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Now that winter has arrived here, it’s time for a warm cup of tea and a few in-house pictures of the experience, as threatened.

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Late last year I received two small Pu’er tea cakes as a gift. My conception of tea has changed over the years from tea bags over branded tins with generic names to loose tea from single tea gardens, and my expectation likewise from powder to beautifully rolled leaves, to be consumed as fresh as possible.

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So how would one dare to press tea leaves into bricks or cakes, and let them ripen? It helped a little that the cakes were nicely wrapped. So I took a quick course. Pu’er tea undergoes a special kind of fermentation that  can take many years. People buy raw Pu’er and let it mature like good wine. Alternatively, one can buy cooked Pu’er tea that has undergone a special procedure to accelerate aging. Prices vary considerably. Preparation is a story by itself. 

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One carefully breaks the cake into chunks. I placed about 10g of Ripe Pu’er into a steal tea infuser, and brew cup sized portions, using boiling waters. The first infusion steeps only 5 seconds to clean and loosen the leaves. Then I let the tea steep  for 30 seconds, increasing the time by 15 seconds for each subsequent infusion. This seems to do the job. 

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What you get is strong brew unlike anything else. It is very far away from the elegance of a Darjeeling or the floral delicacies of an Oolong. You get strong earthy notes, some fish, some mushroom, which I found, to my surprise, not unpleasant. Later infusions become more mellow and reveal complexity. The best: Near and far, I seem to be the only one around who likes it, so I can have it all for myself…

More Leaves …

Besides leaves from books, the other kind of leaves that are essential for my well being are tea leaves. This year was an interesting tea year for me. It began, as usual, with First Flush Darjeelings. One of my favorites this year was the the very mild First Flush Imperial from the garden Runglee Rungliot. Wonderful tippy leaves and a bright yellow cup.


Considerably stronger in flavor (papaya) was the Okayti Wonder.


A curiosity from the same garden is called Golden Treasure. It came to me from Harney, one of the few consistently good US based distributors. This tea tastes a bit like a good Chinese black tea, with pleasant cocoa flavors, but still a hint of second flush Darjeelings.

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Then, my afternoon favorite this year, the Himalaya Shangri-La Ruby from Nepal. Its golden leaves are curled, and the dark color of the cup reminds me of strong Assam teas. But the complex taste is milder, with hints of cocoa and cognac. I have never tasted a tea like that. Its sold out now, probably because of me. What I have left will get me through the long winter.

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This tea came to me from Germany, via Tee Gschwendner: This a German company with local shops all over Germany that carry an amazing collection of loose tea. After graduating from grocery store loose tea tin boxes, I had been sampling their less expensive teas for several months. One day in Spring changed my life, when they had flown in small samples of the first invoices of that year’s First Flush Darjeeling from a handful of tea gardens. The price for the sample set was more than I would spend on tea in a year.

You know what happened.