Pu-erh seems to be one of those love ’em or leave ’em teas. Some people say they taste like dirt. Other consider them heavenly. They can be purchased in cakes to enjoy now or to store in a safe place to age and improve over time. They also come in bricks and tuochas (little bird’s nests). More tea vendors have begun selling them loose in a pouch or tin or even in traditional teabags and sachets.

A cuppa with a touch of pu-erh

A cuppa with a touch of pu-erh

The good thing about the loose version is that you get to play around with blending them with other loose teas you may have on hand. Mine was, so I did.

Recently, I discovered that some pu-erh leftover from a sample pack went well with another tea blend (Keemun and Assam) I had. The leaf piece sizes were about the same, and both were fully-oxidized (that is, “black”) teas. That means both could take the same water temperature. While the kettle was coming to a boil, I mixed some of each tea type and put them in the pot to steep.

There was a voice in my head going, “What are you doing? You love that black tea blend. You’re gonna muck it up by adding some pu-erh? What if you don’t like it?” I found myself answering, “Well, I like that pu-erh, too, so if I add a touch of it to this black tea, what’s the risk? Besides, a bit of risk can be a good thing. We get a lot of new inventions that way.” And that voice says, “Like what?” But then the water in the kettle was boiling, so I had to pour and put the lid on the pot for the steeping. I set the timer for six minutes and began reflecting back over those fly-by-the-seat-of-their-pants inventors responsible for some of the marvels we take for granted now.

Probably the biggest is the taming and controlling of electricity, then learning how to purposely generate and store it. This comes to mind in large part because my stove is electric and because of the increasing popularity of electric kettles. I think of Benjamin Franklin flying his kite in an electrical storm, and of Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla with their competing theories of how best to generate and distribute electricity to brighten homes and improve lives. (Edison won out.)

Meanwhile, my tea had steeped and the great moment of truth had arrived. I poured a cuppa. It was dark brown in color and looked like coffee. I inhaled the aroma. The pu-erh character was definitely there but not so strong that you’d think you were in some primeval forest (one where the leaves lie thick between the tree trunks and, thanks to the sweet drops of rain they have soaked up through decades and possibly centuries, exude the aroma of their gentle decay that turns them into soil). I take a sip. The pu-erh flavor is there, too. But again not so overly strong, more like the breeze blowing through that forest and gathering up molecules of decaying leaf scent to carry along. In other words, it was great!

Time to try it with a bit of milk and some sweetener. Again, fabulous with a smoothness combining with the pu-erh flavor and that black tea blend. Rich and satisfying, each sip was a real treat. The risk paid off.

Do you have some pu-erh lying around, maybe some that a well-meaning friend gave you? Try mixing it with another black tea. It will add a nice touch to your cup — that pu-erh touch!

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