I thought about using my new teaset to do a tasting that I’ve been thinking about for a while, but I decided to wait, because I want to try my new cooked puerh first.
Cooked puerh, for those who are not familiar with the genre, is basically a form of processed puerh, and is generally considered the opposite of raw puerh. Raw puerh is essentially compressed, sun dried Yunnan tea, processed only with a few steps, namely picking, frying, rolling, and then drying (under the sun, ideally). Then you steam the tea and compress it, and you get something that looks like this:
(This, by the way, is a tea I have yet to write about on my blog and is the first candidate for the two-gaiwan tasting)
Which will then age over time into a browner, looser version of the same tea. The fermentation that occurs takes place on its own, and you just have to wait and keep it away from nasty smells and extra dampness (but too dry is no good either). So raw puerh is, really, quite simple. If you know how to pick tea, fry it, and press it, you’re basically in business. There are subtle points of interest and technique in this, of course, and a misstep can cause the tea to be less desirable, but on the whole, the level of technology is quite low.
Cooked puerh, on the other hand, involves something extra — a manually triggered/encouraged fermentation process before the compression into cakes/tuos/bricks. Basically what happens is you have leaves that are left in big piles, with water sprayed on, temperature turned up, etc (I’m not sure exactly how it’s done, and I suspect different factories have different specifications as well, down to the size of each “pile”, the depth, the temperature, the amount of water, etc). As you can imagine, a lot of wet leaves in a pile…. will lead to decomposition. That’s sort of what happens, and the tea basically ages very quickly into something that tastes very, very roughly approximately like aged puerh (but really, not the same at all). This process was developed in the early 70s, so cooked puerh hasn’t been around for that long, relatively speaking. It provides a kind of tea that is easy to drink now. On the other hand, aging potential is much more limited, as the leaves are exhausted of materials that can be aged into something else. Some factories, like Menghai, are famous for their cooked stuff. They have done it for so long that they know exactly what they’re doing, and will mix and match different grades and different levels of fermentation to bring together a cake that is complex, interesting, and tasty. Newer factories tend to have more problems with the cooked stuff. Shuangjiang Mengku, for example, kept making cooked puerh that’s sour (I haven’t tried enough to judge). They have upgraded their facilities, brought in water from far away (with a new pipe guiding water from miles and miles away, apparently) etc, trying to make their cooked pu taste good. It’s big business.
I usually don’t like cooked puerh (in case that’s not obvious by now). It’s usually thick, but with a flat taste, sometimes unpleasant aromas, little aftertaste, etc. I don’t feel too comfortable after drinking it. Yesterday’s purchase, however, is one of a very few exceptions that I’ve encountered. I liked it at the store, so I bought one, figuring that 1kg of tea will last me a long time.
A closeup of the brick reveals what looks like something you can find in your yard on an autumn day, after some rain and a few days of rotting:
I broke a corner of the brick, which includes this mysterious looking thing…. the big black round thing in the middle. I don’t know what it is. There’s also a human hair you can’t see here, but you didn’t need to know that.
Infusion 2, looking a little intimidating:
Less intimidating in the fairness cup:
How does it taste? Thick, silky smooth, sweet, aromatic…. without the ricey or the pondy taste that I don’t like in cooked. After some infusions you can feel a bit of the cooling effect on the throat, something that happens sometimes with cooked puerh, but only usually with the better stuff. No sourness, which is a big no no. The owner of the store claims this is aged a bit, and I think i agree. It doesn’t taste like those fresh off the factory floor cooked, which are generally a little harsher and a little uglier in taste. Instead, it’s mellowed out a bit, and quite comfortable to drink on a very cold winter day.
The leaves of this brick are also quite large, more so than your normal cooked puerh (but not unheard of)
I unfurled some leaves that came unfolded easily… still retaining some flexibility and texture
And then there’s the really black, charcoal like stuff. The thing on the left is the black round thing, which I broke into half. There are two seeds in there. The colour of the inside is reddish. I still don’t know what I drank.
Not the most appetizing images, when you think about it…. but it tastes quite decent, and I don’t mind drinking it, which is more than what I can say for most cooked puerh….