Saturday, September 14, 2013

The puzzling language of Pu'er

Pu'er gift from 2009
The Internet and google translate have transformed how we overcome language barriers and amass a huge 'wealth' of information about teas over time. Sifting through data and distilling knowledge from the right sources can prove to be a challenge. Finally with first hand experience accumulated over time, handling tea samples, brewing and tasting, we translate knowledge into tea wisdom, worth its weight in gold ;-)

Working my way through this cake since 2010

Based on Stephane's latest entry in French here, the language of pu'er is expressed in numbers XXXX. From the little bit I read the first two numbers represent the year of recipe creation, followed by leaf grade and finally manufacturer's code number. To add to the complexity of this pu'er conundrum at hand, no where on my packaging can I locate such a code, save for the year of manufacture being 2002 and expiry date that falls on March next year. The expiration date is of course just a food safety and health requirement which I believe is created to indemnify the distributor. 

From the little bit that I gathered, this is a cooked pu'er cake. The leaves seem to have undergone mould fermentation and have an orange appearance overall. Also, I believe the character for tea 茶 found on the paper packaging is coloured red in the case of cooked pu'er. The packaging said nothing about this cake being raw or cooked pu'er (not very helpful). All that is mentioned are health benefits, differences in astringency levels between a green (raw) and a dark (cooked) cake. There is also a standard piece of text advising consumers to store this piece of cake in a cool and dry place, away from humidity which makes no sense at all if the whole concept of aging pu'er thrives on humidity! How can one help for feeling disgruntled?

Peeling off whole leaves is effortless with this cake
Now moving on to taste, this is one of two pieces of cooked pu'er pieces I own. Both were gifted in elaborate packaging, something quite popular in this part of the world. My preference is for this one because of its initial complexity that is followed by a smooth and soothing texture that extends all the way into my stomach. Certainly this is not the best and be forewarned that the search for an excellent piece of cake, especially that of a cooked pu'er, can be expected to be the most expensive and arduous journey that a tea connoisseur embarks on.

Editorial note:  Before 2006 China National Native Produce (CNNP) cakes bear no such informative code. To be entirely sure of what you own is of the right origin and year, one must rely on a trusting relationship with the tea seller and have actual same year/batch samples at hand to verify the authenticity of newly bought cakes. Such is the dedication in the ultimate pursuit of pu'er knowledge.

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