How to brew a perfect cup of puer tea

Tips on brewing the perfect cup of puer tea.|

If you are new to puer, you probably want to forget everything you know about how to brew, especially if your preferences lean toward English-style tea, which is most common in the United States.

Boxes of tea bags and tins of loose-leaf tea typically include instructions to brew for three to five minutes, which is much too long, especially for puer. For a perfect cup, follow these instructions exactly and soon you’ll be savoring the almost magical aromas and flavors of puer, as complex and beguiling a beverage as a fine wine.

Using the right type of tea pot, such as a genuine Piao I made of clear glass and food grade plastic, is helpful. The lid and the insert are made of food-grade plastic and the insert includes a fine strainer and a release valve, which makes preparation easy. These pots were designed by and are manufactured by a Taiwanese tea farmer. There are many counterfeit versions available on line; they do not use food-grade plastic and are neither as durable nor as efficient as the real thing. (Pure Puer is the master distributor for Piao I in the U.S.)

Puer tea must be stored properly. It needs to breathe and so should not be kept in a sealed container or plastic bag or sleeve. There are special clay containers made just for this purpose but a paper bag works well, too.

These directions are for tea pots with a six-ounce capacity.

If using loose tea, measure out a tablespoon and put it into the tea pot. If using pressed tea, break off a piece - using your fingers or a special knife designed for the purpose that is a similar amount; measure it the first few times until you you have it right.

Heat the water. For black puer, it should be 205 degrees. For green puer, it should be 185 degrees. If you bring the water to the boiling point, wait about 5 minutes for black and 8 to 10 minutes for green.

Pour enough water over the tea leaves to moisten them and then immediately strain it off and discard it. Repeat this step.

This is the time to take a good look at the leaves. Are they full sized, not broken into bits? Is there evidence of mold? (there shouldn’t be.) Breathe in the bouquet of the moistened leaves.

Pour six ounces of water over the tea and steep from 8 to 30 seconds and no longer; I find 10 seconds best for green, 20 seconds best for black. This first, second, and third infusions should be the shortest, with subsequent infusions add a few seconds with each pour.

Pour all of the tea into a cup or cups; if any is left on the leaves, pour it out. This is the function of a tea boat, a plate-like tray with a flat strainer, often made of bamboo or clay, that catches discarded tea and also serves as a platform for preparation.

Enjoy the aromas, the flavors, and the texture. Green puer will have more forward flavors and may show astringency on the front of the palate, especially on first few infusions. Black puer will be smooth on the palate, as an aged wine with resolved tannins is smooth; it will have an earthy richness and may have flavors suggestive of mushrooms and spinach. It will not be bitter nor heavy, though it may be deceptively dark, almost as dark as a cup of black coffee.

Repeat, enjoy a second cup, and notice changes in aroma and flavor.

Continue for at least five brews. Most puer continues to evolve for 7 to 10 infusions before it is exhausted. (Pure Puer’s tea bags can be brewed three times.) The older the tea, the more complex it is and the more infusions it can take. You’ll know by taste when the leaves are exhausted.

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