothes. Hipsters, homemakers, handmaidens and homies, everybody was there! I could easily go off on some sort of pseudo-poetic tangent about how my whole life I have felt like a misfit puzzle piece, and how comforting it felt to be apart of this patchwork of mismatched puzzle pieces, but I will spare you that and just say that I really felt at home in this strange group.

At the festival,  I spent quite a bit of time at the Crimson Lotus booth having tea with Glen. The tea and the conversation were delightful. I got to meet Oolong Owl at the CLT booth, and Then Had tea with Jeffery at Denong. I felt like I was meeting the celebrities of the tea world, I even got to say "hi" to James Norwood Pratt. I had a great time. The day after, I went to the Crimson Lotus Tea headquarters, and drank some more tea with Glenn and Lamu. These small friendly tea sessions are amazing. This is human connection at its best in my opinion. This is what I want.

From there I went to Tacoma for a bit to hang with family, and then on to Portland. What a great city for tea Portland is! My first stop was Qi Fine Teas (when they get a website I will link it). I really enjoyed my stop there, as the owner kept pouring tea after tea. It was a great start to my Portland visit. The next day I had tea with Tea Monk Po at Heavens Tea. This was an amazing private session. Po has a very special space, and I felt great connection and really loved the sit we had. From there I went to Fly Awake which is a really cool setup. This is where I started thinking that a tea house might be something I could realistically do. Fly Awake is a great setup for just hanging out, socializing, reading a book, trying different teas, etc. As a side note, if I were to do this again, I would go see Po and Fly Awake on different days, I had alot of powerful tea that day! The next day (the final day of my trip) I went to the Chinese gardens (and the tea house there) and then the Japanese gardens (had tea there too). To end the day I had tea with Forest and Melanie of Zuo Wang Tea. Again, this was an intimate tea session in their home, where once again I got to feel the sacred space that happens when people share tea. During our conversation, I shared with them that I had enjoyed my trip around having tea with people so much, I wished I could figure out how to do that for a living.

The next day I flew home. It was a beautiful trip, and I loved every minute of it. The problem is, there is nowhere that I know of in LA where I can have this tea house experience. Denong Tea in Pasadena comes close, and definitely recommend going there, but I want something just a little bit different.  

Here's what I'm thinking: I want really cool ambiance, but it must be functional. I want earth tones, elements of fire, water, clay and, of course leaves (wood is cool too). I want people to be able to sit down and order tea in a teapot or gaiwan and be able to pour their own tea gong fu style, with as many refills as they want. I want them to be able to choose from a wide variety of teas, especially puers. I think you should be able to have 3, 7 or 10 grams of tea in your 100 mL vessel as you choose. I want there to be interesting and delicious food items available. I want there to be books to read. There should always be cool music playing. I want a daily cold brewed sheng on tap, as well as a daily hot boiled shou as to-go offerings. I want shelves of beautiful tea ware for sale. I might tolerate macha, but you are probably going to have to whisk it yourself. No boba, absolutely not. in the early mornings and/or evenings we will have small tea ceremonies and/or private sessions. I want this to be a truely special place where we can hold ceremonial space together, or just pop in for a quick hot cup of shou and a cookie to go, or sit and read,o  pour tea and ponder, or just chill. Maybe I'll sell tee shirts too.


Friday, November 9, 2018

Why the name "Pu Head"?

Why “Pu Head”? Well, I guess to answer that question, I have to answer a different question: What is puer tea? The answer to that question seems to be a bit elusive! Puer (also spelled pu’er, pu-erh, puerh, and a variety of other ways, none of which my spell check recognizes, and sometimes called pu for short) is a type of tea which is not well known in the west, and even when it is known, it is frequently misunderstood. It is easy to see why it is misunderstood, there seems to be no consistent definition of what puer actually is. As Jinghong Zhang puts it in her book Puer Tea Ancient Caravans and Urban Chic (a book I highly recommend if you want to know more about Puer): “As Puer tea’s definition is debated, it is hard to tell what exactly Puer tea is, although some aspects are less controversial than others.”

Here are the basics as far as I interpret/understand them (please do your own investigation and form your own conclusions!) Puer tea comes from Yunnan, which is a province on the southern border of China. There are teas that come from the areas bordering Yunnan (Myanmar and Laos) which are processed in the same way as puer, but just as we call sparkling wine made outside of Champagne France “sparkling wine” and not “champagne” usually these teas are refered to as “processed like puer” or something similar. All tea (real tea not “herbal tea”) comes from the camellia sinensis plant, which is a small tree or bush. Puer comes from the assamica variety or subspecies of camellia sinensis and has large leaves in comparison to the other varieties.

There are two basic types of Puer tea, known as sheng (also called raw) and shou (ripe). The processing for both starts out the same, and is very similar to the processing of green tea. After the leaves are picked, they are wok fired in a kill green step. This kills off the enzymes that will cause the tea to oxidize over time. The difference from green tea, is that for puer, the enzyme destruction is not complete, which allows the tea to oxidize slowly over time. The tea is then rolled and sundried to produce what is known as maocha, which is essentially a loose leaf young sheng puer. This is where the processing of the two types of tea diverge.

Sheng puer is pressed into cakes called beengs (or bricks, or a variety of other shapes) soon after the rough processing. This young sheng puer has more in common with green tea than shou puer. Frequently, sheng puer is allowed to age, for decades. Some people will say that a sheng puer is not ready to drink until it is at least 30 years old. As the tea ages, it transforms into a dark, or post fermented tea, the flavors change, and deepen… some sort of magic happens, and the value of the tea skyrockets. A good aged sheng can easily run thousands of dollars for a 357 gram cake. So there are really two types of sheng puer, young and aged, but obviously this is a spectrum, where a tea can be any number of years along the path to aging. The storage plays an essential role in the aging process, and can make it go faster or slower, and poor storage can ruin a tea.

Shou puer goes through a ripening process where the leaves are piled, and the temperature and moisture are carefully controlled to transform the tea over a period of a couple months into a dark tea (also known as a post fermented tea). The tea is then pressed into cakes. This ripening process was developed as an attempt to simulate/expedite the aging process. Even though they missed the mark of reproducing an aged sheng, they did create a very drinkable dark tea. Shou puer is usually (in my experience) what is sold as puer in the west.

I can’t really write an article about puer without mentioning the lies and deceit that go on in the puer world. Remember that there is a massive market for puer in China, and it is not well regulated. Here is the best advice I can give: trust your experience, not the vendors. Daunting advice for someone unfamiliar with this tea I know, but false claims are really the norm for the industry. There are villages which bring ridiculously high prices for tea (Lao Ban Zhang, Bing Dao, Bohetang, etc.) these names raise red flags for me, especially if the prices do not match. The older the tea trees, the more expensive the tea that comes from them. I just assume the age stated for any trees are exaggerated (and usually ignore the number given anyway) anything stating 800 year old trees, 1000 year old trees, etc. are almost certainly lies. from what I understand, there is not that much material from trees that old out there, and what there is, is probably not making it to the west. Anyways, the village the tea came from, the age of the trees it was picked from, these don’t necessarily make a tea good. Taste the tea. Do you like the taste? How does it make you feel? If you are enjoying the experience, the marketing claims really aren’t that important are they?

Thanks for reading this (rather long) post. What would you like me to write about next? I would love to hear your thoughts!