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Pu' erh tea

  • m

I've just been told of the many benefits of this tea . . . Where can I buy some and how reliable are the sellers? I was also told to be wary of those who may be trying to peddle off lower quality stuff.

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  1. Just picked up some pu-erh at WHF (MP location) last weekend -- very helpful staff, about 8 ~ 10 varieties to choose from...

    http://winghopfung.com/contactus.html

    1. Don't know how the quality is, but you can buy it in bulk at Canton Foods on Alameda near the 10.

      1. You can get them at any good tea shop. Not sure where you are located.

        http://www.tenren.com

        Or the Lupicia tea at Westfield Century City has them too.

        Or Chado tea
        http://www.chadotea.com

        1 Reply
        1. re: notmartha

          Be careful at Ten Ren. Their teas are usually very high quality (with prices to match) but you must watch the scales very carefully. I have been four times in the last year and three of the four times they have tried to sell me underweight product.

          I'm really not bitter about this, and at least some of you know I'm not really prone to alarmist posts, but it does require your attention. Don't be afraid to tell them off.

          The one in Anaheim is less prone to this sort of codswallop than the one in Focus Square in San Gabriel.

        2. URTH CAFFE has it. Locations in WeHo, BH, and Santa Monica.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Marco Polo

            Rishi packages and sells pu' erh tea. i've seen several varieties at our local wegmans...and one or two at whole foods. i've never been disappointed with the quality,

          2. What benefits have you been told of? I would be very wary of "too good to be true" type promises, especially in terms of weight loss (and lowering cholesterol). Many claims are made about pu-erh (and also oolong) tea, but most are pretty poorly substantiated.

            That's not to say you shouldn't /drink/ pu-erh - just be skeptical of any exaggerated claims. I would drink the tea if you like it, and if you experience any health benefits, so much the better.

            I have just a few thoughts for you....
            1) I mostly buy tea mail-order. If you do research on the vendors, and stick to ones with good reputations, you will probably get better tea than you will be able to find in LA. Hou De Asian Art (houdeasianart.com) is a very well respected vendor, though their prices are a little high, and Guang is VERY helpful and nice. They sell samples too, which is very nice for trying out expensive teas. Imperial Tea Court in SF (imperialtea.com) might be worth checking out for their loose pu'erh (see below).

            Most of the vendors listed at http://livejournal.com/users/puerh_tea/ (on the right side) are pretty well known and reputable. You can also try searching RFDT (the rec.food.drink.tea newsgroup) for thoughts about vendors.

            2) That said, you could try Hugo's, and also I just noticed that Casbah Cafe (on Sunset in Silverlake) is carrying tea from Hou De Asian Art, which is a very well respected vendor, even among people who are really into tea. Not sure if they have any pu'erh from Hou De there - the beeng I saw on top was from Tibet; not sure where it's from. They also had some copies of "First Steps to Chinese Pu-erh Tea".

            My friend Imen, one of the folks with whom I've been doing some tastings here in LA, is opening a teahouse in Rancho Palos Verdes. I imagine she'll have some good pu'erhs to choose from, and you'll be able to try them.

            Also, Wing Hop Fung is opening a couple of sit-down teahouses (one in Pasadena, one somewhere else further east in the SGV, IIRC) where you'd at least be able to try some tea before buying.

            3) Pu is loosely divided into too categories - sheng (variously interpreted as "green", "raw" -- pronounced "sung" or "shung", where the vowel is kind of like the "oo" in "cookie") and shu (prounced "shu" or "su"), meaning something like "ripe", often interpreted as "cooked". Sheng pu can then be aged, at which point, it becomes much mellower.

            Shu pu'erh is made by accelerating the aging process (using a sort of composing method). Cheap shu is often what you get at dim sum. It's also used some in traditional Chinese medicine.

            It's looked down upon sometimes by tea aficionados - a truly good aged sheng tea is going to be better than almost any cooked tea... but unless you want to spend a lot of money or have a very strong stomach, cooked is going to be a better deal for you - sheng that hasn't aged yet can be very hard on the stomach.

            4) You'll probably see beengs (cakes), bricks, tuos and mini-tuos (bowl shaped cakes) a lot. Tea aficionados usually buy cakes / bricks, but I would suggest loose pu'erh if you're just starting out. Breaking apart the cakes without breaking too many leaves (which makes the tea bitter) is a bit of a trick, and it's easier to counterfeit bricks. Plus, if you make a mistake and buy a bad brick or cake, you're stuck with a few hundred grams of it.

            My suggestion? Buy some good quality loose tea from a reputable vendor. Then, if you get bit by the pu'erh bug, you can always start buying cakes.

            5) If you haven't tried the tea before, I would try a little first just to get an idea of the taste and make sure you like it. Give it a few tries - it's a taste you may not find accessible at first... people describe it differently (earthy, mushroomy, composty) - but the basic taste of older teas (even if you get some lighter or fruitier notes underneath) is fairly... well earthy. The first time I had some, it reminded me a bit of a farm somehow (don't take that the wrong way - it was kind of a nostalgic feeling).

            You don't want to try anything too cheap, but you don't want to try the really good stuff either.

            6) Keep in mind that the normal way of brewing this stuff is brewing the same tea over and over in very small pots ("gong-fu" / "kung-fu" style). This lets you taste the evolution of the tea. Good pu'erh is known to last for many infusions; even if you're brewing tea English style (less leaf, bigger pot, less infusions), you're wasting tea if you only brew the tea once.

            7) A lot of pu'erh cakes come in basically the same wrapper (the "China National Native Produce & Animal Byproducts Import & Export company (CNNP), Yunnan Branch" one). This is from the days when all factories were state-owned. Some still are, but most of the bigger ones aren't. However, a lot of the good aged stuff you'll see comes in these wrappers.

            You may wonder "how come these cakes look exactly the same, but one is $15, another is $60, and another is $1,200". Well the wrapper is the same, but the cake isn't. Just keep that in mind when you're shopping at WHF or somewhere.

            30 Replies
            1. re: will47

              Thanks, will47, for this great lesson in pu-erh. It's something I always examine when I am wandering the many tea aisles of Wing Hop Fung, but I just don't know enough about what to buy. I have tried it in the past and it WAS a little strong for my tastes. But our tastes do change, so I am wanting to try it again. I especially appreciate the wrapper information that you shared, as it is quite confusing.

              Now I am equipped with a little more information, thanks to you! I think I will order from Hou de Asian Art next and see if I can secure some loose leaf pu-erh from them, along with some other oolongs.
              _____________________

              houdeasianart.com -- nice site and they appear to have a lot of interesting teas; I am really looking forward to ordering from them. If you have any specific recommendations, please do let me know. I like green oolongs; I find some of them to have many levels of flavors that linger...

              1. re: liu

                They have a lot of Taiwanese teas (their pu'erhs are from the mainland of course), as Guang is Taiwanese and that's where most of his connections are from, though he does also have a good selection of wu-yi yen cha (rock tea) from the mainland. If you want to try a sample of some of his more expensive aged items, I though the 88 "ching beeng" sample was pretty good.

                Some good recommendations from people who know more than me for older stuff to sample at:
                http://community.livejournal.com/puer...

                Looks like all seats are taken, but they are doing a tasting in LA in a few months that promises to be VERY interesting... lots of amazing old teas.
                http://houdeblog.com/?p=22

                You should really check out one of our little tastings sometime... we'll have more room and be able to accomodate more people when Imen opens up her shop.

                And as mentioned above, some of their teas (definitely some greens / blacks / oolongs) are now being sold at Casbah Cafe on Sunset (probably for more $$, but hey - it's close and local). I haven't tried a lot of his greens / oolongs, as I usually end up buying those elsewhere, often straight from China.

                Hey - did you ever check out Valley Coffe & Tea (on Valley, just west of Atlantic)? I suspect you might like their stuff if you're into greener oolongs. The woman there is very nice, though the time I was there, she wouldn't let me sample anything.

                1. re: will47

                  My life goal (an austere one, I'm sure!!!) is to walk the entire Valley Boulevard, tasting along the way! So, Valley Coffee and Tea will fit in nicely!!! Thanks for this rec., will47.

                  I also thank you for your very specific "Ching beeng" tea suggestion from Hou de Asian Art. I will order from them soon.

              2. re: will47

                My goodness, thank you will47. will definitely take your suggestions. planning on going to whf this weekend. never been before but i heard that they have a vip card you have to buy. is this true? also, what grade would you recommend for a first-time buyer?

                1. re: myoo

                  "...i heard that they have a vip card you have to buy. is this true?"

                  Yes, it costs a whole dollar! ;-) I guarantee you that it'll pay for itself quickly!

                  Just to expand on my previous comment above, they have quite a few loose and pressed (cake) pu-erh teas. For my first pu-erh purchase, I went with a (supposed) 10-year old loose, which costs $80 per pound.

                  Needless to say, I purchased only a tenth of a pound!

                  1. re: Joe Blowe

                    a whole dollar huh? the way this person talked, i thought membership was about $50 or something! thanks for the info.

                    thanks for the info. i feel like i just completed tea 101 : )

                  2. re: myoo

                    I don't think you /have/ to buy it - I've never bought one, and I've purchased stuff there many times. Maybe I should get one!

                    With pu'erh, keep in mind that "grade" doesn't necessarily mean just the quality of the tea leaf - it has a lot to do with the size of the leaf as well.
                    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pu-erh_t...
                    http://pu-erh.net/sections.php?Choice...

                    It's really hard to talk about grades with tea, because even though there are some ways to quantify a tea's quality (size / shape / broken-ness of the leaf, etc.), so much of it is subjective. So it's not like you can just go in and say "give me your grade 5 pu'erh" and get something middle of the road in terms of quality. And everyone has their own opinions. I've had plenty of tea that other people liked but which I just didn't care for, and of course vice-versa.

                    BTW, pu-erh.net is a great resource for beginners.

                    I would be careful buying from WHF for your first time - I have never bought pu from there, but I imagine the quality varies. Also, I don't think they have much loose pu'erh (except maybe some packaged stuff in a tin, which again, you're most likely not going to be able to sample), and I don't think there are samples of the cakes, so you'd probably be buying blind. If you go to the mpk one and happen to see a skinny white guy with glasses and a red hoodie walking around, flag me down and I'll try to help out a little.

                    I think you're going to have a hard time getting much (useful) help, or even much information about the factory / origin of leaves at WHF (if you speak Chinese, you might have a shot at getting some semi-useful information) - I would suggest buying a few things that are not too expensive and not too cheap, and just see what tastes good to you. In that price range (< $1-200 / cake), you probably want something cooked. Anything that's "raw" and cheap is probably going to be pretty young (not aged) and too hard on your stomach for regular drinking. There is a woman there who brews tea (she brews really strong, and not really to my taste); she might have a sample of something to brew for you.

                    My gf drinks this probably pretty cheap cooked pu'erh all the time and likes it pretty well. It's in one of those generic "Chinese Pu-erh Tea" canisters. I think it was a gift to her folks, but it's the kind of thing you could probably find there.

                    Are you going to the mpk one or the Chinatown one? I think the mpk one has a better (or at least different) tea selection. I'm not a huge fan of Ten Ren, but you could see if they'll let you try out their loose pu'erh. I actually prefer the San Gabriel one slightly to the one on Garfield and Garvey. The woman at that one (the one on Garvey) is pretty pushy and annoying, though there are some younger kids who help out there on the weekend who are nice and speak English.

                    1. re: myoo

                      Hi, myoo! I shop Wing Hop Fung frequently, and I have never needed to purchase any membership or VIP cards. The only place that I recall that asks for a member card is Marukai Market, and for $1 you can shop for a week or a month on that same card; there is also the option at Marukai for a year's membership card for a few $$$ more. But never have I ever experienced any such card requirement at WHF.

                      1. re: liu

                        You *do not* need a membership to shop at WHF, but you do need one if you want to get in on some of their sales and specials.

                        For example, last year we bought a fancy Zojirushi hot water dispenser at the MP location -- we saved 20 bucks off the shelf price just by using the VIP card!

                        Like I said before, the card only costs one dollar...

                        1. re: Joe Blowe

                          Good information -- thanks for the clarity on this one!

                    2. re: will47

                      Hello again, will47!

                      I have ordered from Hou De Asian Art and just received my order today:
                      1989 "88-Ching Beeng" as recommended by you
                      2007 Early Spring Wood-Fired NanTou Oolong (Hand-Harvested)
                      2007 Early Spring Shan-Li-Shi "Yan Wen" Oolong (Hand-Harvested)
                      2007 Spring Formosa GABA (Jia Yeh) Oolong
                      2006 Traditional Dong-Ding "Hong Shui" Oolong
                      2007 A-Li-Shan Spring Oolong (Free Sample that they included)

                      I would love to hear YOUR opinion on any -- or if I am not being too greedy, ALL of these. What have you tried?

                      They came wrapped quite beautifully, and Irene did update me several times on the progress of my order. I am very pleased with my association with Hou De Asian Art already, and I have not yet had my first sip...tomorrow morning, and I can't wait!

                      Thanks for recommending this tea house!

                      1. re: liu

                        I have just had the Ching beeng and maybe one of the wood fired one (I think Danica had some of the Longan wood fired stuff). A tasting note of the latter one here -> http://phyllsheng.blogspot.com/2007/0... (oh yeah - there's another Hou De pu'erh there too, though frankly it wasn't really my style - kind of on the young tasting side).

                        I'd like to try some more of his traditional / higher roasted stuff and some of his Wu Yis. But yeah - need to place another order with him.

                        Did you ever get any stuff from Stephane (Teamasters blog), and if so, did you like it?

                        1. re: will47

                          Last Q first: No, I did not ever order from Stephane, although we did "converse" online. He is extremely knowledgeable, but for some reason it felt complicated. However, now that you reminded me, I may return to him for my next order.

                          I am at this moment sipping the "1989 88-Ching Beeng" that you enjoy. Hmmm...I am not loving it; I don't care for the wood/lumber taste, and I don't even care for the fragrance. (Sometimes I will like the fragrance but not the taste, or vice-versa, but in this case I am enjoying neither.) It was, however, the most gorgeous color while brewing that I have ever seen...a gentle peach!

                          Perhaps pu'erh tea is not to my tastes. I now remember not liking pu'erh before, but I thought that with time, I might try it again and like it. There have been many cups of tea between last time I tried it and now...however, I will not return to it.

                          I do still have 5 others to try, all oolongs I believe. I know that is where I belong right now in my tastes. In time, I can see returning to explore the Chinese greens more, but I think I just don't like the heavier tastes...certainly nothing black at this time.

                          will47, I will post more and briefly, I promise, as I sip through my list. You have been most attentive!

                          1. re: liu

                            On a positive note, the 2007 Early Spring Shan-Li-Shi Yan Wen Hand-Harvested Oolong from Hou De Asian Art (www.houdeasianart.com) compares quite favorably with some of the best oolongs I have had in the past.

                            This tea has many levels of flavor, with all the floral notes of a delicate oolong. I would order this again!

                            1. re: liu

                              Hi Liu. If I am in the mood, I like the Rishi pu' erh tea that I got at Whole Foods. But I also did not care for the pu'erh that I ordered from Hou de. I ordered a couple, but so far only tried one (since I didn't like it, I haven't been motivated to brew up the other ones). Plus I made the mistake of brewing it in the tiny teapot that I usually reserve for oolongs and it took forever to get the smell out of the teapot. I think pu'erh must be very much of an acquired taste that I have not yet acquired.

                              1. re: omotosando

                                omotosando, I feel so much better after having read your experience with and thoughts about the Hou de pu' erh; I just love talking tea with you! I really wanted to like it, but with that first sip I knew I had tried it before and did not like it...and still, I did not like it. Someday, I will return to try it yet again.

                                I can so relate to the distasteful hint of pu' erh on top of your cherished oolong-of-the-moment. Oolong is as much about color and aroma as it is about flavor, and when one of those senses is "tarnished" or colored in any way by something foreign, the oolong experience is less than whole. How did you manage to banish that pu' erh woody reminder?

                                Finally, we are back to the same question: what do WE do with all those teas that we bought that we don't like? What are YOU going to do with the other pu' erh that you ordered from Hou de? Is it the same one that I tried?

                                And I do thank you for your tip about Rishi pu' erh at Whole Foods. I still have quite a few oolongs from Hou de Asian Art to try, so I am happy for a while! But one day, when I have forgotten that I don't really like pu' erh tea, I will go to Whole Foods for the Rishi pu' erh.

                                1. re: omotosando

                                  Most folks dedicate a teapot to a specific tea or general class of tea. I would definitely not recommend using the same yixing teapot to brew pu'erh (esp. cooked, but either way) as any other kind of tea - and would also suggest using different pots for young / aged / cooked if you brew them a lot. Or just brew in a gaiwan, which is a good idea the first time or two you're brewing something anyway.

                                  Liu - I'm sure Guang could suggest some other stuff that may be more to your taste. I actually did like the 88 beeng a fair amount, but I know some other tea folks who don't like it, and one suggested that it's the type of thing that some folks either love or hate. But try brewing it again, maybe with slightly different parameters, if you have any left. You want to use a very short infusion time - probably 5s, and maybe 1/4 or so volume of brewing vessel of dry leaf (less if you don't have that much).

                                  It was interesting - my gf and I were drinking tea at Imperial Tea Court in Berkeley w/ my sister and her bf yesterday, and they both actually liked the pu'erh my gf was drinking, much to my surprise.

                                  1. re: will47

                                    Hi, will47! As you so adeptly pointed out, there are so many "parameters" in brewing; in fact, when I don't like a particular tea, my first thought is that it is the brewer and not the tea! I will try it again, especially since you suggested such a brief infusion time of 5s. I think I gave it about 40s, so I need to be more precise.

                                    Here's a question for you related to brewing technique: a tea purveyor told me to wet the leaves prior to the true steeping. This means that I pour the heated water over the leaves just to soak them (seconds only), drain that off, and then pour in the proper water for the actual brew. Do you do this?

                                    Well, thanks again for your encouragement to retry certain teas that were not to my liking on the first brew.

                                    1. re: liu

                                      I don't think there's a "right" or "wrong" - I usually do a rinse on almost any tea I drink. Mostly out of habit, and also b/c I drink a lot of rolled oolongs, so the first infusion is mostly to start getting the leaves opened. With older pu'erhs, it's probably a good idea to do one rinse, maybe 2.

                                      Sometimes, at our tea sessions, we'll all try a little of the rinse, and drink it if it's good. At Tea Gallery in NY, Michael (one of the owners) likes to save the rinse and then you try it at the end (after the last regular infusion) to see where the tea started out.

                                      (I will mention that at the last tasting I was at, several people didn't like the rinse of the '88 beeng and did like the other infusions).

                                      Steeping time depends of course on the type of tea, your personal preference, and the volume of tea leaves you're using. But most people I know do pretty short infusions (basically pour as soon as they finish pouring water in) with pu'erh.

                                      I usually do something like:

                                      1) warm brewing vessel, cup, fair cup, etc., smell dry leaves
                                      2) put dry leaves in brewing vessel, shake around, smell slightly damp leaves.
                                      3) rinse (smell wet leaves if I'm not feeling lazy). Usually I'll do the rinse with boiling water on most oolongs / pu'erhs, even if it's a type of tea that I might brew later steeps of with cooler water. And with oolongs, at least, I use a fair amount of force on the rinse to try and open up the leaves.
                                      4) steep, repeat.

                                      Anyway, that tea still may just not be to your taste... I was thinking of buying a cake of it, because I did like it, but he just raised his prices - a beeng of that one is $600 now instead of $450. Ouch.

                                      See also this blog post and the two comments from the lj pu'erh community about this particular cake.
                                      http://phyllsheng.blogspot.com/2007/0...
                                      http://community.livejournal.com/puer...

                                      1. re: will47

                                        Ah-hah! will47, you have just explained to me why, perhaps, the second or third brew is as good or sometimes better than the first, with oolongs and perhaps some others. Yes, some of those leaves do take some time to open fully, and I have been noticing that the leaves are not fully opened on the first steeping.

                                        Thanks for taking me through your process. I'm laughing because I, also, love to enjoy the aroma of the leaves at various stages from when I first open the seal to when it is beginning to cool in my cup.

                                        I am enjoying the oolongs that I ordered from Hou de.

                                        1. re: liu

                                          There is a saying (excuse me if I'm paraphrasing poorly) that the first steep is for the aroma, and the second is for taste.

                                          Strangely, my girlfriend's grandfather (who is very particular about his tea, but is also a strange and cranky old man) always drinks only the first infusion of his (generally pretty expensive) tea. He says that brewing leaves more than once is for poor people.

                                          Her parents are usually happy to brew his leaves another time or two for themselves. I think they're getting the better end of the bargain.

                                          1. re: will47

                                            Interesting, will47!

                                            I have found only by trial-and-error that some teas yield well to multiple steeps while others do not (loss of flavor and aroma and sometimes color). But how does one know BEFORE making the effort to find out each time? Is there a way or do you just remember from tea to tea? Also, is there a way I can know which multiple (2x or 3x or sometimes 4x)?

                                            1. re: liu

                                              Sometimes vendors will give you guidelines (the stuff I have from Best Tea House actually has a guide for steeping time for each infusion on the back of the package, with "strong taste" options). I think the only way to know is to try and see when the taste starts giving out... (brewing it longer and longer as the taste starts to go away). You can also look at the way the leaf looks, smell the gaiwan lid... there are some other tricks like that. And, of course, it depends on the quality of the tea, how much leaf you use, and how strong you brew.

                                              I find that even with a pretty small pot, *I* usually give out before most of the teas I drink. At our tastings, we usually go 5-8 rounds (using 1 oz cups for drinking), and still end up feeling like we've wasted good leaves.

                                              If you're brewing gong fu style, using lots of leaf in a small pot, I think most oolong, red ("black"), and pu'erh teas should last 7-20 rounds. Greens usually just 2-4 times or so. You can probably find some better guides online.

                                              Brewing closer to English style (less leaf, longer infusion, possibly bigger pot / gaiwan), I think you'd be more likely to get in the range of 2-5 for most oolongs, probably 2-3 at most for a light green.

                                              Anyway, I think the real answer is... don't worry about it too much. You'll know when the tea is giving out a little, and then brew the next one a little longer. Eventually, it'll start to give out. Even then, you can probably push it for a while longer. It's developing the sense of timing of when to pour that's hard. But that's the gong fu part...

                                              1. re: will47

                                                I'm listening...you are so interesting and loaded with great information.

                                                Unlike many other things, I don't really "study" tea; rather, I just enjoy it...but there is so much to learn and know. Your brewing numbers of 7-20 rounds are staggering to me; I thought 4 brews on the same leaves was pushing it. But as you pointed out, I burn out before the leaves do, and I am ready to move on to something different long before I deplete the flavor in my leaves.

                                                will47 -- Thanks again for all your patience with my numerous questions.

                                                You have made the already enjoyable experience just so much better!

                                                By the way: so far, of all the teas I ordered from Hou De Asian Art, my favorites are their 2007 Early Spring Shan-Li-Shi "Yan Wen" Hand-Harvested Oolong, and their 2007 A-li-shan Spring Oolong (the free sample which they included in my order). I have tried everything I ordered but one (2007 Early Spring Wood-Fired Nan Tou Oolong) and I will try that tomorrow.

                                                Hou de's 2006 Traditional dong-Ding "Hong Shui" Oolong was just a bit too woody for me, and this moment I am sipping their 2007 Spring Formosa GABA (Jia Yeh) Oolong which is just okay.

                                                1. re: liu

                                                  Sounds like you're into the greener stuff (which is kind of the opposite of the stuff I generally like).

                                                  You should definitely come to one of our tastings - if not before, then when Imen opens her tea shop in Rancho Palos Verdes. She's posting some progress at tea-obsession.blogspot.com. I think it will be one of the first good sit-down tea-houses for Chinese tea in LA.

                                                  1. re: will47

                                                    "...the green stuff" is gentle, and sometimes when I want more flavor, I crave the more amber, cooked taste. But my roots are still green, as I began with Japanese greens, but I find the Chinese teas overall have more levels of flavor and more lingering notes...just more interesting. Oh, you are so much better at the art/skill of describing these teas.

                                                    Thanks for the "invite" and notice of the Rancho Palos Verdes tea shop. I will check-in on her progress.

                                                    How often do you do something structured with tea, as in tea tasting or tea workshop?

                                                    1. re: liu

                                                      See to me, the really green, grassy, "vegetal" teas are harder on my stomach and tastebuds - I find more roasted teas a little easier to drink most of the time. I always thought I preferred the greener teas, until I had a few of the really green ones - then I realized that I prefer medium and darker roasted teas for the most part. Not that I don't like some green teas as well. But as far as oolongs, I typically prefer something on the slightly heavier / fruitier side rather than the really grassy stuff.

                                                      We have been doing these tastings roughly every other week for a couple months now (I posted links to the notes somewhere). So I guess I've been to 3 total, and I think there have been one or two that I didn't make it to. I know the notes on Phyll's web log may make it /seem/ like it's structured, but seriously - we are all pretty laid back and it never feels too serious - it's mostly about the tea and conversation, and sometimes we try and come up with some notes (and figure out what's what in the pictures) afterwards. We have never successfully stuck to a "theme". It's a pretty young group, but fairly mixed in terms of background / primary language / etc. Other than that, I haven't done anything too structured.

                                                      Danica (one of the other participants) has taken some classes with Roy Fong up at Imperial Tea Court up in SF. She really enjoyed them.

                                                      1. re: will47

                                                        Impressive! I am impressed by the passion.

                                                        It's a pleasant way for various people to come together. For me, the only contest might (???) be a sushi bar (!!!), but a tea bar waaaaay beats out any spirits bar or coffee bar. Enjoy!!!!

                                                        will47, talk to me about how long from the first steep can the wet tea leaves sit until subsequent steeps? Frequently, I brew first thing in the morning, and while I am sipping I am doing other things. Then I get busy and don't return to brew the next cup sometimes for several hours. Are the leaves still good? Do you think they begin to mold after a few hours since they are under ideal conditions for foreign growth to begin (warm and damp)? Do you think there is some quality deterioration when the damp leaves sit, cool down, and then need to heat up again? I would love to get your thoughts on this.

                          2. re: will47

                            Puerh cha is a preserved mountain tea that is grown on the high mountains of southwest China. Unlike regular tea, puerh supposedly gets better with age.

                            When I was in Yunnan province a few months ago (very close to Tibet) I bought a little cloth pouch filled with hand wrapped boullion-sized hard cubes of puerh. (Saves a lot of trouble in having to chop up those small to gigantic solid discs they sell at every single shop in Lijiang and Dali)

                            The way we were told to brew it is to put the cube in cold water and bring it to boil, then let it steep for 20 minutes before removing the tea leaves and transferring to a thermos. That little cube makes a big quantity-- in fact it is quite common to see local people with a big, heavy ratty thermos filled with the stuff (one little cube fills a big sized thermos, think 1.5 feet long). They then drink hot tea from it all day long. And as will47 says you can keep the brewed leaves and use them again and again as I'm sure the poor local people do..

                            One thing to bear in mind is that puerh is really the people's drink in that area of China in the same way that coffe is the people's drink in Vietnam and wine is the peasant's drink of France. Obsessiveness about such things is the rich man's privelege (or vice) but really it's unneccessary for the enjoyment of the stuff. Don't worry about being so precise in your brewing technique or buying needlessly expensive stuff. Just brew it as you like it.

                            Mr Taster
                            (who is currently in Taiwan, and just returned from the east coast where I ate a raw leaf of a growing tea plant and would like to inform everyone that it's not very tasty this way)
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                            1. re: Mr Taster

                              Hello, Mr Taster, across the globe!

                              Thanks for your calming words about lightening up on the brewing details. I think this makes it all more interesting: no two cups of tea are ever alike because no two cups are ever brewed exactly alike...even when I try! So, each cup is somewhat of a taste surprise!

                              Be well, and thanks for relating some of your pu'erh experience.