I had the wonderful opportunity to sip and to learn about some of the most delicious Pu'er tea available in the United States from Nicholas Lozito, founder of Misty Peak Teas. I thought I would share this experience with you in a 4 part article entitled, All About Pu'er.
In this article, you will be introduced to Nicholas Lozito himself and he will explain what exactly is Pu'er and how you can steep and serve this tasty tea. You will also see my interview with Lozito and have access to our behind the scenes conversation about why we love Pu'er. The article will conclude with a Tea Review comparing Autumn and Spring harvested Pu'er from Misty Peak Teas. Enjoy!
WHO IS NICHOLAS LOZITO?
Nicholas Lozito is a humble American native that loves tea and reading, just like us tea sipping bookworms! He also so happens to be the founder of Misty Peak Teas, a Pu'er green tea producing company founded in the States in 2011. When on a life journey, Nicholas lived in Yunnan Province, China and helped the local farmers cultivate Pu'er green tea. It was there that he compared other Pu'er teas and realized that there was something unique and special about the Pu'er tea that his farm grew. Nicholas began sharing the tea for free with family and friends and when he received inquiries for more he thought perhaps he had found something worth sharing on a larger scale.
Since 2011, Misty Peak Teas has made waves throughout the tea world being rated #1 Pu'er tea online out of over 5,000 Pu'er teas in 2014. The tea is now available in over 410 select shops in the North American, European, Asian and South American regions.
Nicholas is always willing to share Pu'er tea knowledge or even a cup of tea with any of his tea friends. In this article, I hope you are able to see a little of his fun and humble personality as well as learn a lot about the wonderful tea that is Pu'er.
What's In This Post?
Questionnaire: What Is Pu'er?
Blogview: How To Steep & Serve Pu'er?
Interview: Nicholas Lozito, Founder of Misty Peak Teas
Tea Review: Misty Peak Teas Green Pu'er - Autumn & Spring 2015
What Is Pu'er?
This may seem like a silly question! However, it may be the very question that you ask yourself after hearing the name Pu'er. I always call tea liquid contradiction because it is so simple but yet so intricate and detailed. Pu'er is simply green tea but it is also much more than that. In the questionnaire below, Nicholas Lozito answers 9 important questions explaining what exactly is Pu'er.
1. What is Pu’er
Pu'er is the world’s first cultivated tea, over 2,000 years ago. It comes from the large leaf variety of Camellia Sinensis in Yunnan, China and is one of the classifications of tea--along with green, black, red, white, oolong.
Pu’er also has its own sub-classifications. These sub categories are Raw (Sheng Pu'er), Ripe (Shou Pu'er), or Aged Raw (Lao Sheng Pu'er) and are known to come in many compressed forms such as discs or bricks.
The tea has gained a tremendous amount of publicity because of its many health benefits including weight loss, the lowering of blood pressure, digestion regulation, amongst others.
2. What is raw Pu'er (green Puer, sheng Puer) and what is the difference between raw Puer and green tea? Raw Pu’er is, in essence, a green tea; however, it is unique in that it is processed in a way that allows it to continue to age/mature/change. The tea is called Sheng(生) Pu’er in Mandarin, and the easiest translation for Sheng is raw, or crude.
The fact that the micro-flora are still alive and present on the leaves after firing makes it unique and the fact that it is sun dried (not air or machine dried) makes it not just any green tea. See, in order for a tea to be called Pu’er Tea in the first place it must legally meet three criteria: 1- Be Sun Dried 2- Be picked from the large leaf variety of the Camellia Sinensis Tea Tree 3- Be picked in the Southern Yunnan Region. A green tea picked in India, or even a different part of China, that is sun dried and from the large leaf varietal but is NOT picked in Yunnan, would never be a Pu’er.
The region is very proud of this, as this is where tea was first discovered and the oldest tea trees (some over 1,500 years old) still exist today. It’s also important to note that other green teas do not have much of a lifespan, maybe 6-18 months; whereas, Raw Pu’er is great today and incredible for decades to come.
3. What is ripe Pu'er? and the difference between it and raw Puer? To understand the difference between Raw Pu’er and Ripe Pu’er it is best to go to the etymology of the Mandarin words and how we got the translation. Raw, Sheng, (生) Pu’er is to Ripe, Shou, (熟) as a rare steak is to a well-done steak. When ordering a steak in China, speaking mandarin, one may use these same words. The difference, in process, is huge.
Raw Pu’er is picked, wilted, cooked, and rolled, then dried under the sun to get what the locals call “the taste of the sun.” At this point, the tea can be left how it is and would be considered raw and ready to drink (ready to be left as loose leaf or pressed into various shapes). I often get the question, “Well with the raw tea you guys have, is it okay to drink raw or do I have to cook it?” It is ready to go!
At this point it can undergo another process, like that of a composting process, to become Ripe. This process is a recent process and was created to replicate what happens to the Raw tea if naturally aged over many years. The beauty of the Raw tea is that it matures and changes (bitterness turns into sweetness, color darkens, etc.) over time.
When demand was heavy for this aged Raw, the clever minds learned that if you increase humidity for months and stack the tea in piles, then turn it so often, it would bring about a somewhat similar taste. Of course, folks who know great aged Raw know better, but it has become a new class in its own. So there are really three kinds of Pu’er: aged raw, raw, and ripe.
4. Where does Pu'er originate? It originates in Southern Yunnan China and some of the first tea trees are said to be still growing there today.
5. Where does Pu'er get its name? Pu’er is the name of the county and the region that was, and still is, a trading post for this tea. It is a central point to many of the tea mountains, villages, and regions. This central point is still home to Pu’er teas from all over the various regions.
When one is at a tea village, it is literally impossible to get a different kind of tea (oolong, green) and almost as unlikely to even find a Pu’er from a nearby mountain there. So these trading posts like in Pu’er County, were the central point. Now, the world is a trading post for teas from every tea-growing region of the world.
6. What is the difference(s) between a good Pu'er and a poorly produced Puer? First, a Pu’er should be called good if it makes you feel good and tastes good, and hopefully has good aroma as well. We go even further and say it must be fair trade, it must be produced in small batches and without the use of any machines, preferably by a family.
What makes these differences is the business, farmer, or purveyor behind that tea. Businesses who have 200+ teas in their shop cannot possibly oversee the production of all the different teas, so they often settle for tea from big vendors and have very little idea what they are getting. The process makes the biggest difference. Are they old trees or young? Are they machine rolled or hand rolled? Are they pan-fried or machine fried? Are they producing thousands of kilos a day or maybe a few dozen?
There are good producers that make good tea, but the small family farms, the families, who produce tea to actually drink themselves and have these traditions and techniques passed down for generations, they are the ones who are great. For a tea to be great it must be produced by a master.
7. How is Pu'er produced? The tea is picked during two seasons: Autumn or Spring. Both bring very different flavors, aromas, and make us feel different.
The tea is first hand-picked then left to wither for 8 hours or so, until the stiffness of the leaf dwindles to be more malleable, as a lot of the water has left the leaves. Then they are pan-fried. No water or oils are used, but they are cooked on a wok that is the same as used at big Chinese restaurants. This is where much of the extra water is cooked out, and is called the “kill green” stage, where oxidation is stopped and the aromas are brought out.
It takes about 4 kg of leaves to make 1 kg of dry tea. Then they roll the leaves, this breaks down the leaves even further and brings out the enzymes inside the leaves and also spins the leaves so that they are closed instead of open. Then the leaves are left under the sun to dry naturally, often turned every few hours.
At this point we have Mao Cha, or loose leaf Pu’er. Next, one can steam the leaves and press them into bings, bricks, or whatever shape they may like. Also, at this point someone can turn the tea into Shou Pu’er, by taking it through the above-mentioned compost-like process (question 3).
On the farm, we often pick tea in the morning and have it to drink in the evening. This is great living, and this is a piece of the lifestyle we try to share. Fresh tea, produced with love by one family.
8. What could alter the quality of Pu'er during production? Every step is critical, and the mastery is just as important. From the picking to the drying, there is so much that can be done correctly or incorrectly, greatly or mediocre. There are competitions where father goes against son, following the exact same method, and father wins. It is much like when your grandmother would give you a recipe and all the ingredients for her famous chocolate cake. You make it and somehow it tastes completely different from hers.
There are little details that make all the difference when making tea, or anything in our lives. In picking: too much stem or not full leaves. In withering: too long or too short. In Firing: too hot, didn’t turn enough, too short, residue left on the pan. In Rolling: using machines, not aggressive enough, no striations of the leaves. In Drying: machine dried, not hot enough outside, takes too long to dry. All these can bring out sourness or weak leaves or no aroma. Each step is critical, including the step we have as tea drinker.
9. Does Pu'er have a season for production? Yes, Spring and Autumn. These two seasons create a very different tea. It is the difference between Thanksgiving and the veggies/fruits on the table then, and the colors/mood, and Easter and the veggies/fruits and moods then. Each tea has a different taste and feel and look.
Spring is when flowers are everywhere, so the tea is more floral and light and spring-like, vibrant with energy to blossom of flower. Autumn is more grounding, bold, dark. Now those flowers have turned into dark stone fruits like plum or apricot, so one may recognize those flavors.
The heavy rains of early Autumn and the light rains of Spring bring about different teas as well. So much is going on in the environment that brings us different teas. This is why we find it so fun to pick leaves from the same trees, just a few months later, and try them side by side then offer those two seasons to our customers.
With our tea, we focus on these two seasons more than anyone. We educate and separate the differences significantly. Most teas are named with cute names and much of the identity, or all of it, is lost. We focus on the difference between the seasons, because people will have preferences and also each are tools to different maladies or feelings we want to feel or tastes we want to taste. Shou Pu’er is often picked during Summer time, yet summer tea is not known for being too flavorful, but with Shou the process is more important that the raw product. Try each season and find your preference, it is a fun side-by-side.
How To Steep & Serve Pu'er?
Now that you know what Pu'er tea is, you also need to know how to steep and serve it. You may find it a challenge to pry open a Pu'er tea cake or perhaps you may find it intimidating to serve it traditionally. In the blogview below, Nicholas will put you at ease and make sipping and serving Pu'er your cup of tea!
Gabie: OK, so Nicholas, this may be the most intimidating part of trying to steep Pu'er, so please tell us, how exactly do you pry a Pu’er tea cake properly?
Nicholas: Separating a cake or brick of Pu’er tea is a task that adds to the experience of drinking tea. It does require patience as the leaves can easily be broken. One point to mention before explaining is that there are two main ways in which the teas are compressed; 1) by stone (human body weight) and by 2) hydraulic press (thousands of pounds of weight). The latter is more common as more tea is produced in factories than on small family farms like ours (Misty Peak Teas). The latter will also make it MUCH more difficult to pry apart the leaves; resulting with a lot of dust/broken leaves as opposed to full leaves from the stone-pressed Pu’er.
Step 1. Loosen the cake by gently bending it back and forth all around the cake.
Step 2. Use a Pu’er pick, similar to an ice pick or letter opener and begin separating the leaves.
Step 3. Follow the leaves and stems down their lines to gently remove them one at a time or in chunks if they are all together
REMINDER: The more debris and small dust you have, the more bitter and less impressive your tea will be. Be patient and start slow.
Gabie: Wow, that's good to know that machine pressed Pu'er tea cakes are harder to pry and cause excess dust or broken leaves. Thanks for that tip! Once you have pulled apart the leaves, how do you steep/brew Pu’er tea correctly?
Nicholas: Each step along the way is critical. The farmers have done everything they can do to give us great tea, but its full potential relies on us.
Find the best water, cups and utensils to enhance the flavor and experience.
Step 1. Prepare the tea (305 grams depending on how strong you want the tea and how many people you are serving) and water (3-8 ounces)
Step 2. Warm pot and cups so they retain heat better
Step 3. Place tea in pot, Gawain or cup
Step 4. Wash and wake up the tea by pouring hot water (165-185 degrees) over the leaves, let soak for a few seconds and then dump out
Step 5. Make tea. Pour fresh 3-8 ounces of hot water over leaves, cover for 10-60 seconds. Lower temperatures (160-170) water will allow the sweetness to come out and higher temperatures (170-212) will allow a much stronger, often bitter, tea. All depends on your taste.
Step 6. Pour all the steeping tea liquid from the vessel into cup (s) or serving pitchers.
Step 7. Enjoy. Steps 5-7 should be repeated upwards of 10 times to get the most from your tea. Each subsequent steeping, one may use longer steeping times and perhaps higher water temperatures.
Gabie: First of all, you're completely right about us doing our part to make sure that the sip turns out correctly and I just love how Pu'er tea can be steeped for however long you want! I love how ceremonial but simple the steeping process seems. Speaking of ceremonies, is there a traditional way to steep/brew Pu’er? If yes, please explain.
Nicholas: Yes. The traditional way has been unchanged for thousands of years and it is mentioned above (Question 2). Remember though, it can be as simple as adding hot water to a cup of leaves as well. The mood, the allotted time, and the utensils available will determine how you steep/brew your Pu’er.
Gabie: Yes, I love how simple it can be! We don't want to scare away our new tea sipping bookworms! Just to be sure, how long should Pu’er steep/brew exactly?
Nicholas: 5 seconds to 5 minutes, depending on how late in the session it is and how bitter/sweet one wants the tea. The longer one brews the tea, the more bitter it will be most likely. Lower temperatures and quicker steeping times generally bring out a sweeter tea.
Gabie: Interesting! So you can basically steep it as long as you want like I mentioned but it will depend on how bitter you want your Pu'er tea to taste. With that being said, how can you tell that a Pu’er has been badly steeped or brewed?
Nicholas: It cannot be brewed improperly, only improperly for the drinker. Try low and high heats, long and short times, mugs, pots, Gaiwans, ceramics and find what you like best. Sour is the only taste that should never come from a tea, but this is usually more of a producer’s issue than the brewers issue.
Gabie: That is absolutely perfect because I know that a lot of tea sippers are afraid to steep tea because of fearing to over or under-steep their tea. Pu'er is accident proof! I hear you talk about different utensils and serving containers, but how do you like to serve Pu’er? In what type of drinking utensil?
Nicholas: I brew all Pu’er for guests in a Gawain at about 175 for 10 or so seconds. I will pour tea at that range for others most often, but I often get made fun of in front of others for preparing my teas “farmer style” because I like to bring out the bitterness otherwise it can be flat. Like dark chocolate that does not have bitterness, tea without a bit of bitterness can be flat, to me. Farmers often prepare 15-20 grams of tea with water that is in full-boil and for only a few seconds, and being that I learned tea on a tea farm, I suppose this is why my preference leans this way.
Gabie: How exciting and fun! Thank you for sharing with us how to steep and serve Pu'er tea!
Interview: Nicholas Lozito,
founder of Misty Peak Teas
Now that you know what Pu'er is and how to steep and serve it it is only fitting that you learn more about Nicholas and the amazing Pu'er tea producing company that is Misty Peak Teas. In the interview below, Nicholas talks about his introduction to Pu'er tea, how it changed his personality and life, why he feels that Pu'er tea can change your life and much more! After the interview is over, Nicholas and I share some behind the scenes footage of our conversation about Pu'er tea and our love of reading and the written word. Click play to watch!
If you are a true tea sipping bookworm then I know you caught the part in the interview when he said that he would give away FREE Pu'er green tea samples to all those who asked. Be sure to email Nicholas Lozito to take him up on that offer!
Misty Peak Teas Green Pu'er
Autumn & Spring 2015
Being a true #teaaddict, of course I had to sip Pu'er green tea from Misty Peak Teas for myself. I took Nicholas up on his offer and decided to try the Autumn harvest Pu'er and the Spring harvest Pu'er side by side. It was an absolutely amazing experience! The teas strikingly differ! In fact, this experience has made me rethink the way that I purchase all other tea. Click play to see my honest review of both Autumn and Spring harvest Pu'er from Misty Peak Teas.
Go to Tea Review: Autumn & Spring Harvest – Green Pu’er | Misty Peak Teas to see more images of the Autumn and Spring 2015 Green Pu’er!
WHAT IS NICHOLAS SIPPING AND READING?
Nicholas is reading a classic story about an honest farmer named Wang-Lung and his selfless wife O-Lan. A masterpiece by Peal S. Buck that would be captivating to any tea sipping bookworm that also has sympathy for what the history and struggles of the Chinese people during the that last century. Get your own copy of The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck today!
I would like to extend a grand thank you (for the 100th time!) to Nicholas for taking the time to answer all of my tea questions about Pu'er and for forgiving me for being a little hesitant since my previous experiences with Pu'er tea have not been nearly so delightful. Thank you Nicholas for taking time away from your family and duties to entertain and enlighten a tea sipping bookworm like myself.
Technology never seems to act appropriately in the most desperate of situations so thank you also for agreeing to re-do the interview a second time when the first conversation did not record. I really appreciated that!
Thank you, thank you, thank you and thank you again! May your tea journey continue and I hope both of our tea journeys continue to interweave for times to come.
Do you like Pu'er tea?