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Steaming Your Pu-erh Beeng, Brick, or Tuo

While I will often use a pu-erh knife, I sometimes find that there is a requirement for another technique that I learned from reading on the Hou De tea blog.  Steaming has some definite benefits but you must be careful to let your tea dry out completely after steaming to avoid the formation of mold.  

Extract from Hou De with modifications:

There are two ways to loosen a compressed Pu-erh (cake, brick, mushroom, or toucha):

  1. Brutal-force way! Use hammer, knife, chisel or whatever kind of landscaping tools you may have available (kidding, of course) to chip or knock down enough for brewing.
  2. Steaming method: This is a much more civilized version. There are several advantages of using this method:

a. The loosened leaves will retain more of the complete and original shape than they do when you use a knife or  pick and the brute force method that can cause a fair amount of destruction. 
b. If you are like me, it is fun to get your hands "tea-y"!
c. It becomes more convenient to have all the loose tea than having to find your hammer and chisel everytime you want to enjoy some compressed pu-erh tea. 

The following pictures are used to illustrate how we do the steaming to loosen two 2004 Jia Ji Xiaguan Toucha.


Step 1: Find a wok and a bamboo steamer (or whatever have similar functions). Put a bowl of water into the wok. Then put the two toucha onto the steamer.


Step 2: Turn on the heat and cover the steamer. Your pu-erh is now enjoying something like a steamy Sauna! Steam the tea for about 3 minutes. The time is really determined by experiment; different cakes or bricks may require different steaming time so don't just walk away and ignore your tea during the steaming process.  




Step 3: See, for this particular tea, after 3 minutes in the "tea sauna," the toucha are looking very "relaxed"!

 

Step 4: Now comes the most enjoyable part of the experience!  Use your hands to gently loosen the toucha and try NOT to burn your fingers! They can be very hot. The toucha now is soft and flexible; you can see how I "bend" one of them.




Final: Now, you have a pile of good loose Pu-erh for easy enjoyment : ) However, newly steamed pu-erh needs to be dried for at least 2 hours (I usually let the tea rest for at least 8-24 hours) before you put them into containers. Just let them dry in an open and dry place without direct sunlight. Otherwise, those nutritious leaves will invite some fungus to grow on them very quickly.




You can now make a brew of the loose Pu-erh tea just like a loose tea. Try this technique for loosening your tightly compacted pu-erh! I am sure you will love the extra connection you build between your pu-erh teas and you.  I have found it particularly useful on the tuocha tea that always seems to be tightly compacted.  In addition, the Xiaguan series that are preceded by a "T" in the recipe are tightly compacted by machine and this technique is particularly useful in helping to enjoy them.