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Jim Cotter

Pu Ehr Tea : Also Puerh, Pu-erh, Puer. . .

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Yesterday I finally brewed up a couple of free samples included in a recent order from Norbu, two loose young sheng puerhs: 2007 Spring Yong De Mao Cha and 2010 Spring Lao Ban Pen Mao Cha.


Both of these have long intact-appearing leaves and a fair bit of stem. The leaves smell sweet and earthy, a stronger mushroom odor to the Lao Ban Pen than the 2007 Yong De.


Yong De on left, Lao Ban Pen on right

I put 2 grams of each into my tiniest gaiwans, with 1.5 ounces near boiling water. After a flash rinse, both smell even stronger and more delicious.

First infusion, 205°F/96°C, 10":

YD--sweet anise

LBP--smoky, earthy, sweet

Second infusion, 205°F/96°C, 15":

YD--sweet anise, woody/earthy starting up

LBP--sweet and earthy, woody, bit of anise and smokiness lighter already


Yong De on left, Lao Ban Pen on right

Third infusion, 205°F/96°C, 20":

YD--sweet anise, woody/earthy

LBP--sweet and earthy, woody, bit of anise, smokiness almost gone

Fourth infusion, 205°F/96°C, 20":

YD--sweet anise, woody/earthy, still the anise is very strong, bit of bitter aftertaste

LBP--earthy, sweet, smoky

Fifth infusion, 205°F/96°C, 35":

YD--sweet anise, earthy has retreated now, bitter/sweet aftertaste

LBP--sweet and earthy, bit of herbaceous flavor

Sixth infusion, 205°F/96°C, 60" (stopped to take a picture of the leaves):

YD--sweet anise and earthy, rich and strong

LBP--sweet and earthy, deep, warm, rich

Seventh infusion, 205°F/96°C, 1': both a little dilute, should have let them go longer, more sweet water with hints of anise (YD) or earthy (LBP)

Eighth infusion, 205°F/96°C, 3': oh, this is much better, my anise and earthy flavors are back. Still delicious, yum. Young sheng stars.

Losing count--10? 11? still wonderful, both of them. Troubling fact: I want to shoot the spent leaves, lay them out to show the size and pluck, but they're just not quitting, now 15, 16 infusions in. It will be a long night.

1.5 liter later (the kettle was filled completely when I started), they're not as rich, but still, a little better than just sweet water.

Wet leaves are are mix of light brown and green, but the LBP is more uniformly light green, and the leaves are a bit smaller than the YD.


Yong De on left, Lao Ban Pen on right

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1997 Heng Li Chang Bu Lang Sheng Puerh

Aged sheng puerh tea from Essence of Tea,

First try with this aged puerh. Using tap water, small porcelain gaiwan, 2 grams of tea, and 60-75mL water with each infusion. Water is just off the boil.

Dry leaves smell of sweet rich soil.


First a flash rinse, then 20 second first infusion: sweet, earthy, anise, a hint of herby/spicy but no bitterness. The liquor turns my golden shino cup to deep red-orange.


30 seconds 2nd: sweet, earthy, thick, liquor and a little bitter

30 seconds 3rd: sweet, earthy, little bitter

30 seconds 4th: still sweet, earthy, no bitter, bit of fruity

45 seconds 4th: sweet, earthy, little spiciness/resinous but not bitter


60", 60", 60", 90"—color lightening, still sweet, mellow, earthy, bits of caramel and raisin or plum

2’, 2’, 3’—starting to lose it, heading towards sweet water. Going to try one more at 5 minutes—and there is still something there, even earthy and sweet coming forward despite having just eaten a mint. It’s not strong, but not quite just sweet water yet. Nice pu!


The big question I was trying to answer with this order from Nada was how much better aged puerhs are than my current young shengs and shus. While this is a very smooth and pleasant tea, I can’t say that I love it 5 to 10 times more than some of the lovely but quite inexpensive young pus I’ve gotten from other sources.


It’s definitely smooth and mellow in a way that has no parallel in my young shengs, but it is approached by the better of my young shus, and the young shengs have other attractions like smokiness and umami that are absent in teas like this.

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A week or two ago, I finished off my sample packet of the 2006 Yong De Hand-braided Wild Arbor Sheng from Norbu, and it was time to break into the big beeng. But I wanted to get some good shots of the whole thing, because it is so amazingly beautiful as an intact cake. Time to show off my pu!







Close up


Closer up


And the tea


And there are a few more images in the flickr set here.

It's quite a tasty tea, in addition to being beautiful.

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I missed making a note first time I drank my 2010 Banpen puerh from Essence of Tea. I think I started a note and then may have lost it someplace on my computer along with some photos of the tea. This time, no photos, but a review....

I broke off a small quantity of this one to enjoy now, although I intend to let most of it age a while.

For this infusion series, I used just 1.8 grams of tea in a very small gaiwan, which holds 50-60mL, and tap water at 205 degrees.

The dry leaf is quite dark, with some paler leaves twisted in with the rest. The scent is light, herbaceous, soil-like.

First a flash rinse, wait a minute or two, then a first flash infusion. Strongly herbaceous, some bitterness waiting in the wings, hint of sweet but only a hint. Leather, fresh-cut wood, umami noticeable after cooling, sipping more slowly.

2nd infusion was similar. 3rd infusion, still flash infusions, more sweetness starting to come to the fore, although the leather/earthy/umami is still dominant. 4th infusion, waited 5 seconds before starting to pour: sweet, anise/herb notes are stronger again. The leather/umami is still there but lightening, less overwhelming but still stronger than anything else. 5th, 10 seconds before pour: more sweet. 6th, similar, the long sweet finish starting to really take over. Yes, there is some bitter in there too, but my taste buds are doing a happy dance now. Nice nice nice. One more and I’ll be done for the evening [nope, make that 3, we’re up to 9 before retiring for the evening]. This is definitely one to continue tomorrow—want to see how far it can go.

10 and 11 down before I had this note open to edit: sweet, delicious, holding up well to some strong onion flavor in what I was eating before starting back with the tea. 12 was too short, about 5 seconds, just sweet water. 13, was barely patient enough to go 20 seconds (I am thirsty)—more flavor of herbs to back up the sweet—14, 15, 16, similar, beautifully balanced between sweet and herbaceous and sweet forest duff, tastebuds doing happy dance again. Then a horrible moment—I looked over for infusion 17 and the gaiwan was EMPTY. Filled, infused again, world righted itself on its axis. Whew.

18, 19, 20 still delicious, but starting to lighten up. Need to lengthen the infusions again. 21 to 2 minutes….still needs more. #22 will be 3 minutes, and was a little better. Going to push #23 for 5 minutes…..and it is again very nice. 10 minutes on #24, and it is nice, but back to nearly sweet water. Time to add water and go do some chores for an hour or two, maybe. #25 lost something to cooling down; #26 suggests the leaves are finally done.

Overall, an excellent experience, and this is while it is still only an infant tea.

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Another 'baby' puerh from Essence of Tea tonight: finished a 2-day session with the 2011 Guafengzhai.

1.6 grams in 50mL tiny porcelain gaiwan (lots of broken bits because I was prying a bit off of one side and it got a little messy)

Water 205 degrees

Flash rinse—did not save—and only noticed later that a bit of water was left, like a grandpa-style ‘root’, that got incorporated into the first infusion, which is….strong. Campfire smoky gym socks strong. Still only a hint of bitter, but very powerful stuff.

2nd infusion, 10 seconds then poured, still very strong smoky umami stuff, but the sweet is able to show up at the front of each sip, and the aftertaste is spicy and herbaceous and bitter and still smoky.

3rd infusion, poured in, replaced kettle on stand, and poured out, less than 10 seconds: still very powerful stuff. I am so appreciating this lovely little gaiwan right now, the fit and the pour and the function for these fast infusions are just excellent. The tea is still transporting me back to childhood campfires, with a bit of sweet here and there.

4th infusion, same pour in/kettle/pour out, between 5 and 7 seconds, can’t be doing much more than rinsing what is already sweating out on the surface of the leaves, and still it has a powerful kick. A little more sweet apparent, though.

Side note: simply because I was in the mood for it, I started my day with some Tie Guan Yin, couldn’t exhaust those leaves with the time available before leaving for work, and am working on some more infusions after the leaves were stored int he fridge for the day, drinking one infusion of this to a couple of the puerh. It’s astonishing how clean and refined the flavor is in contrast to this rambunctious smoky pu!

5th infusion, still crazy-smokey-rambunctious, ham and campfire and sweet and bit of bitter herbs. 6th is settling in a bit, but I can see that it’s going to take a lot of infusions and a kettle full of water at 40mL per infusion to tame these leaves. 7th similar, the smoky veil is showing a little more of what is behind it, but still, powerful smoke.

If overwhelming, outrageous flavor now is a good predictor of aging well, this should be fabulous. But the kettle is empty and I do have to get some sleep eventually, so I’m setting the leaves aside for more tomorrow.

Took this tea out of the fridge again after 2 days (previously up to 8 infusions): starting the first few infusions with a meal of cheese and crackers, and like any good puerh, the tea cuts the richness well. And the strong cheese also helps mellow the smokiness of the tea.

By the 16th infusion, the tea is tasting more strongly of herbs and sweet anise, with the umami nearly gone.

The 25th infusion is still strong and deliciously herbaceous, astringent but not truly bitter. Very pleasant stuff.

Up to 30, and brewing by my thirst—some flash infusions, basically sweet water, to wet the palate, then a few more substantial, slower, showing persistent flavor beyond simple sweet water, amazing stamina this stuff has. Saying uncle at 32 infusions, that’s enough for now.

I am very encouraged to think of what this tea will be after it has settled a bit and the wildly smoky start has softened. As I've noted before, I do yet have enough of an interest to attempt any sort of serious temp/humidity controlled aging of puerh, but I've got a few beengs that are already showing some changes after just 1-2 years in my care, so I feel confident enough that I'm not wrecking them to buy one or two here and there.

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Checking in today with the 2009 Lao Mansa sheng puerh from Norbu, the first pu I bought with aging deliberately in mind. It has sat in its wrapper, in a cloth bag, in a file drawer in my air-conditioned office for the past year plus.

I’ve dipped into this a few times since last year, and this time I’m using a piece that, when hydrated, fills the gaiwan between 1/3 and 1/2 full (should have measured it in grams, but I wasn't thinking about taking notes when I started). I started with a flash rinse, let the tea hydrate/wet a bit, then have been enjoying a series of quick, hot infusions—the Pino is set to 205, and I’ve been infusing 10-20 seconds, and mostly drinking them down very quickly. Lots of herbaceous flavor, sweetness, anise, but little outright bitterness.

It’s just delicious, and again, the biggest problem I foresee with this aging experiment may be trying to drink it sparingly enough to keep some around for a long time.

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1997: CNNP Wild Yiwu Camphor Raw Puerh by CNNP

I got a sample of this one in a tea swap via another forum. I wanted to try to figure out how much of my love for the 2008 bamboo-aged Yi Wu I've gotten from Norbu was due to the Yi Wu starting material.

I started with 2.3 grams of very powerful smelling dry leaves in a small gaiwan (about 75 mL), water 205 degrees.

A bit dusty/musty, going to flash rinse before drinking an infusion

Waited a minute, then first infusion pour in/pour out—less than 10 second steep

Let it cool a bit—grabbed the wrong cup for this—it is mild, sweet, bit of smokiness and earthy with the camphor. As the infusion sits between sips, the smokiness, earthiness and camphor all intensify, and the sweetness drops into the background.

2nd infusion—also pour in/pour out—sweet, smoky, earthy, camphor, but the first note is the sweet. Long camphorous aftertaste.

3rd infusion—pour in/pour out—the sweet is still there, and the smoky/earthy/camphor is starting to overtake the sweet even at the beginning of the sip.

Brought it home with me in the gaiwan, then left overnight, starting again in the morning, and it is again earthy, camphorous, smoky, powerful stuff….and this is another flash infusion.

Longer infusion is strong, earthy, camphorous, a little sweet….and if this is after a dozen years of aging, what must it have been like when it was young? 5th infusion was longer, about a minute, because I forgot it, but even though stronger than I really enjoy, it still was not bitter or actually unpleasant.

Quite an amazing tea.

Another half dozen short infusions character changing only gradually.

Infusion 12 still is potent, but the sweet is coming more strongly now, again. Those early infusion were rather rough, but this is really getting very nice. At this rate, this is going to be a 20-30 infusion tea, methinks…but will need to heat up another kettle’s worth of tea.


2.3 grams may be a whole day’s worth of tea at this rate.

Started this one Friday evening, just four infusions; continued Saturday, probably 20 infusions; and Sunday, another 4 or 5 before I stopped. At about 2 oz per infusion, that was a couple of liters of tea from 2.3 grams of leaf!

The later infusions were well towards sweet water, but still had distinct flavor. Mmmm.

And the leaves were quite impressive—most were quite broken up, but look at the size of the one on the left—penny added for scale. Big leaf with a very big flavor.


1997 Wild Yi Wu puerh by debunix, on Flickr

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2004 Shen Shan Lao Shu by Haiwan Tea Factory

I got a free small sample of this puerh with an order from Jing Tea Shop. It came in a tiny bag that kept slipping to the bottom of my puerh box, so it was overlooked, quite literally, for a long time.

I set up a first infusion series this evening without remembering to weigh the small piece of leaves first—d’oh! It was likely between 1 and 2 grams of compressed leaf, set up in a cheap 60mL yixing pot. Water was heated to 205 degrees.

I first flash rinsed, then set up my first infusion and….forgot about it, for several minutes. I did sip that one momentarily, but though it had very promising anise and caramel notes, a strong bitterness on top of that made it undrinkable.

I managed the next half dozen infusions better. I put a splash of cool water into the cup while preparing a flash infusion of the tea, and the little bit of cool water drops the temperature when I add the tea so that I can drink it straight off, without waiting for it to cool. The liquor is anise-caramel-sweet, with a mild earthy undertone, delicious. Gradually I’m increasing the time for each infusion, up to about 45 seconds now, and while I think I’m going to get another half dozen infusions easily, it’s sad to think of how many I missed due to that first mistakenly long infusion—probably a good 6-8 more infusions were lost.

Fortunately, even the small sample should provide 2 or 3 more small sessions like this one.

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When I had dim sum at Cai in Chicago, they served a pot of pu-erh and chrysanthemum flowers.

"As life's pleasures go, food is second only to sex.Except for salami and eggs...Now that's better than sex, but only if the salami is thickly sliced"--Alan King (1927-2004)

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I have not read this whole thread although I plan to.


Will someone please explain to me, how is it that pu erh is an "acquired taste" for many? I find it consistently more palatable and smooth than astringent unfermented teas*, and I have drunk many an abused pu erh - triple concentration, fishy, overbrewed, cheap quality, stale, etc. All good to me. When I was little the only tea I drank/had access to was pu erh because we would go to dim sum a lot, and I drank it just fine. Then as I got older I was introduced to other teas and I wondered why I disliked them so much. Perhaps I was always just drinking scorched tea made from shit municipal chlorinated water, but I can't imagine the dim sum places used anything but.


In general, the less oxidized the tea the less likely I am to like it. My second favorite tea is Assam :P Again, it's probably my lack of access to unchlorinated water that makes me intolerant to more delicate teas.


Not tryna sound like a snob here, far from it. I mean I drink pu erh with milk and call it bo lei au lait. See, I play with my food.

Edited by flava (log)

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Thanks WmC and Richard for the work!  I tried pu-erh for the first time a couple weeks ago, New Orleans is a city of coffee drinkers and Luizanne iced tea...  


I try to put a lot of study into new foods, knowledge I come across.  Thanks for teaching the difference between raw and ripe pus, the correct way to rinse, flush, and steep using a gaiwan.  Nice vocabulary for tastes of young and old teas.  


Great reading on a rainy day.  Tons of sources of teas and information.  Must have been exciting for y'all a few years ago when doing the tasting.  Thank everyone for a great forum.  I look forward to buying a proper gaiwan soon and then really having proper pu-erh.

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