Gong Mei cake, a Dayi / Tae Tea version

This subject is familiar to most related to sheng and shu pu’er: Both have long since been pressed into cakes (bings), tuochas (dented ball shapes, kind of), bricks, “dragonballs,” coins, and other shapes.  This will focus on scope outside of pu’er, since those are more commonly encountered.

The common understanding is that this form is related to ease of transport from condensing the size.  Teas from Yunnan could be shipped across the Tea Horse Road to all sorts of regional destinations; once processed to be easier to ship, distribute, and later store (with further reading about the modern forms of that history here).  Same for Hunan brick teas, and at some point the same compression process was also applied to shou mei white tea.

More recently, compressed black teas and others have become somewhat fashionable.  Why press these, though?  We’re at the stage now where modern packaging solutions can cover a lot of the same functional concerns with the tea still in loose form.  Pu’er needs air contact to ferment (to change over time) and to some extent that could apply to other tea types as well, even though the same storage approach and concerns are most typically only extended to white teas.  Compression isn’t essential for aging but it does work well to store teas in that form and it helps to moderate the level of air contact at a suitable level. 

Cakes of other tea types seem cool; that’s a good reason.  To a limited extent the reshaping could also change tea character slightly, it seems: So there’s a functional aspect.  For other teas “designed” for storage and aging, it still makes sense on that first level.  Most recently I’ve tried two versions of this approach applied to tisanes (herbs and fruit), which I’ll cover at the end. 

Shou Mei (White Tea) or Other White Teas Pressed In Different Shapes

Candy-bar style compressed white tea

Really, this form is common enough too; but it can be hard for one person to explore even the considerable list of most standard types.  Those teas can be mild but rich-flavored, including caramel or toffee tones with aging transition and evolving to include dried fruit or spice tones.  This post reviews two versions that seemed relatively standard: One from 2008 and 2012, along with a gong mei (same thing, different leaf grade) and candy-bar style pressed white.  Comparison reviewing four white teas together in that account turned out to be a bad idea: Not so many rounds in I was blasted on all that caffeine.

Hunan Region / Fu Brick Teas

These seem kind of standard too; potentially very pleasant, flavorful, and typically relatively inexpensive compressed teas that are distinct in character from sheng and shu pu’er.  I’ve not experienced enough versions to generalize, but of that limited set I have tried, pre-fermentation was either not used or not nearly as evident as in shu, and the teas didn’t have the same intensity that younger sheng possess.

Hunan Fu brick tea with “golden flowers”

Then again I’ve not really tried new / young enough versions of compressed hei cha to really place starting points related to typical use of a pre-fermentation step.  This Yi Qing Yuan factory version I reviewed with “yellow flowers” was produced in 2009 and this 2007 Xiang Yi “Hei Cha Zhuan” didn’t have that version of mold present in it.  That general fungus category and specific “yellow flowers” input is identified in this reference passage:

…The genus Aspergillus is a group of filamentous fungi consist of more than 250 species, which is the most economically important of the fungal genera.  Many species of Aspergillus are used in biotechnology for the production of various metabolites, such as antibiotics, organic acids, medicines or enzymes, or as agents in many food fermentations. The fungal genus Eurotium, which is the teleomorph of Aspergillus, has been proved to be a rich source of novel bioactive metabolites. 

…species formerly included in the genus Eurotium  [a yellow-flowers related reference] are displayed with their Aspergillus name.. it is considered to be safe under low- and high-osmolarity conditions…

The typical hearsay account is that the various types of fungus are generally good for you rather than potentially harmful; not exactly confirmed in that research article passage but to a limited extent supported by it.

To be continued in tomorrow’s post Compressed Teas and Tisanes Beyond Pu’er – Page 2

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