We make pu-erh tea because we like it. There's no one-liner explanation of it. It's an all-consuming pursuit.
'Pu-erh' is a phrase that means a style as well as a place—pu-erh tea can only come from Yunnan, and from large-leaf tea trees. More than anywhere else, we'd argue Yunnan has the most ecologically appealing tea resources. Huge amounts of old-growth, genetically diverse tea trees can be found throughout the forests and mountainsides; all free from agricultural intervention. The most sought after tea comes from these types of growing environments, rather than commercial plantations. This is the kind of tea we also like. It's expensive, competitive, and can be quite complicated to even buy.
COVID restrictions aside, we usually spend the two main tea production seasons (spring and autumn) in Xishuangbanna, one of the main tea producing prefectures. In the scheme of the tea world, people like us are irrelevant; us 'Westerners' are not, in fact, the primary consumers of pu-erh tea! Imagine that. We do want to make good teas, as do a lot of other people, so we get right in there and compete in the seasonal frenzy.
The processing is relatively uncomplicated compared to some other styles of Chinese tea, but there's a huge amount of nuance, skill, and just straight up hard physical labour involved—everything is done by hand. Picking leaves often involves climbing large tea trees, sometimes several metres tall. Firing the leaves by hand in a wok, as shown above, is still vastly superior to machine. Critically, pu-erh tea has to be dried in the sun, as opposed to mechanically, which is weather dependent, requires a lot of space, and extra work. But without it, it would lose one of it's main attributes; the ability to age with storage.
About five kilograms of fresh leaves reduce down to one kilogram of processed tea; and once the leaves are picked, the clock starts ticking to process them before they wither and oxidise.
As a 'company', we sit in a delicate spot, best summed up by two extremes that we feel are the usual approach; on the one hand, oriental fetishism, exoticism, mystique, and plain old colonial strip-mining of othered cultures. Often this is accompanied by imagery and language like 'authentic', 'ancient' and 'traditional'.
On the other hand, the classic 'Western' cultural supremacy approach of paving over everything with fascism; simplification (aka. reductionism), removing every piece of cultural nuance except the bits that look nice, which are readily appropriated, because 'we know best!'.
Instead, we try to express our own experiences, desires, and frustrations. Why do we even make tea at all? Because it was very hard, or impossible, to find the exact kinds of tea we liked in the Western market, and the Chinese market. A lot of that old-growth, forest tea material we talked about, doesn't really make it to the open market to begin with, and once it does, it's extremely difficult to verify, and get's even more expensive. So purely on a selfish level, we started pressing our own tea so we'd have it around to drink for reasonable costs.
The production season ends with our blends being pressed and wrapped into cakes.
The compressed format allows for more efficient transport, storage, and long-term ageing of the tea.
Finally, from our climate-controlled storage in Birrarung-ga, we pack and ship the tea out to you, ready to be drunk or further kept aside for the long haul.
Explore our collection of tea and accompaniments.