Wednesday, January 15, 2014

What are the criteria that define the quality of Pu-erh?

Not only Pu-erh tea, but also for all kinds of tea, the depth of taste and flavor defines the quality. The depth of taste is also called as "after taste" in English. In Chinese it is called Hou Yun(喉韵). “Hou” means throat and “Yun” means lasting lingering charm. Hou Yun means the taste felt in our throat and lingered. In English, it is difficult to find an appropriate term to describe this feeling. Perhaps the closest term is “aftertaste”, “depth of taste” or “long finishing”.

Hou Yun gives depth to the taste. In other word, it builds up the taste in three-dimensional way. The intensity of Hou Yun is caused by minerals. On the other hand, flavor defines the character or individuality of tea. We cannot compare the superiority of different flavors. Flavor is like the color of a photograph. A different brand of camera or lens gives different color. However color does not define the quality of lens or camera. We usually appreciate depth and blur effect that creates a three dimensional visual impact to the photograph. Similarly, Hou Yun means the depth of taste and the feeling that continuously lingers in our throat. This is what defines the quality of tea.

Hou Yun is an essential factor to define not only the quality of tea, but also the quality of food, including wine, vegetables, fruits, beer and juices. Let’s compare two cup of fruit juices, one taste delicious and the other doesn't. What do you think the difference is?  Is it the sweetness? Does low quality fruit juice get better if sugar is added? Or is it because of flavor? Does low quality fruit juice get better if flavor is added? As the matter of fact, both sweetness and flavor is not the essential factor to define the quality that gives us the satisfaction. For food and beverage, good quality product gives depth in taste. It is just like the Hou Yun that makes the taste and flavor of food felt in 3 dimensional.

The Hon Yun defines the quality of Pu-erh tea, thus the price of tea is in proportion to the intensity of Hou Yun. Under such circumstances, one must know how to appreciate Hou Yun. Unfortunately very few people know how to appreciate Hou Yun. If one does not know how to appreciate Hou Yun, there is no choice but to depend on the “brand”. This is the reason why many people look for the tea that is produced from famous factories. In fact, big factories can hardly produces high quality Pu-erh since they need to blend teas in order to get consistent supply for committed quantity. The intensity of Hou Yun is decided by the quality of material existing in the tea leaves. The processing of tea does not affect it. If the harvested tealeaves is good in quality, Hou Yun must be pretty good no matter how terrible the tea is processed. On the other hand, the intensity of Hou Yun will never be improved no matter how well the tea was processed if the raw material is not of good quality.

There is only one exceptional case that the Hou Yun of ripe Pu-erh will change in relative to certain kind of mold fermentation.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

How To Choose Pu Erh Tea | Tips For Buying Puerh Tea

Many people simply trust tea shops' descriptions and recommendations when it comes to choosing Puerh tea. But note that the tea shop makes a profit if you buy from them, so employees might make things seem better than they are.  Some inexperienced people might be taken in, and spend a lot of money on something that is not really worthwhile. For Puerh tea, tea sellers, for example,  like to say it is a tea stored for many years so it is very good and expensive. The saying is misleading. In fact, pls note, if a raw Puerh was good, it would taste great even during the current harvesting year. If it was bad, it won't taste better even if being stored for many years. The best thing is being capable personally to judge and choose pu-erh teas instead of relying on opinions from teashops or merchants. 


See how the tea is packaged and stored. Pu-erh should generally be stored and aged in a cool, dry area, away from other aromas. It is usually stored in its original paper wrapping.

Smell the tea. Good pu-erh tea should smell clear and distinctly "tea-ish". Depending on the age, you may detect smoky or woody aroma. The tea should not have odd odours, and it should not smell moldy. Tea absorbs smell rather easily; thus, if improperly kept, the tea can pick up funny smells from anything: cooking smells, spices, etc.

Notice the tea's appearance. Ancient raw pu-erh tea cakes should look reddish. Younger pu-erh will be more yellow-to-greenish, but they will never look pure black. The tea cake should not have white/yellow dots which might be mold or yeast forming. When buying expensive tea cakes, it's generally preferred for the cakes to be whole, without large cracks. Sometimes, people might sample expensive tea cakes by using a knife to scrape the centre of the depression behind the tea cake, flaking a few leaves off. This is seldom noticed, but be aware that you've lost a bit of tea if your cake has been sampled.

Do a taste test. This can only come with experience and more exposure to pu-erh tea. Purchasing samples from pu-erh tea businesses can allow one to taste teas of different characters at different ages, enabling people to distinguish what's good.


    Familiarize yourself with pricing online before purchasing, even if you intend to buy in a local tea store. Pu-erh is made by different factories, in specific batches. Major factories are Menghai, Xiaguan, and Shuangjiang Mengku, and there are many others. Some tea shops that do not specialize in Pu-erh would sell low-quality Pu-erh tea at high prices.

    Have a clear idea of what you want. By being able to specify your target or type of Pu-erh tea (e.g. Shou, Sheng, aged, new) you will be able to focus on the teas you are looking for and spend more time sampling and evaluating teas that you are interested in. (Although for beginners this is not necessary and ideally you should be trying as many types of teas as you can to know what you like and want to pursue in the future.)

    When you're tasting tea, don't listen to what anyone else tells you - even if there are 10 people sitting around you saying how good a tea is, if you don't have the same experience, then stick with your own view. Experiential learning is everything.