03 April 2011

A Dark Pu’er Brew is Nice…Mind the Dirt

Chilly and wet winters mean that my friends and I drink a lot more pu’er.  There is something comforting about a cup of dense and malty tea that helps to dispel winter’s gloom.  When I’m in the mood for a dark and thick pu’er, I’m not particularly picky.  I want a clean-tasting, cooked cake that I can brew dark.  At least 6 grams of tea in a small pot for 2+ minutes; it pours out thickly and tastes deep & substantial.  The brew is satisfying on a cool day, like a tea “comfort food,” the brewed version of a hearty slab of meatloa.

I like cooked pu’er a lot.  It’s widely-available, even good ones are affordable, and I don’t have to wait decades before I can enjoy a cup.  I recently found one that is a clean and straightforward cooked tuo that’s less than $3/oz.  There are many even cheaper ones (all over Taobao, for example) but I don’t have any and haven’t tried many that are available at a retail location over here that’s cheaper, tastes as clean as and brews as well in a pot (for 3+ minutes) as this one. 

To be able to sell a tea over here for less than $3/oz after considering the many various mark-ups along the way (US retailer markup, transportation charges, distributor markup, producer profits, etc) means that it probably cost the producer less than $.30/oz to produce this tea [I don’t think there is rule of thumb to calculate the difference between the production cost and retail price, I just happen to know the wholesale price and retailer/distributor mark-ups].  That’s pretty cheap for tea production, considering some Muzha Tieguanyin costs upwards of $4/oz to produce.  And I bet there’s a lot of tea that costs even less than $.30/oz to make. 

Which makes me wonder sometimes, what’s in that tea?  Yes, there are supposedly several levels of industry and government regulation of tea; the blue “S” stamped on the wrapper is supposed to mean that the tea is safe to consume.  I’ve so far never become ill from consuming tea, so I actually wonder more about the composition and production methods.  What kinds of fertilizers, pesticides, etc are used and in what amounts?  How much of that is passed off into the tea?  How are the leaves processed, sorted and cleaned, and what “hygiene” practices are used when the leaves are placed in heaps to ferment for long periods of time?  Who packages the tea and do they use gloves when they do it (I highly doubt it, I’ve never seen any one use gloves when they’re oxidizing, roasting or packaging oolongs that cost 10x+ more)?

A pu’er retailer told me several times that back in the day, pu’er production was pretty dirty.  Many Tea farms also raised pigs and chickens close by (many still do), so the same farmer might be feeding the animals one minute, scooping up their poop in the next, and then sweeping up tea a little later on.  Who can say if back in those days some of the tea farmers used the same hose to clean the pig pens that they would then use to begin the fermentation process of the pu’er?  I know, I’ll drive myself crazy thinking about these things and wondering about things that will detract from the experience. 

What all this does make me wonder about, though, are the foul tasting/smelling pu’er teas that I seriously wouldn’t be surprised to learn contained something nasty.  Oh well, we all run into poo-er from time to time and we’re still OK.

For the moment, the blue “S” will do, regardless of how much confidence I place in it.  Just wondering….

Drink good tea and enrich your life.


  1. This makes me laugh, b/c my hubby calls it poo-er, too. But I enjoy it as well and tell myself the hot water makes it safer, so I hope!

  2. Haha, I've read several articles mentioning that pu'er contains beneficial microbes that are good for us. I wonder what kind of microbes those are?

    I too convince myself that the boiling water and prolonged rinsing (sometimes more than 1) helps....