Just a couple years into Tea Craft, we began dipping our toe into the deepest ocean of them all - the murky yet ethereal vastness that is pu-erh.
But for us, there was no heroic plunge into a "never looking back" single-minded delving. We were like the perennial timid swimmer, every season, edging ourselves in and having a little doggy paddle, far too long between swims to develop our stroke.
But that has to stop. We've got a plan and we'd like your help. We're re-starting our journey, one foot ahead of the other this time as we break down pu-erh learning into digestible chunks (figuratively and literally!) and taking it as far as we can.
A blog topic #hellopuerhmyoldfriend just about pu-erh starting with this entry will chart our progression. All you gotta do is read along. It will be our take on how pu-erh can be explored from scratch and we'd like you right beside us.
The New Beginning
In a nutshell, pu-erh is a Yunnan tea made to age (cellared) and usually compressed in the form of discs, bricks and bowl shapes. Compression made it easier for travel and storage.
Originally pu-erh was sun dried and consisted of mostly broader, mature tea leaves with some tips and small leaves. Unlike green tea, no artificial heat was applied to stop oxidation. And unlike red teas, it was not rolled and bruised to induce oxidation either.
The long sun drying process meant that there was some natural fermentation occurring, lending it its iconic earthiness. This earthiness mellows out when aged well, astringency and tartness fades off, giving it a rounded mulled wine finish.
Then in the late 30s some enterprising fellows invented a way to speed up this fermentation and ageing process. Leaves were intentionally piled and moistened, left to basically compost before being dried and pressed. This version really caught on with the southern Chinese populace namely the Hong Kongers and by the late 60s the wet piling process began to be mechanised to fulfil the Hongky fervour. This gave way to now two main definition types of pu-erh - the "sheng" or raw which is the original and the "shou" the wet piled, "post-fermentation" processed.
That's enough context. Let's begin selecting some appropriate styles to start tasting on next post.