Green tea is precious for its freshness and tenderness. People usually pick the shoot or one-shoot-one-piece leaves as material, because leaves become inferior or bad when they grow up. But this is not always the case. With oolong tea people choose one-shoot-three-or-four-piece leaves. Dark tea is even more special because with it, the rough old one-shoot-five-or-six-piece leaves are selected. But dark tea has its own indispensable characteristics and is also loved by lots of people.
Dark tea is invented by accident. In history, in order to meet northwest ethnic groups’ requirements for tea, leaves produced in Yunnan, Sichuan, Hubei, Hunan, and other places have to be transported to the north by sea, and then to the northwest through the Silk Road. In ship cabins, on horse backs, the tea leaves go a very long way and are greatly influenced by weather- Since the leaves are damped and then dried, their chemical elements undergo enormous changes and their color turns blackish brown, too. In spite of this, they still give off rare fragrance, and is quickly spread among the minor groups.
Dark tea belongs to the fermented kind. After the leaves are finished, kneaded and twisted, they have to be gathered and sprinkled with water to be fermented, and at last dried. The water of dark tea is like amber, yellow with a little red. It tastes pure and delicious- Unlike green tea, dark tea uses the rough old leaves as raw material. Also unlike green tea which can’t be put aside for a long time, dark tea tastes better with the passage of time. Dark tea can be cooked for many times, which is, again, different from green tea whose taste is a lot worse after twice or three times of cooking. Pu’er tea arid Six Castle tea are precious species in the field of dark tea.
Pu’er tea Pu’er tea is a special kind of leaves produced in Yunnan Province with a history of more than 2,000 years. It is a roll tea. Because of Zhu Yuanzhan’s effort to promote this kind of tea in Ming Dynasty, roll tea was gradually replaced by loose tea, but with the exception of Pu’er. Not only didn’t Pu’er disappear in time, but it exerted more and more vitality as time went by. Qing Dynasty graded Pu’er as tribute tea and decreed that 33,000 kilos of Pu’er should be handed in every year. Contemporary royalties and celebrities all took pride in collecting and tasting Pu’er tea. It is very good for health care, especially in helping digestion. When spread abroad, Pu,er tea enjoyed a warm welcome and was named “Longevity Tea.” Even the great Russian writer Tolstoy has mentioned the magical tea leaves in his War and Peace.
Pu’er tea can be roughly divided into two groups. The first group is made through simple sunning, usually known as “Raw Pu’er.” The other kind is made with the technique of “heating pile” (to sprinkle water over a pile leaves and make them ferment), usually known as “Ripe Pu’er.” The greatest fascination of Pu’er tea is that the longer it is preserved, the better it tastes. Generally speaking, raw Pu’er tastes best after about ten years of preservation, while ripe Pu’er best exerts its fragrance after two or three years of preservation. This feature of Pu’er is similar to that of wine- A bar of 3-gram Pu’er tea which has been preserved for over 60 years was once auctioned as high as more than 10,000 RMB. Pu’er tea is better to be preserved long, but long-year Pu’er costs too much, so many people choose to buy new Pu’er, preserve them, and drink them after many years. Some people even start doing business cm Pu’er tea because of this. They purchase tons of Pu’er tea, preserve them, and wait for them to increase in value years later. This is almost the same as those Europeans who invest in grape wine.
Pu’er tea differs sharply in price because of their difference in age. So how to differentiate them becomes a key question. Pu’er leaves are strip-shaped, each leaf having orderly lines. If the lines are irregular, then it is inferior in quality. Standard Pu’er has color of pork liver, with a bit red in its blackness and with bright luster. The leaves are full and soft. The bottom of ripe leaves is usually the color of dark chestnut because of fermenting. If fermenting goes a littler further, the leaves will be dry, thin old and hard, with obvious carbonization as if it has been burned in raging fire. Ripe Pu’er smells like ripe tea, while raw Pu’er of over 10 years has a thick fragrance. The tea water is supposed to be clear and bright after leaves are cooked, with oil-like membrane floating on the surface and the bottom of leaves complete and soft. Low-quality Pu’er will be blackish after cooked while good-quality Pu’er is supposed to have lush fragrance whan tasted.
The cooking of Pu’er also involves a lot of skills. First, an opener made from hard wood or hard bamboo is used to strip the leaves lay by layer to avoid causing crumbles. The opened Pu’er leaves should be preserved for two weeks before cooked and drunk because then it tastes better. The yixing tea pot is better to be big to prevent heat from dissipating too quickly. Water temperature differs with different types of leaves. Cake tea, brick tea or old tea made from crude materials are better to be cooked in boiling water, while high-level shoot tea from tenderer materials should be cooked in lower temperature. The first round is to wash tea and stir its feature, and the water must be thrown away before long. The second round can be tasted carefully. After the second round each round should extend in time. When the color of the water becomes dear, and the taste becomes thin, new boiling water should be added. This time the tea must be drunk after half an hour. This is the last round and is also the round with the essence of Pu’er. If you are not willing to throw away the remaining leaves, boil them in a pan and they can still emit some last fragrance. Keep in mind that when you throw the tea, only 50% or 60% of the water is poured out at a time. The left water can be further used to release the fragrance of the leaves more thoroughly.