Thursday, November 10, 2011

1970's Da Ye Loose Leaf raw puerh

... or, why I love puerh.  It's been some time since I've sat with a puer (puerh, pu-erh, poo on this whole 'correct spelling' thing, you know what kind of tea I'm referring to), although my break from it was only partially intentional.  But the longer I stayed away, the more I wondered what I would find upon my return.  I finally broke my puerh-fast this morning with a pot of Essence of Tea's 1970's Da Ye Loose Leaf.

There are those who love puerh, and there are those who decidedly don't despite their love of other kinds of tea.  "Like drinking dirt," they say (probably not unlike my assessment of single malt scotch as "like drinking airplane fuel").  And even among puerh drinkers there are further sub-groups -- those who mostly drink young puer, those who only drink aged puer, those in search of a good investment, those in search of a good tea-high, etc.  My time away from puer has allowed me to learn some appreciation for other kinds of tea but has also left me wondering, just what is it exactly that makes puer so enjoyable (for me)?  Because yes, the "tastes like dirt/wood" assessment can't be denied in many cases, especially with older puer (although that doesn't mean it's a bad thing).  Such was the curiosity I brought to my tea session today.

the beautiful interior glaze of the cup 
The choosing of the tea and the tea cup (this morning's tea cup, my favorite to drink puerh from, one of Petr Novak's wood-fired beauties), the placement of the setting, the warming of the yixing pot and cup... all part of the enjoyment, and while this 'ritual' is not unique to drinking puer, I find that I naturally bring more awareness to these when drinking something aged and rare.  If it can be said that there is 'life' in these old dried leaves (and if one goal of drinking tea is to facilitate the expression of this life essence), then thoughtful attention of this sort is meaningful and purposeful and adds immeasurably to the experience.

The water boiled and poured into the pot for the first wetting.  The initial aroma is all storage and age.  It's a smell I've come to appreciate for the way it evokes deep, often unconscious memory.  This is part of the magic of good aged puer.  Now and then I'll have an actual articulable memory surface, but more often it's simply a palpable sense of connection to a vague and distant past which serves to ground my awareness at a deeper level than is usual in my waking day.  A great 'entrance' to a sitting with some very good tea.

A quick rinse and then patience and quiet as the leaves sit in the darkness of the warmed pot, pulling water into their inner spaces, activating what has lain dormant to new life.  What entered the pot as clear boiled water now pours into the cup, darkened with the first giving forth of the leaves.  Even before taking the first sip I'm treated to a heavenly sweet vanilla scent rising with the steam.  You just don't get scents like this from artificially flavored teas.  This kind of subtlety and complexity is something that can't be imitated.  Yet another reason why I love puerh.  And the fragrance now coming from the wetted leaves in the pot?  All overripe fruit mixed with good earth, rising warm and humid like a sleepy afternoon in the shade of an orchard tree on a late summer day (having grown up around orchards it's a memory-soaked scent I love).

Given the age of this tea I watch for the cloud feet.  They're there alright, barely moving on the surface, slowed with age, a contrast to the flashing, fast-moving cloud feet sometimes seen on younger teas.  I've been contemplating this matter of age lately.  The past-present-future.  Nondualists (and others) are fond of saying there is no actual substance to past or future, there is only the present; the now.  True enough.  And yet.  Is it just our mental constructs about age and past that make drinking aged puer a wholly different experience than young puer?  I don't have an answer to that, but it occurs to me that an aged puer is perhaps a long accumulation of nows.. traces of nows that have piled up like fallen autumn leaves, changing and decomposing into new expressions of what once was.

Although not all puerhs exhibit strong qi (and completely ignoring the debate on what qi is at all, not unlike the fussiness over puer/puerh/pu'er/etc), the best ones do exhibit "movement" in the body of the drinker, and this one is no exception.  Yet another reason for my love of good puer.  Just as aroma and taste vary from tea to tea (and from sitting to sitting even with a single tea), the qi that a tea exhibits is changeable, as well.  My experience with the Da Ye loose leaf this morning found a spreading warmth my chest and the faintest rise of perspiration to my temples and cheeks, causing a greater sensitivity to the slightest breeze in the air.  I welcome the enhanced awareness.  Does this mean someone else will experience this same phenomena when drinking this tea?  Maybe yes, maybe no.  There are so many factors at play.  No definable "best" or "right."  I can only speak to my own experience.  One man's "tastes like dirt" is another man's (or woman's) drink of bliss :)

Cultivate the beauty that draws you :)


  1. I think that's the most beautiful description of a puer session ever written Bev! That part about the layering of time like Autumn leaves just got me. Thanks for taking us on this little journey within the cup!

  2. Dear Tea Urchin (Eugene) :)
    I'm humbled. Truly, your blog is the best reading on the web, tea or otherwise! Your tremendous knowledge of tea, your wonderful way with words, your love of true craftsmanship and life of adventure -- such a gift to us all :) How is it that two such adorable people as yourself and the beautiful Belle could end up as tea producers? Lucky for us :) I look forward to watching your paths unfold :) Thank you so much for your kind acknowledgement :)

  3. I love your blog and photographs! Wish I had a cup of tea right now. Where did you get your tea tray? The photograph of it is also so gorgeous on your posting of 02/25/11. Thank you!

  4. Anonymous -- thank you for your kind comments :) I got my tea tray from Dragon Tea House (ebay store -- They have the best selection I know of (although I'm looking for a new tea tray -- if you know of other good resources I'd love to hear about them).

  5. Amazing Loose Leaf raw puerh I like it !!

    Loose Leaf Tea

  6. As an avid savourer of single malt Scotch just peeking into pu erh tea these days (and really liking what I'm finding) I must say, thank you for your tantalizing description of a pu erh session, you've shown me some dimensions of the tea I have yet to learn to discern.

    ...And that your comparing single malt scotch to airplane fuel makes me feel sad, because from my perspective you're missing out so. I don't know if you tolerate liquor at all, Learning to pull radishes, but if your taste buds are mature enough to rise above the 'drinking dirt/wood' experience others have with puerh, I really can't see why the beauty of a good single malt would be so lost on them. Your taste buds, I mean. :)

    And that I'm enjoying your blog.

  7. Boris,
    Yes, you've caught me here! You certainly speak some wisdom. I confess my 'airplane fuel' assessment was before I learned to add a bit of water to the drink (just as you're peeking into pu erh I'm still very much a beginner with Scotch, as well). I suppose I should seek out a few good Scotch blogs to help me on my way! You might be heartened to learn that I've recently found inspiration in Compass Box Whisky's Spice Tree bottling. Still not a single malt, but it's certainly awakened me to the beauty you speak of. Thank you so much for stopping by :)