9 December 2012

Pu-erh Discovery Part One

Pu-erh Discovery

Pu-erh tea from Yunnan is a discovery never ending.  It is a type of tea in a category all of it's own.  In the past tea has been something I almost liked but never could be passionate about.  All that has changed since I discovered Pu-erh.

My partner drinks nothing but PG Tips and for me drinking a cuppa can even be a bit of a chore.  Think of the number of times you have sipped away and smiled through the awfulness!

This discovery continues on so many levels I doubt one blog will be enough.  It is worth beginning with a classification of tea as what we Brits tend to call "black" tea is classed by the Chinese as a red.  There are at least six types of tea: white, yellow, wulong, red and black.  And in many ways blending is an historical hangover from the days when expensive teas were added to cheaper ones to make money.  

Tea drinking around the world takes on a cultural dimension speaking volumes about place.  The British cuppa is seen as part of our cultural landscape and is the beverage central to afternoon and, especially in Scotland, evening meals.  Ceremony exists but lacks the understanding of the nature of tea found in the ceremonial of other places.

There is a scene in Director John Woo's "Red Cliffe - Three Kingdoms - One fate" when the outcome of war is determined by a tea ceremony.  You have to know tea at a fundamental level to appreciate just how likely it was for a General to hold off attending to battle!  

Some of the more alarming abuse to which noble tea is subjected does little but bring out the tannin in tea in much the same way as brewing for too long will.  Ruined!  So go ahead squeeze the last drops out of a tea bag of tea dust and prove you are a mad dog English person!! 

Today I am drinking 2012 Autumn sheng cha Yi Wu from the Canton Tea Co.  I can't tell you more than that based on the packaging and blurb.  This should be from Yi Wu mountain in Xishuangbanna prefecture. Looking at the cake I guess it is the purple varietal of Camellia sinensis.  Tea, like wine, digs into the earth and terroir, as the French call it, shapes tea just as much as it does wine.  

Yi wu is one of the more popular mountains for pu-erh lovers.  Autumn is a particular harvest due to anthocyanin, which changes colour along with cell sap acidity.  In order to resist damage from shortwave radiation, tea leaves produce anthocyanin, which can reflect away a portion of the UV light hitting the leaves.  High levels of acidity lead to red colour, while medium acidity is more purple, and high alkalinity tends toward indigo.  Ultraviolet light encourages the reaction as a natural selection at high elevations. 

Lu Yu in the "Cha Jing" evaluating the color of tea leaves, came to the early conclusion: "bright cliffs and gloomy forests, purple is the highest and green the second". 

This Yi Wu has a prominent fragrance and rich flavor.   Steep for 20 - 30 seconds and the third, forth and fifth steeping, so far, open the nature of this tea to relax, regenerate, and reclaim profoundly the world 

The deep experience of tea makes something else out of the mundane cuppa.

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