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Pu-erh "picking" survey

Those of you who have been enabling me thus far are regretting it, what with the rampant firing off of "help a poor newby" threads. But alas, there is another one coming your way.

Perhaps I missed this day in pu-erh school (or never went) but I'm wondering about this whole "flaking/picking" process with tea. I've so far mainly messed around with this FT mushroom tea sample from JAS-eTea.

How "picked/flaked" is enough? I've seen videos and pictures where it seemingly ranges along a spectrum between "a tiny fairy individually separated each leaf, with painstaking care as to not break a single one" to "aw, shucks, I just hacked offa quarter sized chunk or two and went to town". I figure the initial rinse probably loosens up the leaves in a small to moderate sized flake well enough, so is that the way to lean (since it avoids tiny fragments, which increase bitterness)? Or should I be trying to get closer to individual leaves before the first rinse?

Other thoughts/comments welcomed!
 
Puerhs with heavy compression are basically impossible to pry individual leaves from....save a couple. I break off a smaller chunks and add some broken leaves (from the process of picking) to the chunks to even out the brew a bit. Otherwise the chunks take time to unfold so your brews go from light to overpowering. I do not add the very fine particles...to reduce bitterness.

I have used a pair of pliers before. :blush:
 
For tightly compressed teas that I plan to drink on a regular basis, I will sometimes steam them to loosen the cake/brick/tuo. After steaming, you can gently pull apart the compressed tea with your fingers with almost no damage to the leaves. I would only caution that you need to let your tea dry out thoroughly after steaming to avoid mold. I usually let mine lay out overnight before storing in a paper bag.
 
Update: Decided I'd give steaming a go; I put my '08 Xiaguan FT "Happy Tuo" in my rice cooker for a little bit (until I noticed the tuo loosening up at the outer layer). Went pretty well - I easily pulled apart the vast majority without any breakage. I probably could have done it in a couple phases (steam, pull, steam, pull) to avoid even more breakage. Overall, though, it was very minimal (as compared to picking).

It's been drying for about 6 hours now, so I'm just going to leave it overnight for good measure. I've got small brown lunch bags aplenty so that's the next step.

Has anybody done any comparisons between steaming/picking to see if you lose any flavor in the steaming process?
 
Has anybody done any comparisons between steaming/picking to see if you lose any flavor in the steaming process?

I can't imagine that steaming the tea doesn't affect the way it tastes or your infusions in, at least, some small way. I am very new to fine teas, but I have pretty much decided that I want to avoid steaming the cakes to break them up.

I like to break off small pieces with the pick and then mix in some of the loose stuff with a couple chunks in the gaiwan. It seems to work fine. The larger chunks start to break up and unfurl after your first wash infusion.
 
I usually break off what I need too since I think that retaining the tea in the compressed form allows it to continue to age in the most natural way. The exception I make is a 100g tuo that is compressed like iron and that will probably never have the opportunity to age anyway based on my consumption. I have done some side by side taste testing of tea that I steamed because of the compression and small size and my results were interesting. At least from my perspective, the tea that had been steamed was much smoother. I attribute this (correctly or incorrectly) to the fact that the steamed tea tuo has almost no breakage of the leaves while the unsteamed tuo suffers great breakage in the process of removing a chunk of tea. This breakage of the leaves imparts more bitterness or astringency to the brew in my experience.
 
I attribute this (correctly or incorrectly) to the fact that the steamed tea tuo has almost no breakage of the leaves while the unsteamed tuo suffers great breakage in the process of removing a chunk of tea. This breakage of the leaves imparts more bitterness or astringency to the brew in my experience.

That is interesting to know. I wonder if that is a contributing factor to the maocha being so smooth? The leaves are all whole and unbroken and the tea has a more mild flavor than the compressed pu-erh I have had.
 
Yeah, this was a 100g tuo (the Xiaguan FT "Happy Tuo") so I had no problem sacrificing aging potential. I could have hammered a nail with this thing before I steamed it, so I figured this was best. I still ended up with a few fragments here and there.

I've only tried two raws, but both were Xiaguan "FT" branded, and my steamed Happy was noticeably smoother than my picked Baoyan.
 
I have a small 75g. brick I'm considering trying this on, but I have noticed several of my bings recommend steaming. I find it hard to believe the makers would advise you to do something detrimental to the enjoyment of their product.
 
Yeah, this was a 100g tuo (the Xiaguan FT "Happy Tuo") so I had no problem sacrificing aging potential. I could have hammered a nail with this thing before I steamed it, so I figured this was best. I still ended up with a few fragments here and there.

Yeah, I have had one of those too (I actually liked this tea, it was good). It was very compressed and took me a few minutes to pick it apart. Using one of the "nail" style picks from netsurfr it was pretty do-able though.

*edit* On a semi-related topic... what do you guys do about the paper labels that are compressed onto the cakes? Do you just pick them off and throw out the tea chunks that come off with them?
 
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I have noticed several of my bings recommend steaming. I find it hard to believe the makers would advise you to do something detrimental to the enjoyment of their product.

This is a good point... I haven't noticed this recommendation on any of mine, but maybe it's a more common practice than I thought.
 
I have a small 75g. brick I'm considering trying this on, but I have noticed several of my bings recommend steaming. I find it hard to believe the makers would advise you to do something detrimental to the enjoyment of their product.

I can't read a thing on the box or paper that came with this tuo, save for numericals :lol:
 
This is a good point... I haven't noticed this recommendation on any of mine, but maybe it's a more common practice than I thought.

I can't read a thing on the box or paper that came with this tuo, save for numericals :lol:
I've been seeing it on my 2010 Mengku bings, it may have been on others as well and I haven't noticed as there was little to no English writing on many of the teas I've had. I'm noticing more English included on the info sheets as well.
 
I got a beeng in the mail today from netsurfr... I am going to give in and try the steaming method.

*edit* I steamed the beeng in a bamboo steamer over boiling water... it did not take long... maybe 3 minutes. The cake was pliable enough that, with some effort, I could pull pieces off with my fingers. I picked it apart and laid it out on 3 plates so that it can dry overnight. There was little to no breakage resulting in the small dusty pieces of tea that are left over from normal picking. Also, the little paper tag that is usually embedded in the cake peeled right off.

So, the method is definitely better/easier. I guess my next test would be to take half a beeng and steam it and the other half just pick apart... then make infusions from either half to see if the quality is affected in any way. I might try this the next time I have a full beeng.
 
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I've never done a side by side like that, I'd be very interested in hearing your thoughts on the experience.

I just broke into a full beeng, but in a couple weeks or whatever when I get a new one, I'll try it and let you know what I think.
 
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