Since so many variables can be open to exploration (using different tea plant type inputs, adjusting fermentation level, and time, temperature based on controlling the process, amount of water used, etc.), a very broad range of potential outcomes would be possible.  Matching the standard types and producers’ results would be hard enough and surpassing it very problematic, but to some extent “different” results could be seen as better – across a broad range.

Cha Tou, or clumps of tea that form during shu processing (also referred to as “tea heads”), are a different but related theme.  Here’s an interesting description of that, part of a Chawang Shop product description:

Classify sun-dried leaves by grades, put into pile by wet treatment to made it complete the late fermenting course quickly, the leaves producing a great deal of dissoluble sugar and pectin during the fermentation process, therefore, some tender leaves stick together and form small nuggets at the bottom of the fermentation pile. These nuggets are called “Cha Tou.”

small batch loose shu and a cha tou / tea nugget from Tea Side

The idea here is that even within conventional, large-batch processing there can be some variation in results and effect (with Sergey showing that outcome in the Moychay video I also mentioned).

All this never does justice to how unique and varied small-batch produced shu (ripe) pu’er can be.  But then that’s a main point here: That you can’t really capture that in a limited set of examples.  If you try a number of good versions you can get a feel for the effect and variation range, but there would be no way to fully explore the full potential.  Different material could keep being explored from different places, with different specific steps working best with that starting point.  In one discussion, the subject of shu / ripe processed Tie Guan Yin material came up, something that I haven’t tried.  Maybe that’s just amazing, or maybe it’s a bad idea; no small set of results samples would be clear indicators (of the second case; any given sample could definitely pin down one particular positive outcome).

One twist is that lower fermentation levels may support potential for positive long-term aging results.  Sampling what was made over the last few years couldn’t tell that story.  This Teas We Like product description hints at how that could work:

90s Kunming 7581 Brick
…In fact, the original wodui process for the 7581, which continued until 1999 and includes the cake sold here, only involves about half the level of fermentation of typical modern ripe puerh. The fermented tea would be moderately heated for drying, pressed into bricks… and then sent for traditional wet storage for a number of years. After this, the tea would be rested in dry storage, often for several years, and finally sold.

As usual, storage is another main input further complicating assessing results.  There’s no need to overthink it all though – trying novel teas can be quite pleasant, without zeroing in on the best possible long-term results or sorting out all of what might be out there.

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