Know your tea
Raw materials and location
The first variable in quality is the foundation; without this, any quality in the tea would be out of question. Each characteristic is due to the difference in climate, soil, vegetation, and process. The necessity for a quality raw material Pu’er tea is it first must be from Yunnan, the most important traditional tea producing areas in Yunnan are Lincang, Simao, and Xishuangbanna. Second, it must be sun-dried and hand-rolled. Third, it must be picked from tea trees rather than young bushes that can often be bitter and make one feel uneasy.
All teas of China come from the same tree, Camellia Senensis. It’s important to understand what kind of trees/bushes there are:
- Plantation. Hip height, 10-50 year old bushes, pruned to be easy to pick, usually mass-produced and sold to factories. Much cheaper and usually with very little depth or complexity in character.
- Ancient arbor. Trees let grow as they please (the tea tree is a tree, sometimes cut down to bush size, but naturally a tree). These are planted several yards away from each other and are meant to develope their own ecological/natural environment so sprays are not needed, ect. The trees are able to pull in flavors and minerals from the soil and grow naturally. Misty Peak’s tea is from Ancient Arbor trees.
- Wild Forest: Sounds lovely, but often produces very inconsistent teas. These tea trees are usually 10-30 feet high, older than most plantations, and rather dangerous to get.
The quality of the tea is key during this process. The best quality leaves can still make a poor quality tea if in untrained hands. Whether making Ripe Pu’er or Raw Green Pu’er, the initial process is identical. The leaves are picked, withered, fire-roasted,rolled, then sun dried. At this point, all within the same day, one has the finished and drinkable tea. From here, it can be compressed into different shapes, sold as is, or it can undergo a fermentation, compost-like, process to become ripe (black) Pu’er tea.
This does not necessarily belong to the category of “quality”, as some Pu’er teas are wonderful without ever being introduced to storage. However, allow a brief explanation of storage techniques. Read more
When it comes to seasonal pickings and preferences, there will be many on both sides of the fence. Spring tea is picked when the blossoms start to bloom and the winter is ending; therefore, the tea is often more vibrant and floral and lighter. Autumn tea is picked after a harsh and often rainy summer, so the tea is much bolder and more balancing and tastes more like a stone-fruit. The preferences will vary from person to person, but also, from moment to moment.
Storing your tea is easy. Keep it in a well ventilated area with no strong odors in its vicinity. Invest in good Pu’er and you will have great aged Pu’er if you can patiently wait the years. The key is to spend the little extra to get a wonderful young Pu’er cake or loose leaf tea so that you can truly enjoy your investment for years to come, and watch it age along the way. The value will greatly increase and the taste will blossom and mature into something so delicious and delicate you will be pleased with your patience.