I am far from an expert, but I’ve always been both intimidated and entranced by pu erh tea. The tea comes packed in cakes and wrapped in decorative papers, and you might even have a tea pick especially for breaking up these tightly packed leaves. There’s a proper way to brew and taste pu erh, and all kinds of special teapots and accessories. There’s something inherently magical about having the right tools for an ancient ritual. With the Mini Yunnan Toucha mix sampler from Teasenz, I could give the whole thing a try at my kitchen table.
I’ve brewed enough bad cups of pu erh tea to know that it’s worth following the instructions. For this sampler I used the following process for each: 20 second awakening rinse (pour off the liquid), 5-10 second brews following. I only did three brews for each tea, though a good pu erh session would have many more. I only used a small piece of each tea cake for my taste-test– I would not recommend throwing the whole thing in your teapot, no matter how small and cute the tea cake is.
I’m going to use the same naming convention that Teasenz used on its website, referring to the teas by the color ink on their wrappings.
First up was the brown wrapper tea. This smelled like what I typically associate with pu erh: wet hay, earth, and old leather. If you’re new to pu erh, these flavors may take a little getting used to. Feel free to shorten your steep times to as little as 1 to 3 seconds if anything gets too intense. This tea very much smelled like the outdoors after the rain, with notes of wet mulch and damp leaves. I mention all these wet adjectives because there was definitely a sense of age or plant decay in the smell and taste.
The mouthfeel of pu erh is worth noticing, known for being exceedingly smooth, some might even describe it as creamy. Black teas can be bitter or have a strong astringent bite, but no such sensation was present in the brown wrapper tea. By the second and third steep, I continued to notice wet garden flavors, with more mineral tones like mushroom or beets or kale, especially on the aftertaste. The wet hay fragrance remained throughout, coming on the strongest when first brewed and dissipating slightly as the tea cooled.
Next was the red wrapper tea, in a cube shape. This tea felt similar to the brown wrapper, with notes of wet earth and grass. However there was a bit of brightness in the red tea that wasn’t present in the brown, maybe citrus or orange, a touch of something tart. The second steep had more of this brightness, like lemongrass, along with the typical pu erh wet hay flavors. By the third steep, the citrus verged to more of a bright pine note. If the brown wrapper tea was a deciduous woods full of wet, autumn leaves, then this red wrapper tea was a damp, evergreen forest with crushed hemlock needles and pine resin.
After the brown and red teas, the blue wrapper tea was quite a departure. As soon as I rinsed the leaves, I was hit with a striking popcorn scent. According to Teasnez, this “sticky rice” flavor is a staple of certain pu erh teas. My boyfriend was walking by the room at this point and said it smelled like Fritos corn chips! As for the taste, this tea still had the expected wet grass notes, but the brew was more savory, like a soup broth. The plant-like flavors were a little different than the brown and red tea cakes, this time tasting more like corn or celery. As I tried more steeps with this tea, the sticky rice note became more mellow, and the damp earth and corn husk flavors were more prevalent, smelling more like an autumn cornfield maze.
Finally we get to the yellow wrapped tea. This is a different type of pu erh tea entirely. The brown, red, and blue wrapper teas were all pu erh shou tea. The yellow wrapped tea is a pu ehr sheng. Shou tea is fermented prior to packaging, while sheng teas are packaged “raw” and age in the package over time. This yellow wrapped sheng tea occupied a flavor profile somewhere between the wet earth flavors of the brown wrapper tea, and the toasty rice notes of the blue wrapper tea. The yellow wrapper tea had flavors like starchy baked bread and old paper alongside the damp grass tones. This tea had the most variation between steeps, the second steep having flavors that reminded me of black licorice or roasted nuts, and the third steep brightening up to more of a celery and sweetgrass blend.
Personally, I find the smells and tastes of pu ehr tea to be memory-inducing, reminding me of playing and exploring as a kid. The scents of damp paper or old leather are akin to going into an undisturbed attic, and the damp earth scents make me think about playing in neighbors’ barns or crawling under the porch for hide-and-seek, while the wet leaves flavors make me think of walking in the woods after the rain. The flavors of these aged tea leaves provide me with a strong sense of nostalgia and history.
Or maybe I’m just waxing poetic here, and I’ve just brewed one too many cups of tea for one afternoon. Either way, I highly recommend this sampler as a great way to experiment with pu ehr tea and its traditions.
Here’s the scoop!
Leaf Type: Pu erh
Where to Buy: Teasenz
If you are new to pu erh tea and have yet to discover the different types of aromas it offers, then this mini tuocha tea mix is the right place to start. Reap the weight loss benefits of this pu erh while enjoying the diverse mix of flavors that ensure you will never get bored.