Introduction to Puerh Tea Quarter Cake Set Sept 2022


This set of four quarter cakes is intended as an introduction to the world of puerh tea. We have selected four reference teas which have been very well stored and which are still available at an accessible price point. By “reference tea”, we mean a tea that is very widely known, recognized as a classic within the Puerh tea genre, and which has a degree and quality of aging which demonstrates some of the potential of our favourite category of tea.

The four quarters in this set are all “raw puerh”, otherwise known as “sheng” or “uncooked puerh”, stored in Taiwan, and are as follows:

– 1 quarter (~85g) 2011 batch 001 of the 7542 recipe from Dayi (Menghai Tea Factory)
– 1 quarter (~85g) 2008 batch 001 of the 8582 recipe from Dayi (Menghai Tea Factory)
– 1 quarter (~85g) 2008 Xiaguan tea factory XY Commission
– 1 quarter (~85g) 2005 thick paper January batch of the 8653 recipe from the Xiaguan tea factory.

We believe that the most effective way to get a solid understanding of the nature and characteristics of puerh tea is to focus for a time on a small number of reference teas, comparing and contrasting the effects of different brewing approaches under a variety of conditions. Quarter cakes provide a substantial enough sample size that one can really get to know the teas well. We tried our best to make the quarters equal, but it is difficult with artisanal products which are not perfectly symmetrical.

For those who want to explore the quarter cake set in a more structured way, we have some suggestions based on what we have learned along the way… Follow the tour guide below and let us know what you find!

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Intro to Puerh QC Set – Guided Tour

Brewing parameters and methods vary widely, but we usually recommend a small vessel of around 70-120 ml like a gaiwan or teapot, and a ratio of about 5g tea to 100ml of water.  Always steep with boiling water, beginning with a quick rinse of the leaves (a flash steep which is discarded). These teas may be brewed multiple times, usually beginning with short 10-20 second steeps and lengthening with each successive steep, steeping longer if the tea is too weak and shorter if the tea is too strong to your taste.

Experience 1: noticing different aspects of puerh tea

If you have had other teas before, you might be used to evaluating a tea based on its aroma and flavor. For puerh tea, there are three other properties that are considered very important: texture, aftertaste, and body feeling. Pick one of the 4 quarter cakes, your choice, and have a session. Pay attention not only to the aroma and flavor, but especially to the texture (moving the tea liquor in your mouth). After you swallow, take some time to observe the aftertaste and how it changes over time. As you have a few cups of the tea, pay attention to how you feel – alert? Relaxed? Warm/cold? Comfortable? Hungry?

Experience 2: evolving steeps

One interesting dimension of puerh tea is that the same leaves can be re-steeped several times. From one steep to the next, the tea changes, and after a few steeps it begins to get weaker. Have a session with a tea of your choice, and pay attention to how the tea changes from steep to steep. Notice the changes in flavor, but also in texture, aftertaste, and body feeling. Try to adjust your brewing parameters so that later steeps are longer and produce satisfying results. There will still be differences from steep to steep (and this is part of the fun), but try to get the best from each steep, without making any of the steeps to strong or too weak.

Experience 3: 2011 Dayi 7542 vs 2005 Xiaguan T8653

The 7542 and  8653 blend recipes are the most classic productions from Dayi and Xiaguan respectively. They are both solid teas, but they are quite different in terms of processing and material. They are also different in age and storage. This makes them ideal for a first comparison. Try both of them on the same day (one after another, or side by side if you have two identical gaiwans). As you try each of the teas, for each steep write down some notes. Write about the aroma of the wet leaves after the initial rinse, and then about the flavor, texture and aftertaste for each steep. If you notice anything about how the teas make you feel, write that down as well.

Experience 4: 2008 Dayi 8582 vs 2008 Xiaguan XY Commission

Just as above, two teas made by Dayi and Xiaguan, but from the same year.  Try them on the same day as before, and without looking at your previous notes, write your impressions of the aroma, flavor, texture, and aftertaste for both teas.   Can you detect any smokiness in the teas? How intense is the smokiness in comparison to the 05 8653 from earlier? Does one tea “last longer” in the sense of maintaining a concentrated taste for more steeps? Finally, check your notes from the previous comparison — see if the differences between the previous pair of teas persist in this comparison.  This will help you to form a rough picture of the “house style” of Dayi and Xiaguan.

Experience 5: comparing one’s notes with others

The teas in the Intro QC set are widely reviewed and discussed online. look for some reviews on the internet. If you find a review on a blog, take note of when the post was written: these teas change with age, if the review was written years ago, the tea you are having now is likely very different from the one discussed. Also, take note of what source/storage the tea discussed online comes from: storage conditions have a big impact on the tea. Compare your own notes with the notes you find online (or with the notes of a friend). Are they in agreement? If you find that reviews mention some things you have not noticed, go back and have another session with the teas, looking out in particular for the things the reviews mentioned. Sometimes you might not find them (for example because the age or storage of your version is different), but other times that will help you to notice things you might otherwise have missed. This is a great way to develop your puerh appreciation skills.