“For many decades, if not centuries, pu’er was seen as a “rough” tea.”
July 16, 2016 3:10 PM   Subscribe

Gao’s Map by Christopher St. Cavish [The California Sunday Magazine] On the trail of one of the most expensive, controversial teas in the world.
“We climb to a site thick with towering mango trees and wild strawberries, a sign this area hasn’t been touched by pesticides. Overgrown shrubs with splotchy white trunks dot the hillside. Gao bends down to look at the trunks and starts snapping pictures. He tells me to do the same, though I’m not immediately sure why; it takes a minute for me to realize that what look like unkempt shrubs are actually tea trees and the source of some of the world’s most expensive — and commonly faked — tea. This stand, known as gu shu, is several centuries old by Gao’s estimation. He plucks off three pale-green leaves and orders me to eat them. The first leaf, tightly curled, is extremely bitter; the remaining two are fragrant and sweet. After being picked, dried, and moved through the first stage of processing, these leaves will sell for more than $250 per pound.”
posted by Fizz (8 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
But imagine this... a market where no one can agree on the basic rules... and then factor in rampant counterfeiting, mislabeling, and profiteering.

As Lau Tzu might have said: pu'er corrupts.
posted by rokusan at 3:40 PM on July 16, 2016 [30 favorites]

I am a big trees aficionado and this is my Holy Grail of teas. Thank you so much for the fascinating article.
posted by Joey Michaels at 7:19 PM on July 16, 2016

I bought some of this a few years ago, a woman in an Asian market recommended it as a gift for a Middle Eastern friend who loves tea. He hated it, but his friend from Asia loved the stuff and it was good for him to have it for guests. I love the culture of tea.
posted by Oyéah at 9:05 PM on July 16, 2016

Rough Tea is what I'm naming my new cafe in the Castro.
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 9:33 PM on July 16, 2016 [7 favorites]

It's interesting that Gao believes that this is the tea of his youth in Yunnan province, when according to others Puer tea has been largely for export: "aged Puer tea is rarely found in present-day Yunnan and that many Yunnanese traders buy the tea from Hong Kong and Taiwan."

I wonder how much of the appeal of the tea is that it's from Yunnan: rural tea mountains, an idyllic backwater cultivated by ethnic minorities who preserve an 'authentic' way of life, all of which stands in contrast to modern Han urban life.
posted by crazy with stars at 11:12 AM on July 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

I (think I) once had some pu'er tea at Ching Ching Cha in D.C., as a special treat. I enjoyed it, but it kind of tasted like dirt. I guess I could say "earthy," but that doesn't quite capture the intensity. Like most "delicacies" I've had, it was good but not really good enough to justify the price. I guess that's part of what makes it so expensive.
posted by biogeo at 1:39 PM on July 17, 2016

There's a tea-tique here in Waterloo that sells a few varieties (claimed so, anyway). I quite like it. Earthy, as biogeo says. and it can be resteeped several times which is good on a cold morning when you just want to keep cranking warm liquids into the system. It's supposed to be good for the digestion?

The cake stuff is a pain in the ass to portion out properly and so for a long time I was drinking birds nest like this but it was a bit spendy. Now I drink a loose leaf style.
posted by hearthpig at 6:04 PM on July 17, 2016

Max Falkowitz, back in his SeriousEats days, had a bunch of great articles on tea. Here is his Pu-Erh article.
posted by Grimp0teuthis at 11:21 AM on July 18, 2016

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