En Jie's Blog

Chinese Pu-erh tea

Chinese Pu-erh teaI have ordered some premium loose pu-erh tea for the family recently. My young child has got right into an aged raw pu-erh, describing it as ‘not green, not black, but the perfect balance of the refreshness of the un-fermented tea and smooth texture of fermented tea’. Three kilogram of the loose teas is taking up a box of the storage space, which fortunately is available at our residence. 

A flash of thought came into my mind: it would be only seven cakes if this was cakes. A further reflection of the advantages and disadvantages of pu-erh teas being in their traditional ‘cake’ form came up with following summary. 

Advantages of the cakes: 

  1. Less storage space
  2. easier to transport
  3. less likely to be damage (crushed as loose leaves) 
  4. facilitating the post-fermentation

Disadvantage of the cakes:

  1. needs to be breakup

Four to one, the Chinese have got it again. 

From many years of tea drinking and trading, I have noticed over and over again that there are little but practically meaningful aspects like these that the Chinese have fine-tuned over their long history of tea consumption, from planting the tea bushes/trees right to the end of making a perfect cup of tea. Call it perfection or obsession, this is how the tea masters were born, a nation full of them.  




Is traditional tea due for a makeover like an old phone?

Some products need to be updated periodically and the others the originals are still the best. What is happening to tea after being consumed by human kind for more than 2000 years?

Tea was invented more than 2000 years ago and has stood the test of time for more reasons than one. It has also produced many ‘offspring’, mostly under the umbrella of ‘blends’ or ‘chai’ created through simple mixing but which makes them appear to be exotic and exciting. Caught in the middle is tea itself; it came from ancient times and seems to want to be left just the way it always was: it loves natural spring water, an open fire and unglazed clay tea ware. The modern synthetic products take the real glory out of it. To the younger generation of tea drinkers however, the good old cup of tea somehow belongs to their grandparents’ era. It is simply not flashy enough for their modern life styles. Yet, they are attracted to tea because of the continuing publicity in the media portraying tea as a healthy, carb free beverage which offers many health benefits.

The market somehow has managed to create various ‘creative versions’ in a short time to meet demands and these are called blends. A fancy label is usually attached under the brand of the company. Mankind consumes tea for several reasons: to relieve thirst, for taste enjoyment and more recently because it has been advocated as a beverage that offers many health benefits. There are no apparent reasons for the new ‘blends’ to offer anything additional apart from in the area of ‘taste’. As democratic as we are, we do believe that ‘everyone has a different taste’. It is only fair to allow the space for creativity and experimentation.

My personal experience so far however has led me to believe that the original is still the best. Tea is similar to wine to a large extent, the art of growing and processing is highly specialised and there is a strong culture associated with its consumption. In China, there are sub-cultures associated with individual teas, in relation to their production and consumption. For example in the green tea family alone, there are more than 300 Chinese green teas. They are produced in different areas, using different species of tea plants, cultivated under different climate and soil conditions and produced for a harmonic match with the local diet. There is one thing that the Chinese do NOT do, however, which is to blend/mix the premium teas. These teas are naturally balanced in their aroma, flavour and texture and are there to be enjoyed but not covered or converted.A good cup of tea is described as dew from heaven. Teas of low quality are handled differently; they are often turned into teabags and used in blends. Generally speaking, the low quality teas are bitter with a rough texture, they need a ‘face lift’.

Finally, traditional teas do not necessarily stay as fossils forever.  They are often regenerated and fine-tuned by the specialist tea masters for further developments. This art requires special knowledge and experience in the area of tea processing.  For example, a Chinese premium black called JinJunMei has recently been developed on the back of the traditional black tea Lapsang souchong. Its unique high class quality has been acknowledged and accepted by the tea drinking community almost immediately and it has very quickly made it to the top selling tea list in China.


Chinese tea was discovered for enjoyment first

Chinese tea is an enjoyable beverage first, health benefits second.

The discovery of Chinese green tea

Tea was discovered by the Chinese more than 2000 years ago. It is believed that the Chinese emperor Shennong was resting under a tree while travelling, when some leaves fell from the tree above into the pot in which his servants were boiling water for him to drink. The brew turned out to be immensely refreshing and thirst-quenching and this marked the beginning of human tea consumption. Tale or not, there was one thing for sure, tea consumption did not start as a result of the health benefits reported by laboratory studies today; such as it being high in anti-oxidants and able to reduce blood cholesterol levels etc. The ancient Chinese needed a drink, and this leaf brew happened to serve the purpose. A supply met a demand and a new product was born.

The varieties of Chinese teas are a result of various drying processes

To preserve these leaves for later use, people started drying them. The various methods of drying have since produced hundreds of varieties of Chinese teas, beginning with the unfermented green teas. Chinese teas have always been categorised according to the level of fermentation during the drying process; for example green teas are not fermented; Oolong teas are semi-fermented and black teas are fully fermented. Through the modification of tea making skills, numerous tea varieties have been developed, taking many factors into account such as climate conditions, soil conditions, tea bush/plant variety and local diet etc.

Chinese tea was born to be enjoyed first, health benefits second

During the history of tea consumption in China, the Chinese have made a connection between tea drinking and better health. Part of my fond memory of my grandmother was that she always made a strong cup of tea first thing in the morning, often followed by the comment: ‘tea is good for you’, although she did not know how and why. There is no doubt that Chinese tea was born first as a drink to be enjoyed.


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