Okay, where to start here.
Well, here's the thing. I've been discovering puer tea lately -- also spelled pu'er, pu'erh, pu-erh, etc, and I will spell it puer except when I forget and spell it some other way -- and that seems like a good thing to be blogging about, right?
But I better explain what puer tea is, and I am far from an expert on that -- at best, I know more than you do, if you don't know what it is. Off the top of my head, without looking up a more articulate explanation, this is what I know: puer tea is a fermented tea which comes either raw or cooked; is known for its earthy and pungent characteristics; can be bitter but develops a natural sweetness with age; is often aged for years and years and years, the flavor developing over time; and over the last few years has been subject to a speculative market which a) has driven prices of many puer teas up but b) has made them much easier to find in the United States.
Hm, that's not bad, actually.
There is a better explanation here, at the website of Royal Puer, where I've most recently bought some tea. And of course there's a Wikipedia page. Key additions to the explanation I've just given: raw (sheng) puer is "roughly classified on the tea oxidation scale as a green tea," while cooked (shu) puer is "post-fermented tea." Furthermore, the older puer is, the milder it is.
Reading the page on "post-fermented tea," we find that it is often the basis for Tibetan butter tea, which in fact I've had, having gone to grad school in Bloomington, Indiana, home of two Tibetan restaurants. Butter tea uses butter instead of milk or cream as the dairy element. I don't know what I was expecting, but it wasn't it. It was interesting, but I didn't have it often enough to get used to it. Just seemed like, living in Bloomington, it was something I needed to at least try once.
Anyway, puer tea. This is way outside my tea familiarity. I've never been a huge tea drinker to begin with. I make sweet tea with Luzianne quite often, but that's a whole nother thing, and I've loved lapsang souchong since I was introduced to it some ten years ago. I never used to make hot tea very often except for the occasional cup of lapsang souchong or genmai cha -- green tea with roasted brown rice, which tastes a bit like Cheerios. But then I couldn't find genmai cha around here anymore, so I looked online, and since I was ordering tea online anyway, I tried some puer.
It was excellent. Earthy and a little sweet, tasting sort of the way the forest floor smells.
But I thought, well, if I'm going to explore puer further, I should get it from a shop that specializes in puer -- especially since there are so many now. One that gives me lots of options, not just one or two to sample along with my green tea orders. (For the record, that first puer was from Culinary Teas, and I'm very happy with the tea I get from them, especially their genmai cha with matcha, and the hojicha gold). So I've ordered a few teas from Royal Puer, linked to above, which ships direct from China, which might explain their reasonable rates. I'll try to find SOMEthing articulate to say about them, as I try them.
First up: Fu Lu Yuan Bing Cha. (You see "cha" so much because it means "tea.") Sold loose-leaf, I bought two packages because the reviews are so high relative to the price.
Puer is traditionally prepared gongfu style rather than Western style (put tea in bag or ball, add water, steep for three to five minutes). I'm still getting the hang of gongfu style. You add a pinch of tea to the gaiwan (the little pot in which the wet leaves are) and, after rinsing the leaves, brew for very short periods -- like 10 to 45 seconds. Remember, though, good tea is meant to be used more than once, and you often get five, six, seven infusions out of tea like this.
Anyway, at the far right are the dry leaves, and the far left, the brewed tea.
So, the Fu Lu. It's a bit bitter, which might be from my temptation to brew it a little longer than gongfu instructions tell me to. The bitterness is on the nose a bit, along with those forest floor smells, and then in the finish -- not a strong bitterness like Campari, and not a tannic mouth-drying bitterness, just a pleasant strength. I didn't add any sugar -- you typically don't with puer, I don't think, though I'm not TOO concerned with authenticity, so if it turns out I like it with sugar, or sorghum, or blackstrap molasses, then that's how I'll drink it.
Right now, I don't know what else I can say about it! This is sort of practice, figuring out how to talk about tea.