How to Brew Puerh Tea
Puerh is a complex category of tea, but it shouldn't intimidate you. At the very basic it is leaves in water. Remember that simplicity as you explore.
There is no wrong way to brew tea. If you brew tea and you like it you are doing it right. There are however many different paths to take and some may suit your tea better than others. Experimentation is key.
How hot should I brew it?
Puerh is a very forgiving tea. It will do well in a range of temperatures. We nearly always recommend boiling water. Puerh likes it hot. You can start there and see how it varies against brewing the same tea at lower temperatures.
This is the simplest method of brewing tea that nearly everyone in China uses at some point. You take a mug, or a cup and add leaf and water at the same time. You don't strain it. You drink it as is. If a leaf gets in your mouth you can take it out. Because the leaf and water are in constant contact this means it will always be brewing. You should use less leaf to compensate for the increased concentration.
You can brew puerh tea in tea bags. Tea bags are not an optimal solution because they become cramped as the leaf opens up and don't allow full expansion of the leaf. It is however a very convenient method. You can purchase empty tea bags online. Break some leaf off of the cake/brick of tea and put it in the bag. Keep the water near boiling and dunk that teabag until it is as strong as you prefer.
Filter Style Brewing
This method requires a large teapot and a large filter basket. There are any number of fine options available online. You put a decent amount of leaf material in the brew basket and add boiling water. When it is steeped to your liking you remove the entire basket from the teapot and the teapot is ready to serve. Because of the large volume of teapots like this you will need to use an appropriate amount of leaf, or just steep longer.
Gongfu Style Brewing
Here's where things get fun. Brewing gongfu style is an excellent way to give a quality tea the attention it deserves. This brewing method does take time and requires attention, but the rewards are worth it. This is how we brew most every day here at Crimson Lotus Tea. You can brew gongfu style with teapots or gaiwans.
The basics of brewing gongfu style is that you work with a high leaf to water ratio and brew quickly in small brewing vessels. We recommend a 1:15 ratio. That means that for every 15 mililiters of liquid volume you would use 1 gram of leaf. You can experiment with this ratio. Some prefer 1:10 which is stronger or 1:20 which is less strong.
Break up the intended amount of leaf material and inspect it. Smell the leaves and appreciate the dry aroma. Warm your tea brewing vessel by adding boiling water and letting them get to temperature. Pour out the water and use it to wash your cups and utensils. Add the dry leaf to the vessel and cover it and wait. When you open the lid again the heat and moisture will present a new aroma experience. Smell this and note any differences from the dry aroma.
Puerh tea is nearly always compressed and a wash stage helps the leaves to open up and get ready for brewing. Traditionally the wash was discarded, but you can drink it if you so desire. Add boiling water over the leaves and allow it it sit for just a few seconds before pouring off. This is the wash. When you open the lid of the gaiwan or teapot there should be a new and enticing aroma similar to, but different than the dry and warm aromas. Take a moment to appreciate this.
Appreciating the tea is the fundamental goal of brewing tea gongfu style. Puerh is an especially complex tea and brewing gongfu style is a way to take tiny individual slices of a larger experience and analyze them.
If you are brewing shou puerh it is recommended to do two quick washes. Sheng puerh needs just one. Your first steep should be between 6 and 10 seconds. That's all that you need. From there you can pour into small volume teacups that will cool quickly. Smell the tea and sip while slurping.
Puerh is a generous tea and can be steeped many times. Most of our teas can be steeped more than 10 times. For each steeping vary the steeping times to your taste. The longer you steep the stronger the tea.
We keep a tea journal here at Crimson Lotus Tea and while we don't journal each tea we drink we often take notes of teas we analyzing. It's a good way to track your experiences and is an excellent record when you want to go back later and remember a special experience. We encourage you to do the same.