An on-line reader named Ben commented on the Pu-erh tea I wrote about from Dynasty Chinese Restaurant on Portola. He suggested that Internet purchases were risky, perhaps either overpriced or counterfeit, and suggested I visit David and his staff at Chaikhana for a taste of the real thing. As I've lately been developing recipes for flavored iced teas, it's a good time to visit.
Chaikhana, which means tea culture, has possibly a hundred different teas, estimated tea maker Andrew, but I'm interested in the Chinese post-fermented style in which dried green leaves are rolled, dampened, and left to ferment and darken.
Andrew explained the general points of the complicated process to make the shou version, a fully ripened and drinkable tea, and the raw sheng version which is dried, but aged without assistance over a long period of time.
Although loose leaf Pu-erh is available, most is pressed into any of a number of shapes. Historically, said Andrew, when the tea was transported by camels, the compressed tea traveled better, and also aged during the trek.
Andrew then set about making tea; placing leaves in a small pot, covering them with hot water, then steeping for a short time, and pouring the dark reddish beverage into small cups. The wet leaves smelled of grass and earth. The tea itself was smooth and not as drying on the tongue. Over and over Andrew filled the pot, saying that each small handful of leaves would make 30 such “sessions,” slowly losing caffeine, color, and byproducts of the fermentation.
As a novice, I purchased some little nest-shaped Tuóchá (50 cents) and Pu-erh pressed into and aged in the skins of small oranges.
Owner David Wright often teaches informational Pu-erh classes complete with tastings, so please call for information. | KP
Chaikhana, 317A Cedar St., Santa Cruz, 423-4200. Open Tuesday through Friday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturdays noon to 6 p.m. Closed Mondays. Visit .chaikhana-teaculture.com
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