Monday, November 28, 2011

Mini Aged Pu-er Tuocha : Teavivre

This was yet another lovely sample of Mini Pu-er Tuocha from Teavivre that I was anxious to try. Anxious instead of excited because I love pu-er tea, but I've never tried the young, tuocha/cake leaf type before and I wasn't sure if it would be the same experience I've enjoyed with my loose-leaf pu-ers of the past.

It was processed in 2007, a cooked (shu) pu-er variety, so it's had a bit of time to get its fermented groove on.

It looks as described, truly a round, compressed shape with the flaked leaves forming a sort of nozzle. Pu-er can be steeped as briefly as you like or even left overnight, there are no real "rules" to enjoying it once you're accustomed to what it can do. So I steeped two mini cakes in two different ways, both beginning with water just at the boil, not super-hot.

The first steep is pictured. Two and a half minutes in my yixing pot, just 8 oz. of water poured over the cake that sits in the bottom. Unlike the brick-style pu-er, there's no need to cut into tuocha to "open" the leaves, they will flake off in the water as pictured below.

One tip with pu-er is that you'll want to pre-rinse by pouring a bit of water over the cake or leaves and then quickly discarding that water before adding in your steeping water. This "activates" the leaves so they'll begin to unfurl to get to the true flavor (and it has to be mentioned that these teas age for years - there's the potential for a bit of dust to be present just from the aging and storage, not a big deal.)

My first steep didn't produce the strong flavor I was expecting. It had the earthiness, the mushroom, wet-ground undertone but it was very subtle and smooth. Personally, I enjoy those trademark flavors more when they're stronger and accompanied by an almost piquant spiciness in the finish. It leaves things feeling a bit flat to not have that strong kick at the end of the sip. It may not be orthodox, but that's how I've enjoyed pu-ers.

So I gave it another go with the same amount of water and a longer steep, approximately 10 minutes. It brewed up a dark, rich, deeper brown than what's pictured. It was still a bit smoother than what I'm accustomed to, but this second cup was much more robust and it accompanied me throughout my evening. This time I picked up notes of wood along with the wet-leaf/earth, and a spice so subtle I wonder if it's just my own imagination. All in all, a very drinkable cup.

I don't know if this will have me ignoring my preferred loose-leaf shu pu-er for my everday indulgences, but it's definitely got potential. The marvelous thing about pu-er is that my remaining two mini-cakes, if stored well, may be even more marvelous in a year or two as they continue to age.

If pu-er isn't something you've yet ventured into, this would be a good place to start. These tuocha cakes tend to be inexpensive (Teavivre's starts at $3.20 for 1.75 oz), very easy to store and steep, and "young" enough that you aren't overwhelmed with the complexities of the trademark flavors right off the bat if you're not yet a committed pu-er fanatic.

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