Introduction to Puerh Tea Quarter Cake Set, September 2023


This set of four quarter cakes is intended as an introduction to the world of puerh tea. Three of the four quarters are reference factory teas dryly stored in Taiwan, and the fourth is an older Malaysian-stored example of northern non-plantation material.

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

– 1 quarter (~85g) 2010 batch 001 of the 7542 recipe from Dayi (Menghai Tea Factory) with Taiwanese storage.
– 1 quarter (~85g) 2008 batch 001 of the 8582 recipe from Dayi (Menghai Tea Factory) with Taiwanese storage.
– 1 quarter (~85g) 2005 8613 recipe from the Xiaguan tea factory with Malaysian storage.
– 1 quarter (~85g) 2004 Malaysian aged Ailao

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: 2004 Ailao vs the T8613 Xiaguan

Both of these teas are made from northern material, but with very different styles and storage. Which is smokier? Compare the contrasting mouthfeels. Is the feeling different on the throat?

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.