Tea of the Week: Misty Peak’s Autumn 2015 Raw Pu’er

I’m back into the swing of my Tea of the Week series this week, and I have Misty Peak’s Autumn 2015 Pu’er to thank for it. When I think of the Pu-erh that my Cantonese family enjoys, I usually think of Ripe Pu-erh, the kind with a dark mahogany finish and slightly musty taste. Misty Peak makes Raw Pu-erh, which has a completely different flavor profile: the tea is lighter in color and brighter in taste, similar to Chinese green tea but more robust.

To be classified as Pu-erh, the tea must come from Yunnan, be sun-dried after firing, and lastly, be of the large leaf variety of Camellia Sinensis. There are 3 types or sub-classes of Pu-erh, raw (a.k.a. green), ripe (a.k.a. black), or aged raw which is usually an in-between of green and black, depending on the age. This fresh, wiry Autumn 2015 Raw Pu-er was picked less than 20 days ago, and will continue to get better with age.

Tasting Notes for Misty Peak Tea’s Autumn 2015 Pu’er:

BREWING TIPS:  Brew with 170-180 degree F water. Give the leaves a quick rinse before steeping. I like to brew this at 30-40 second intervals in a gaiwan or small teapot. It’s easy to get 15+ infusions out of these leaves.

THE TEA: Long, wiry leaves, up to 2″ in length. A very dark brown, slightly twisted and curled.

THE SCENT: Of fresh wood and sweet hay. Slightly like burnt sugar or caramel.

THE STEEP: The first few infusions are vegetal like a green tea, but stronger and bolder, with notes of asparagus and spinach. Successive brews continue to sweeten and become reminiscent of stone fruits like apricots or plums. The brew has some astringency to it but it’s undeniable sweet, at times almost sugarcane-like.

GET IT: Get this online, in loose or cake form, at Misty Peak Teas.

FOOD PAIRING: Because this tea tastes like a richer, fuller-flavored green tea, I love to enjoy it hot with spicy foods, like Smashed Chinese Cucumbers or stir-fried noodles. Wonderful with rich, savory dumplings, like Butternut Squash Crystal Dumplings or Siu Mai.

And now, I’m going to turn this over to my tea friend, Nicholas Lozito of Misty Peak Teas. He’s kind enough to bring us along on one of his recent trips to China to show us how Raw Puerh is produced, from farm to finished product.
Nicholas: Pu’er is produced much like other Chinese teas. The quality of the tea is determined by the knowledge and skill of the tea master and preparer. The tea is picked by hand in either Autumn or Spring then left to wither for 8-10 hours.

Once much of the water has left the leaves, it is then fired for about 25 minutes on an open wok to reduce moisture and stop oxidation, then rolled on a mat to further break down the compounds and bring out the flavor and aroma. After this, it is spread out on large trays and left under the sun to dry.
At any point in this process, machinery could be used, but quality will be sacrificed. At Misty Peak Teas, it is never machine rolled or air-dried and is actually all picked and produced in house, rather then sending out the picked-leaves to finish the process.
By using our hands and senses, we are able to modify and master the craft. Think of it as the difference between purchasing bread from an artisan baker and using a bread machine at home.After the leaves have finished drying comes the critical decision point: which of the three sub-classes of Pu’er will this be? If it is green, as we produce, it is complete. We can now send it out as either loose leaf or steam it then compress it under stones to different shapes, most often the shape of a moon. This is a popular way of offering Pu’er and was popularized during the age of the Tea Horse Road allowing for easier transport (horses went from carrying 40 kilos to about 200 kilos once the tea was compressed into bricks or discs). 

If it is to be ripe/black, then it will be sent out to a factory and taken through a compost-like process: high humidity for months with a team turning the leaves every-so-often to allow the leaves to darken and artificially age. All this to closely replicate the beauty and interest of our 3rd sub-class of Pu’er: Aged Raw. Aged Raw Pu’er is basically green Pu’er that has been properly stored at careful conditions to allow it to naturally age and mature, generally for many years. Seeing that Pu’er Tea has micro flora living on the leaves, it is literally a living thing and does not expire like all other teas. Us tea drinkers will determine which of the three classes we prefer best, and then perhaps which producers and which purveyors and mountains we prefer the best. The key is to start off with quality first. Some people try Pu’er and dislike it because there is far more poor quality Pu’er on the market. Try the best first and give this tea a chance. Autumn 2015 Pu’er and photos courtesy of Misty Peak Teas. A special thanks to Nicholas for sharing his tea travels with us!

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