Have you visited Sarah at Juniper yet? She's a super friendly MICA alum with an intimate spice shop in Mt Vernon Marketplace, and an intimate knowledge of tea blending. Her selection is carefully curated. The tea trove may seem small, just a few shelves, but you'd be surprised the combination of flavors she blends out of her collection. Sarah keeps her shop small to guarantee the freshness of her herbs, prioritizing quality over quantity, and customizing blends to suite her costumers diverse tastes. She knows every leaf and petal well enough to create a balanced tea & tisane on the spot! There is one tea on her shelf that mustn't be blended, however. That's the Pu-erh: our sip of the month.
Pu-erh tea is very special. It's fermented tea from the Yunnan province of China (and takes it's name from the city there), where ancient wild tea trees are prized. The tea is known for tasting of a particular place, having a rich earthy broth - like drinking the forest floor.
The sample I got from Juniper certainly looked like a forest floor- the dry leaves where long and twisted. A light foggy green color, purpled, silvery, and dusted, reminiscent of ancient roots. It had a faint musty odor.
The wet leaf smelled much stronger! An animal smell - like wet straw, and sour fruit. The leaves became a deep brown with red and plum undertones, thick stems, and choppy edged leaves (like Italian parsley).
I used a more elaborate steeping process than usual. First I boiled water to a very high temperature- and doused the leaves (3 heaping spoonfuls) immediately pouring the water out to rinse off the dust. I then steeped the leaves for just 25 seconds and was surprised at how strong the color was (a thick rusty brown). The smell of the tea-broth was changed as well, almost like cookie dough. Brown sugar, but still musky. Pleasant and rich. When I took a sip it rolled over the tongue like cream. I expected something astringent from the smell, but it was completely toothless - musky at the back of the throat but with a lighter note on top like buttercream. As I drank it, I noticed a cooling effect as well. Overall it was earthy and round - and perfectly balanced. I always thought with tea if it isn't "sweet" it must be "bitter" and if its neither, it must be bland. But this really was balanced, and far from bland, not too rich. Complex, yet uncomplicated.
I steeped it again at just 30 seconds and got more tooth and less cream, but the broth was still thick feeling
At 35 seconds the tea was very mild, but much more grassy, the earthiness really came through
The 4th cup at 40 seconds surprised me even more- the grassy flavors were completely replaced by something like vanilla, a dark sweetness.
The 5th cup at 45 seconds was grassy again, and still distinct
The 6th cup (50 seconds) the color started to fade, and the taste was much weaker- but still pleasant
The 7th cup at 60 seconds tasted just like wet leaves. Who would've thought? The broth was quite thin by now, and I was satisfied with my first cup(s) of Pu'erh, so I left it at that.
Seven distinct cups from just 3 spoonfuls of tea?!? What a blast! Another fun thing about Pu-erh tea is the aging process. The tea I got from Juniper is aged 4-6 years. The oldest Pu-erh in the world is decades old, over 100 years and still going. The tea I have is probably not suited to aging (I should ask Sarah about that) not that I would want to wait around that long to drink it. This is good stuff, and quickly vanishing from my tea cabinet as we speak. I foresee another trip to Juniper in the near future.