Weekend before last, at the Second Annual Northwest Tea Festival, Marcus of Teahouse Kuan Yin gave me a very unusual fang cha pu’er to try. (“Fang Cha” are single cup or mug sized, square, flat pu’er cakes.) I was told that this curious little square block of tea was made with a coffee bean in the center of it, deeming it the perfect Seattle tea. The idea of hiding a coffee bean inside of a pu’er cake struck me as marvelously subversive, but I was also quite interested in what it would taste like. There is a similarity in character between some dark pu’er teas and some types of coffee, so it did not seem like the flavors would be incompatible or unpleasant.
Normally, I would not brew pu’er tea in a glass teapot, but I wanted to see what this particular tea would look like as it broke apart and brewed. I couldn’t see any coffee-bean like thing in the pre-brewed cake on either side. But I also didn’t know whether or not a coffee bean would completely dissolve while surrounded by aging pu’er tea.
As the tea brewed it didn’t exhibit any unusual characteristics. The coffee bean did not jump out, or rise to the top, or become visible in any other way, so I figured it had absorbed into the tea. It also didn’t jump out at me as a flavor in the taste of the brewed tea, which tasted kind of a like a camel’s breath pu’er or another “forest floor” type pu’er. Those teas sometimes look like coffee, and they can have a flavor sort of like cheap diner coffee, which has a certain charm under the right circumstances. But there wasn’t anything that really struck me as coffee-like in this brew. And after thinking about how many coffee beans it takes to produce one strong cup of coffee, I realized that one lonely coffee bean wouldn’t stand much of a chance against the overpowering volume and flavor of the pu’er tea engulfing it.
I would hazard a guess that if you brewed some of this tea and then brought it to three non-specialized primarily coffee drinkers and three non-specialized primarily tea drinkers and had each of them taste it without telling them what it was, you’d probably get six different answers, scattered between tea and coffee.
The tea is interesting, but more so as a novelty than a tea one would want to drink a lot of. If you’re looking for a more traditional pu’er, try these 2003 Fang Cha Mini Cakes, also available from Teahouse Kuan Yin. They’re quite wonderful in taste and form. The coffee bean fang cha cakes themselves are available in the store, but not on the website. They are worth a try because they’re interesting and they are quite a novel product. I recommend drinking the tea in front of evangelical tea drinkers while they’re in the midst of a coffee abolitionist tirade, and telling them that what you like best about the tea is that it’s almost just like coffee (which it isn’t). Then run, or just hope they don’t have a heavy edition of the Cha Jing to chuck at your head.
While looking for more information about this coffee bean pu’er tea, I found another post about the very same tea on the Coffee Hero blog.
The coffee bean fang cha is made, or at least distributed, by this company, but I can’t read enough Chinese to figure out where the actual product page is for it.