This past weekend I took the opportunity to try some tea that I purchased from Michael Coffey of Tea Geek quite some time ago. This tea is, in essence, very large leaves from the bushes of a pu’er varietal simply dried and tied into bundles. As described on the Tea Geek blog:
[This] limited availability product tries to reproduce, as well as the tea-makers knew, how tea was made in Yunnan before the widespread use of compression. This would go back to when tea was considered a medicine, not a beverage. It clearly draws on how herbs are collected and dried–the leaves are tied together by their stems in little bundles that were hung up to dry.
I didn’t really try to anticipate what the tea would be like before I brewed it. I assumed that it was going to have its own unique characteristics, and indeed it did. Rather than following instructions for breaking up leaf from stem and brewing in a bowl, I chose to brew the tea in a tall tea glass so that the leaves could remain intact, and so I could see them as they infused. I used boiling water and brewed the tea for about two minutes for the first infusion.
The dry leaves had very little scent, but as soon as they began to steep I could smell the distinctive scent of very young sheng pu’er. The taste was also easily identified as coming from the same plants that produce pu’er cakes, although clearly having undergone considerably less processing than any other tea. If an experienced tea drinker were handed a cup of this tea’s brewed liquor without any information he would be able to identify its origin as Yunnan, China easily and immediately.
The tea remained vibrantly flavorful through three infusions, but had mostly lost its punch by the fourth. It was a little surprising that it had as much flavor and personality as it had. With such a humble appearance and primitive preparation of the leaves it would have been unsurprising for it to yield a mild and uninspiring brew. But instead it conveyed the core essence of the pure tea plant. Rather than a novelty experience of what tea used to be before people learned how to process it into the many types of fabulous teas we value today, it really showed how much information is in the pure leaf already, even with so little craft transforming plant into beverage.
Read the Tea Geek blog post to find out more detail on this very interesting tea.