Two compressed examples of Puerh. Left, a ball sits drying, while at right a more ornate gourd like shape remains in its cloth. Such gourd shaped gems were popular at one time as they were based on the natural forms in nature. Shaped teas too were often the subject of tributes. The more ornate or original the shape and form, the more valued the tribute.
The Bulang Mountains of southern Yunnan harbor villages and dipping slopes that are little islands of big names and some very small names in the tea world. Ancient trees, old trees and young novice bushes all dot the forests and ridges. Nearby, the famed offerings of Lao Banzhang, Ban Pen, and He Kai have caught the money and attention of dedicated drinkers, while Lao Ma E has only recently starting surging into the greater view and palate of drinkers.
After frying, tea leaves are hand rolled to both expunge more of the remaining moisture and to release some of the flavours within by rupturing more of the leaves and stems.
Just as the age of the tea trees and bushes vary, so to do the ethnicities. Each of the mountain peoples here have there own subtle and sometimes not so subtle variations of preparing teas, though now there are standard practices for Puerh tea production. Lao Ma E carries with it some distinct vegetal edge that we’ve always enjoyed.
Much is made of the age of the source tree or bush of the leaves. Ancient or old trees for some can be 100 years old but generally if one is speaking to those who leave and breath the leaves an “old” or “ancient” tree is somewhere nearing 300-400 years old…and the leaves aren’t cheap.
Dry leaves lie surrounding a cylinder, into which they will be poured and steamed. After steaming the leaves are malleable and able to be ‘shaped’ or compressed into cakes, bricks or cylinders.
This present offering from the Bulang stronghold of Lao Ma E comes from bushes that rest between 1400-1500 metres and are around 30 years old. Bulang teas carry some of the wonderful vegetal notes (some say “bitter” or ‘苦’) that hit the palate with a bit of bite. That bite isn’t something aggressive or unnatural but rather something that has remained from the soil and minerals within, and it can vary from season to season.
A detail of a Tibetan butter tea ‘bowl’. Ideally carved from the roots of rhododendron sourced from eastern Tibet or northwestern Yunnan, such bowls ‘aged’ with successive uses and the addition of yak butter which cured the wood into a fine sheen.
Though much is made of the bitter or floral aspects of a raw ‘sheng’ Puerh, it is perhaps more important to speak of the bittersweet aspects of the brew. Puerhs, for many dedicated sippers, remain remarkable in that they have a very definitive bitter-sweet component and that moment between when the bitterness ebbs and the sweetness commences is vital.
Much of the world’s tea bushes are over-harvested to the point where they need to be entirely uprooted. Over-harvesting the leaves only serves to diminish the ability of the plants to offer up consistently flavoured teas.
Yunnan, the land ‘south of the clouds’.
Bulang Mountain soil is known for is orange, copper and reddish tones due in part to iron oxide, which is a compound, composed of iron and oxygen. The soils of southern Yunnan and in particular Bulang Mountain are famed for their range of colours and hues and mineral rich content which all contribute to flavours within the brew.
The teas of Lao Ma E and its surrounds have long had great raw materials but have sometimes been known for a lack of production standards.
That has changed and now Lao Ma E is known for slightly astringent Puerhs that carry some great strength and bite.
While we encourage each drinker to tinker with infusion times and amounts of tea used according to taste, the below is a good base from which to begin the JalamTeas Lao Ma E Sheng experience.
If this is your first tea cake, here is a step-by-step guide on how to break and prepare a tea cake.
Do not be afraid to tinker with the below recommendations. Try playing with slightly different infusion times as well as the amount of leaves to find the right feel…and that feel may vary depending on the drinker or the time of day. The flavor profile tends towards a slight astringency with florals that sweetens as it escapes down the gorge. Lao Ma E teas generally carry a little more of that vegetal bite.
We recommend not less than 6 grams per serving; ideally 8 grams. Locals in southern Yunnan will use as much as 12 grams and wring out more than a dozen infusions, keeping the infusion times relatively short.
When the tongue ceases to enjoy an infusion's strength, that is the time to begin anew with a fresh load of leaves.
Don't be shy to ask me any questions about your tea leaves or anything related at firstname.lastname@example.org. You have my ears and I will get back in touch with you.