Wednesday, August 3, 2011

On the prowl for Puerh (Poo-er)

I drink a lot of tea.  My favorites run toward the Oolongs, though I prefer Puerh for late-night homework sessions, but you can never go wrong with a nice, comforting cup of sencha.

Now, living in the middle of the US as I do, the best kinds of tea are oft' difficult to find. 
  • The best sencha outside of Japan is Yamamotoyama brand hands down.  You can buy bags of loose leaf or boxes of tea bags- either is great, and thankfully inexpensive.
  • Oolongs are common.  Most are quite good.  My favorite is produced by a Japanese company for domestic use...  Though if you are in the market for something special, or just happen to be in San Francisco, check out Red Blossom Tea Company.  I make a point to visit them when I'm in town.
  • Puerh is something of a mystery to me still.  Leaves often from ancient trees, fermented, dried and compressed, stored away for years, and then brewed using very hot water...  I have a few 'bricks' of this aging on one of my bookshelves.  I tend to find these in old run-down markets in the US, packaging roting away- I'll buy one or two if they're a couple bucks.  If you want to go all out, knowing quite well beforehand what it is you are buying, I'd recommend Tuocha Tea; they're based in china, but have good prices, nice descriptions, and -if you don't mind a bit of a wait- are willing to ship via ship (in the end, my package was dropped off late one night by someone in an odd, yellow jeep).
Happily, Puerh seems to be getting a bit more attention here in the US.  I'm finding it more often in coffee shops- even the little local ones I prefer (y'know, where all the nerds, nuts, and hippies hang out).

This little note brings me neatly to my newest conundrum, and the subject of today's post:

My search for the best Puerh?

I had found some, I think, for the better part of a year, in a shop not too far from home called All About 茶.  This Puerh was awesome.  The liquor brewed a deep brown-red, smelled of peat, was a bit bitter, and tasted very much of earth- it was oddly relaxing.  I learned to stop at one pot; two pots meant I wouldn't be sleeping for the next day or so.  To say that it was strong was an understatement.  But it did not taste like the mildewy tobacco some strong Puerh tries to imitate.

It was a very odd kind of tea.  Very strong, invigorating, but just plain tasty.  I'd order a pot, sit at a corner table with my sketch pad, and work on art homework while my imagination burbled away. 

And then there was an economic downturn, to use the phrase.  All About 茶's prices went up somewhat.  They still serve Puerh, but it isn't the same- the good tea became cost-prohibitive.  The manager won't tell me what the original Puerh's name is or where it is produced.  All he would say is "it's from Korea."  I don't frequent the place as much, anymore.  But they serve a brilliant hot chocolate!

So, the search is on!  The form of my favorite puerh was a mini toucha: a small compressed bulb of tea that is vaguely bowl-shaped.  Does anyone have any leads I could follow?  Please leave leads in the comment box below.   ...Assuming anyone reads this post...

In the meantime, I've tried Chicago Tea Garden's 'Camel's Breath' tuocha.  It is almost everything its reviewers say it is (but doesn't smell bad), as well as a tea I will buy again, but it is not the tea for which I am searching. 
I also found The Tao of Tea's Organic Pu-er Tuocha; though I was surprised to find this Puerh the least tea-like tea of any tea I have ever tried (even after a 3 hour brew, it still tasted like water).

Do any readers out there have any ideas for me?
-Botany Dave

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