I am approaching the time in my life when shou puerh is one of the more comfortable teas for Old Lady digestion. A gong fu session with shou puerh is always enjoyable, and I also find a pinch of shou brewed western style in a mug is a good way to settle my gut and help me relax. Shou puerh helps balance out sheng days. However, I have yet to order any shou that arrives without needing something. Either the shou will need further aging, or airing, or both.
My eventual goal of treatment for a newly arrived shou puerh is to tin the tea for storing and consumption.
1. Does the shou have Heavy, Medium or Light fermentation?
Hopefully the seller discloses the level of fermentation. Vendors such as Yunnan Sourcing generally describe the level of fermentation in their listings. Other vendors like those on EBay might not be so clear. We need to know what type of shou the cake is in order to figure out how to treat it.
Heavy: the cake is mostly dark brown. The leaves will seem like dried dark leather or dried tobacco. When brewed, the tea soup is very sweet and reddish, and the leaves look very black in the gaiwan. Often Heavy puerh contains lots of sticks.
Medium: this shou often shows flecks of golden or lighter colored tea leaves on the surface of the cake. The best shou factory puerh cakes seem to have an even distribution of more lightly fermented leaves, or unfermented leaves scattered across the surface. This is a beautiful aesthetic, and I always stop to appreciate cakes where such care is taken in the presentation. When brewed, the gaiwan will have some of the heavier, dark and leathery leaf, and then some lighter green pieces. Sometimes the green pieces aren't noticeable until a few steeps in and the tea soup fades.
Light: Even more greener pieces of tea, and a lighter colored soup. More bitterness in the cup, can taste sour fermented flavor because it still has years to go.
2. Taste the tea to check for condition too. Withhold judgement on the quality.
Here I am looking for things that need fixing, such as humid or dirt-smelling storage which will need to be aired. Or sour flavors which means the tea got dried out and will need a bit more humidity to wake up and work out.
Every shou will need something, either airing or more fermentation time. Shou will not be at its best when you first get it. So I just look for problems and really decide on the tea in a few months.
3. Break up all Heavy fermentation teas and any Light/Mediums that have humid storage odors on top of any wo dui odors.
This step might be difficult for some to part with the intact cake. As for Heavy fermentation, scad tons of this tea are produced in China every year. China has a many years back-load of shou which they are trying to figure out how to market and sell. Heavy fermentation cakes have no great value and will never have value except for drinking. Break it up.
In theory, Light/Mediums might retain value with further storage based on the fact that retailers bump the price every year. But in reality, where are you gonna sell them? Again, China produces tons of shou every year. A sensible strategy is break up the ones that arrive with musty humid storage and plan to tin these. For drier storage cakes you don't plan to drink for a few years, hang on to them intact if you want.
4. Place the tea in the correct storage solution.
The correct solution depends upon the level of fermentation and any problems.
Overview of storage solutions.
Heavy vs. Light Fermentation: Heavy needs airing and finally long term tinning. Light has essentially the same storage issues as for sheng. The advantage of lighter fermentation is more complexity developing in the tea over time, mimicking sheng puerh more closely than Heavy does. Since Light fermentation is essentially going to be similar to sheng, and must be stored separately from sheng, you will need two separate storage plans for sheng and Light/Medium shou. Yep, double the space in your house.
Any of these solutions can also be used for Heicha, Liu Bao, Liu An and Fu Zhuan.
Yixing, duan-ni and other unglazed ceramics. These ceramics are great for Heavy shou puerh for short and long term storage. The lack of glazing allows the tea to air and rid itself of humid storage odors. There is no further aging which needs to be done. All you need is to work out any odors from warehousing, or paper wrappers or bamboo. You can use the lids with unglazed ceramics because the whole thing will breathe even when covered. These ceramics are expensive to buy. If you like them and have the money, go ahead.
Crockware. Inexpensive crockware can be used for airing and storage. Leave lids off to air and cover the top of the crock with a paper towel or cotton fabric and secure with a rubber band. Replace the lid when you notice any odors have vanished. Crockware can be used to wake up a drier shou if it has lost the nice smell, keep the lid on to bring back the fresher smell.
Porcelain or Ceramic. Fine for airing and storage of all shou types. Leave the lid off for airing Heavy fermented tea until you notice any off odors have vanished. Then replace the lid. Keep it on for lighter fermentation cakes.
Cupboards. Fine for whole cake shous. You will want to add a bowl of water for Light/Medium fermented shous. Make sure you dedicate the cupboard for shou, but you can also store tins or sealed bags of other teas in there too, just not sheng.
Pumidor. Great for Light/Medium fermented shous. Unnecessary for Heavy fermented shous.
Tins. Use after you've finished any airing or aging. Break up the cake and tin it. I like to cut out a piece of the wrapper and tape or glue to the tin. You can also use Dry mount spray to make a decoupage of the tea wrapper around the tin.
Jars. These are fine for long term storage of finished and aired shou. Decorate like jam jars with colored cloth and string or ribbons.
|Vintage shou, and my homemade on the right.|
5. Brewing and tasting Shou Puerh.
Shou should lose most storage odors and flavors after six months of airing. A shou can taste markedly different six months later from when you bought it, so reserving your judgement on it is a good idea. I've hated some shou puerh on day one that six months later is awesome. Even so, you might find a few odors or flavors linger.
--soak shou pieces in cold water 5-10 mins. to help remove any remaining odors/flavors including musty or fishy smells. Guangxi Liu Bao and Hubei Heicha bricks benefit from cold water soaking to open them up.
--do at least 2 boiling water quick rinses on shou. Some Heicha fade quickly but often have off-smells and still smell funny after 3 rinses. And then you might only get 3-4 good steeps before the heicha fades. This is normal because heicha is not usually a Yunnan leaf varietal. Heicha is a unique tea group though it is pile fermented like shou. Fermented teas aren't consistent between teas and steep parameters are thus a new exploration with every tea you purchase.
--Gong fu brew heavy leaf to water ratio, 8-10 g/100 ml or higher. For a western-style steep you can use much less. But you aren't going to get a full experience of your shou with 3-4 grams and then tossing the lot after 5 steeps. If you have a good shou puerh, 10-12 g of tea will steep for days and sometimes taste better on day 2 than on day 1. Put the gaiwan in the fridge if you need to, take it back out to re-aclimate before adding water. Clay pots should not be refrigerated.
--Boil leaves in a pot for 5 minutes after they seem steeped out for yet another flavor profile.
My Favorite Shous
2014 Lao Cha Tou by white2tea
2000s "Chocolate" Shou by white2tea
2009 Lao Cha Tou Sheng Yun by Yunnan Sourcing
Golden Melon Shou by white2tea (brew all 20g at once, doesn't quit)
7572 recipes by Taetea and CNNP
Guanxi Three Cranes Liu Bao brick (heicha) by Chawangshop
2008 Bulang Old Tree brick by Crimson Lotus Tea
Thanks for Stopping By!