There is nothing more romantic than pu’er. Forget roses, chocolates, and the like. Nothing proclaims eternal love like a beautiful brick of wild arbor tea, pressed and aged. Perhaps it seems strange, but when you examine the facts, it makes perfect sense.
First, pu’er gets better with age. A fine brick, especially if it is sheng pu’er, will slowly transform, and grow in complexity. The wildness of its youth fades away and is replaced by an enveloping and intimate depth. Other teas may lose their potency as the months and years go by, but pu’er, through a bit of technique, a bit of luck and a bit of magic, reinvents itself, moving from a humble green leaf to an infusion that people pay thousands of dollars to experience.
Roses wilt away, a symbol of transient beauty. Chocolate goes bad if it is not consumed within several months. Either way, such gifts are a very basic gesture of love, received and forgotten. A pu’er brick, by nature, persists. A fine pu’er given early in a relationship will grow with the couple, becoming more perfect over the years, achieving a tranquility and harmonious pairing of flavors just as any young couple dreams of being together forever.
On a practical note, keeping a journal for a brick of pu’er given by one young love to another, with annual or bi-annual entries not only records the growth of the brick, but the growth of the couple. Their tasting notes will hopefully become more and more complimentary and reveal a deeper and deeper understanding of both the tea and each other.
Second, with the aging potential of pu’er in mind, giving a brick as a romantic gift has an important subtext. Gifting a brick of sheng pu’er reveals that you are in the relationship for the long term. It isn’t an engagement ring, but the sentiment of devotion is still communicated. You are not buying a token, but a communal investment in your relationship. Scared of bringing up the future? Try giving a pu’er brick first to feel out the long term potential of your relationship. Describe how the tea will get better and observe your partner’s reaction. Who knows, perhaps it will open up some interesting conversations…
As an example to illustrate the romantic side of pu’er, I will share something from my own personal experience. I was able to track down a 15 year old budset wild-picked sheng pu’er during one of my first visits to China. It was and still is one of the most mind-blowing teas in my collection. During my senior year at Bard College, as everyone was laying out their post graduation plans, I had a few plans of my own. I met Lily four years earlier, as we had co-founded a group devoted to discussing philosophy late into the night. On Lily’s birthday, I took her down to the Hudson river with a full gongfu tea set hidden in my backpack (don’t ask me how). I pulled out my teapots and cups and thermos of boiling water, along with my brick of pu’er, and steeped it out for hours. At sunset, I proposed over a cup of tea.
I was able to track down the same pu’er collector in China who found me a small amount of the 15 year sheng. He had one brick remaining and after I told him my story hegave it to me. When I got back from China, I saved this brick for our wedding, and broke it in half after the ceremony to be brewed for our guests. The rest sits in a box to be brewed up once a year on our anniversary. Now, whenever I acquire pu’er for personal use, I make sure to give it as a gift on Lily’s birthday, our anniversary, our Valentine’s day. It makes the brick more special when we go back to try it months later.
Of course, pu’er is not only for romance. The fact that it gets better and better over time makes it an ideal gift for baby showers and graduations. It may seem funny to give a newborn, or even many high school grads a brick of pu’er, but imagine how thankful they will be when they are in their 20’s and 30’s and brew up the tea for the first time. The gift becomes priceless.
My sister is 10 years younger than me, so last time I was in China, I found a sealed jar of pu’er that had won an award the year it was made as one of the best crops of Yunnan. What makes it significant is that it is dated the year my sister was born. She hasn’t come to love pu’er yet, but she know that the brick is waiting for her. Perhaps for graduation, or as a wedding present. When she opens the jar, she will be drinking one of the best teas in the world.
Hopefully, it is easier to see the significance of giving a brick of tea based on these stories. If you have somebody special that you want to give something meaningful to, or if a friend is getting married or having a child, consider a brick of tea.
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