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Pu’er is an often misunderstood, and usually mis-represented category of tea that often divides people into opposing camps. So much of pu’er export is controlled by the biggest state-owned brands and their broker-agents that much of the market is convinced that smokey sheng pu’er and sour shu pu’er are correct flavors. This not only scares off potential tea lovers but is a flat-out misrepresentation of the craft.
True sheng pu’er should be rich, aromatic, and deeply complex, drinkable even at a young age, and full of enough texture to grow even more over the years. True shu pu’er should be balanced, sweet and always clean, not heavy and sour. We are lucky enough to work with small workshops like Xingyang and farmers cooperatives like the Dongsa Cooperative in Qianjiazhai. This sampler is an eye-opening look at what pu’er should be all about, highlighting the work of wild-foragers, master blenders and people devoted to the craft.
Zun, or ‘revered’ is the name the Li Family of the Zhenyuan Dongsa Cooperative gives to the tea picked from their tea trees aged between 300 and 800 years old. This name is a reminder to them of the value of these old trees and of the respect that humans should pay to a living thing that has persisted for so long. Their sustainable foraging lets the trees continue to grow for future generations to enjoy. Finishing is done entirely with sun-withering, slower than wok-firing but more true to the natural flavor of the region. The loose Maocha is lightly steamed and then meticulously rolled and shaped one pearl at a time by Master Zhou without the use of molds or machinery to preserve the delicate complexity of the tea
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Qianjiazhai Gong Ting Shu Pu’er is still a very new practice, made only by one of Master Zhou’s students in the cooperative. Using the giant buds of QIanjiazhai’s wild trees between 100 and three hundred years of age, this tea is carefully and slowly pile fermented to bring out a deep rich sweetness unlike any other shu pu’er out there. Master Zhou was so excited by this experiment he is sharing the technique across the cooperative and encourage more members to keep developing the craft.
Rose petals have become a highly traditional pairing with shu pu’er, and Wan Yuan workshop’s pressing is a fantastic example of how these two flavors can work together in harmony. The florals of rose are already deep and textural. When they combine with a clean high quality shu pu’er, over time they bring out vaporous spice and texture in the tea. Wan Yuan’s slow clean fermentation means this tea is not weighed down, but rather unfolds delightfully on the pallet, bolstered by 12 years of aging.
Craft and terroir have come together beautifully for this 2019 early autumn harvest from Qianjiazhai’s wild tea trees. The Dongsa Cooperative wild-forages buds and tender leaves from tea trees between one hundred and three hundred years of age for this loose sheng pu’er blend. Every hand-picked leaf is withered and sun-dried in bamboo baskets, with little or no heat exposure to lock in the most wild and natural flavor of one of the most remote growing regions in the world.