You Zi Cha: Pu-erh Aged in a Grapefruit

More accurately, this very large and lovely green Southeast Asian fruit is not a grapefruit, but a Pomelo, although sometimes it is called a Chinese grapefruit. Like the grapefruit it is distantly related to, the pomelo is a very large citrus fruit with thick skin and membranes. Unlike the grapefruit we usually see in the United States, the Pomelo is sometimes stuffed with tea, bound with wire or string and then dried, infusing the aging tea with a unique flavor. Pomelo
Pomelo Pu-erh closed Wandering through a Chinese tea store in the Vietnamese area of Portland a few weeks ago a bin of these intriguing objects caught my eye. The things are very hard and dry, with a slightly citrusy/dusty scent lingering about them. The store had very little English signage and no descriptive information about these teas aside from the price, but I knew that I would be able to find additional information about them later. I had tried a pu-ehr aged in a mandarin orange that I had liked quite a lot and this seemed even more unusual and interesting. And the packaging and presentation of this tea was impossible to resist.

Chinese Tea for You has some additional information about the manufacturing process of this tea. The teas are available for purchase, but the cost is considerably higher than what I paid in Portland, which was less than $10.00, if I remember correctly. Excerpted from the product description:

Our Pomelo Tea is made by first scooping out the flesh of the pomelo. After packing the empty shell with a mixture of oolong tea, pomelo flesh and licorice root, the pomelo is steamed and compressed several times before being stored for ageing. This cycle of processing takes about two months to complete.

During the processing and ageing, the taste and aroma of the pomelo and licorice is infused into the tea, giving the brewed tea a unique flavour.

Pomelo Pu-erh opened

This is the only tea I’ve ever purchased that required pliers and wire cutters to access. Once the wire framework was removed the “lid” portion of the pomelo shell pried off relatively easily and I was able to break off pieces of the tea with a Pu-erh knife. The pre-infused tea had an interesting acrid smell and the tea broke up similarly to most other Pu-erhs. I brewed and served it using traditional gong fu methods in a yixing pot. Here are my tasting notes:

infusion #1: The first infusion was steeped for 20 seconds and yielded an acidic, slightly bitter liquor. It was light amber in color with very strong grapefruit-like notes.

infusion #2: The second infusion was mellower, yet very complex. The citrusy taste was quite pleasant, surprisingly giving the tea a flavor reminiscent of a ceylon tea.

infusion #3: In the third infusion the astringency of the pomelo was quite stronger than the astringency of the tea. It left very interesting flavors throughout the mouth. None of the infusions of this tea had any of the earthiness common to Pu-erhs. It had a distinct “dustiness” but more of paper than leaves.

infusion #4: The fourth infusion was more citrusy and even tangier on the tongue, with a stronger aftertaste. The acridity had faded, but the pomelo flavor was stronger, overpowering the tea flavor. all mustiness was gone from the taste at this point and it left an interesting feel on the teeth.

infusion #5: The fifth infusion was not as interesting in flavor although still very tangy on the tongue.

The infused dead leaves had a rather horrid smell, nothing like the fascinating aromas and tastes of the tea itself. I would recommend this tea to anyone with a sense of adventure. I found it quite enjoyable.


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  2. What a lovely surprise, finding this same tea in our “tea archive” today. I am drinking it again today (after a fruitful 6 years of aging). I’m making it in an infuser basket in a large mug with about a tablespoon of tea, and a few small pieces of the pomelo skin. Steeping for about 5 minutes per infusion.

    The acidity has softened significantly and the first infusion had barely any bitterness at all. Subsequent infusions brought out a bit more pomelo character,with a pleasantly balanced astringency. The citrus character makes this just the right pu’er for this warm summer day. Yum!