How to brew pu erh tea
For new pu erh adventurers, it’s easy to feel lost when you’re brewing your own pu erh tea. Read this guide to learn about the philosophy behind tea preparation. Discover about the different brewing tools and methods. Absorb expert knowledge and build your intuition. Then use it to your advantage to enjoy and navigate through every tea session.
Brewing pu erh isn’t exact science. There are misperception out there, making you believe that you’ve to adhere to exact temperatures, steeping times or een use special water from some kind of legendary hidden spring.
There’s no such thing as the perfect cup of tea or a perfect way of brewing. Preparing tea is a way of art. Be an artist. Steep with your heart. Adjust the way you steep depending on the setting, and most importantly, your mood.
Yet, even an artist needs some guidance in the beginning of their journey. In this article, we aim to help you build your intuition to get the most out of your tea experience.
Tea can be made in a simple mug or teapot. Ideally you want to combine the mug or teapot with a strainer, so it’s easy to filter out the leaves. It’s also possible not to remove the leaves at all, and steep your tea the ‘grandpa’ way. We’ll explain more about this method later in this article.
If want a slow session and steep tea the traditional way, then gaiwans (bowls with lid) or Yixing clay teapots are the way to go.
Gaiwans don’t affect the flavour of tea. You can steep any tea with it. On the other hand, you should delicate one Yixing teapot per type of tea (one for ripe on for raw pu erh). This is because the Yixing clay will absorb the fragrance of tea over time. So you want to stick to one category per teapot.
For pu erh tea, we recommend to stick to water between 95 and 100 °C. Use water that is just boiled. And reheat when the water goes too low. Once you’re more familiar with pu erh, you may want to experiment with lower brewing temperature. Some young raw pu erhs are suitable for low temperature brewing as well.
There are three ways to brew pu erh tea. Here they are, from easy to advanced: grandpa, Western and traditional gongfu method. Below we discuss each method in detail.
Super easy: Grandpa method
This is absolutely the easiest method to brew tea. In the West we call this the ‘grandpa’ method. Often times, the older generation tend to steep tea in this casual way.
Grandpa brewing simply requires a large mug or glass. Add 3-5 grams of tea leaves depending on how strong you prefer your tea. Then, fill the mug with water at 100 °C.
With grandpa brewing, there’s no steeping time. You can take small sips and start drinking when the tea is strong enough. However, when the tea gets too bitter, you simply add some more water. When you’ve finished 2/3 of your mug, it’s usually a good time to refill your mug until it’s full.
Easy: Western method
The most common Western way to brew loose leaf tea is to use a mug or teapot with a strainer on top of it. These strainers are easily available these days and generally made from stainless steel.
We do not recommend the small ball shaped tea infusers, because they don’t allow enough space for the leaves to expand. We recommend 4 grams of tea with 350ml of water. With such ‘leaf-to-water’ ratio, you get about 3-5 sessions out of a single 5 gram portion of pu erh tea.
Apply a 2-3 minute brewing time. For each subsequent infusion, you increase the time by 1 more minute. You may adjust the time depending on how the steeping time worked on the previous session. If you feel like the taste was too light, you can increase the steeping time more. On the other hand, if it was too strong, you can reduce the time.
Advanced: Traditional gongfu brewing
Once you get more familiar with pu erh, you can slowly start to experiment with the traditional way of brewing tea, known as ‘gongfu brewing’. The term ‘gongfu’ (or kungfu) makes you think of martial arts in a Jackie Chan movie. Gongfu means ‘effort’. In the context of tea, it’s about making some ‘effort’ and pay more attention to detail to steep a better cup of tea.
With gongfu brewing you steep smaller but more portions. This is why gaiwans and Yixing teapots are the most suitable tools. We recommend 8 grams of tea steeped 120 ml of water.
In a gongfu session, your tea tools should be pre-heated and the leaves should be ‘awakened’ through a quick ‘rinse’. To do this you add the 8 grams of leaves with 120 ml of water in your steeping. Then you wait for 10-30 seconds and discard the first infusion.
The rinsing time can be short for loose leaf pu erh and longer for teas that are tightly compressed. This is because the latter requires more time to unfurl. Note that the tea leaves doesn’t have to be completely unfurl. Generally, a 30 seconds rinse can be regarded as a maximum.
After rinsing, you can infuse the tea leaves again with 120 ml of water. Cover your gaiwan or teapot with a lid. When you’re using a Yixing teapot, you can optionally pour hot water over it, to further lock in the heat inside of the teapot.
Now wait for 15 seconds and pour out. The steeping time for gongfu sessions are much shorter because we’re using relatively large amounts of leaves (8 gram) relative to the amount of water (120 ml).
Generally, adding 5 more seconds for every subsequent infusion is a good rule of thumb. But feel free to adjust this depending on how you like the intensity of the previous steep.
Serving tea: Fairness pitchers
Pitchers can be useful in a gongfu tea session. Traditionally, the tea in the brewing vessel is first poured in a pitcher. Then, the tea is divided over small drinking cups. If you pour directly from the brewing vessel, every cup of served tea would taste different. After all, the tea in the first cup has stayed less long in the tea vessel compared to the last cup. With the short infusions in a gongfu ceremony, this particularly matters. No wonder why these pitchers are called ‘fairness’ pitchers.
We hope that pu erh tea brewing process becomes more intuitive to you with this guide. The best way to learn about pu erh is by simply preparing and drinking a lot of it. With the guidance of this article, making pu erh will soon become second nature to you. If you’ve any remaining questions, feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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