Monday, March 30, 2009

Revolutionary puerh

China's history has continuously influenced its tea culture. The dramatic 20th century, for instance, had a great impact on puerh production. Before Japan's invasion in 1937, small private companies were producing puerh for the domestic and export markets. Then, during the second world war and the following civil war that ravaged China, much less puerh was produced and most of it was exported to Tibet or South East Asia (Thailand, Burma...). 

After the communists took over in late 1949, private enterprises weren't welcome anymore. And it's in 1951 that the state enterprise started to produce puerh in Yunnan. Their first (and famous) cake was the Hung Yin (named after the red ink used on its wrapping paper.)

The cultural revolution from 1966 to 1976 will again upset the tea production in Yunnan. Factories were impacted the most, because they were the cradle for Mao's workers' revolution. Factories became political instruments of the communist party: they were involved in politics and 'reeducation'. So while tea farmers continued to harvest puerh leaves, few bricks or cakes were produced in Yunnan's factories. Instead, this mao cha (loose leaves) were sold to Hong Kong and Macao businesses. A portion was then pressed in Guangdong (hence the Guang Yun Gong cakes from this period). Most of it remained loose.

Until then, puerh production in the 20th Century had been so small that it was sufficient for farmers to harvest the puerh trees that were growing naturally in Yunnan's countryside. Deng Xiao Ping's gradual opening to more economic freedom in the early 1980s would change this. Modern puerh plantations were needed to meet the increased demand of economic development. And this would affect the quality of the leaves used in puerh cakes from then on.

The leaves of my loose puerh date from the early 1970s. This means they come from the same wild and/or old trees that were harvested in the 1950s and 1960s. Besides their age, the difference is that they haven't been pressed into a cake, because of the unrest during theses years. 

Drinking this tea is a revolutionary experience! And not so much because its harvest times, but because of its astonishing quality. 

I choose this zisha Bian Hu of 12 cl. Flat and rather small, its shape is a good fit for the many whole, big puerh leaves. The clay will also smoothen and add further depth to the tea. I'm using 2,5 grams of dry leaves. They smell so nice and clean (no 'off' smells) that I don't even rinse them. That day, I started with first infusion of 1 minute, but today, I shortened it, because it is so concentrated that I also enjoy its first light brews. 

I compose my Cha Xi with several Qing dynasty accessories to suggest an ancient atmosphere for this old tea. The sweet and 'full body' water from my tetsubin is a good fit for this complex tea.

A branch of orchids on the Cha Bu is a symbol for the relaxed and peaceful feelings that I experience. This tea is refined and yet full of power. It smells of old, sweet wood, and yet I can feel its youthful energy. It is pure and yet complex, with each drop unfolding in layers of aromas and endless aftertaste. It is enduring and yields countless brews. And no matter how long the brews become, it remains absent of unpleasant bitterness or astringency. 

Like my flowers, I want to lie down and enjoy the tea with some traditional guqin music in the background... 

Hummmmmm... Old tasty smells, purity, yun, sweetness, endurance, cha qi... This puerh has it all! It brings a new, revolutionary understanding to what old puerh is all about. 

Some open leaves from a brewing that lasted 2 days.


halfkill said...

packed with information and still so pleasant to read, fotos are very nice indeed.great post!

heavydoom said...


Kim said...

This tea is not only a revoutionary experience, it is a relevation, a delight, a (hopefully not) once-in-your-life experience !!
As Stephane already mentioned - it brews like liquid velvet - countless times...

TeaMasters said...

Thanks Halfkill and Heavydoom for dropping by!

I'm glad you liked it, Kim!

Anonymous said...

I like your zisha Bian Hu. It's pretty.

-Tea Lover