Review: Origin Tea 2005 CNNP QiaoMu GuShu Raw Pu’er Cake

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originpuergushPu'er teas fall into two categories: Natural pu'er, which the Chinese call "Sheng, and accelerated pu'er, which they call "Shou." When I say "natural" and "accelerated,"  I am talking about fermentation; the process by which things like mold, microbes, and bacteria chemically alter the tea, giving it a distinctive, mushroom-like, aroma and flavor.

Origin 2005 CNNP Qiaoma Gu Shu raw pu'er cake is a Sheng Pu'er. How do I know? The word "raw" tells me it is so.  A "cooked" or "ripe" pu'er is another way of saying it is "Shou," meaning the leaves are oxidized and sort of composted in an effort to speed up the ripening process so it tastes "old."

The two types of pu'er are further distinguished by their aging process. Sheng is naturally aged in cave-like environments, and continues to age after packaging. Shou is aged artificially by "wet piling";  the leaves are thickly piled in a warm, humid room, misted with water, and stirred. This allows heat to build at the center of the pile, inviting all the little microbes to have a party. Heat, moisture, bacteria, fungi, and yeasts all dance around, changing the chemical structure of the leaves enough to produce an earthy, hay-like brew within a few months--a fraction of the time it takes to produce a batch of aged Sheng. The flavor of a Shou, while mellow and earthy, just doesn't compare to a naturally aged Sheng.

The Sheng I'm reviewing here was packaged in 2005. It is extravagantly complex. Astringent in the mellowest way, it has notes of green tea (which it is--or was, since it was never oxidized.) It has malty, roasted, oolong notes, which come from all the microbes, (because this tea has never been roasted.) It finishes sweet, like a Darjeeling, with muscatel nuances. Expensive, and only available in sample-sized batches, this pu'er is saving itself for only the most serious or committed palates. (It costs ten dollars for about  tablespoon of leaves.  To be fair, though, those leaves will make about 10 infusions. If you order it, invite some friends over. You'll all drink all night.)

I'll close with some notes about what all those letters and Chinese words in the name mean. They indicate further quality:
CNNP:  A 60+ year old export company that promotes Chinese native produce and animal by-products. Seems to be a certifying label, similar to the green "certified organic" labels on products in the U.S.

QiaMu:  'The leaves come from an "Arbor" or "Wild Tall Tree," preferred over cultivated plants

GuShu:  The leaves come from an "Old Tree," again preferable to leaves from newer plants


— To purchase Origin Tea 2005 CNNP QiaoMu GuShu Raw Pu’er Cake, or for more specific information on ingredients or the story behind this particular tea, click here to go directly to the manufacturer's web site.

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