Review of Aged Puerh Tea Brick

7 of 102 of 53 of 553 of 100
Very GoodMediocreReasonable

I recently ordered some tea and bulk herbs from This Numi pu erh brick was novel enough that I couldn't pass it up. I'll say up front that I'm not a huge fan of shou pu erh, but I've tried enough varieties at varying price points and even found some that I enjoy that I should at least be able to tell what I'm tasting.

I've had a few teas from compressed cakes ("bings"), but this is the first brick-style that I've had. The rectangular brick is packaged inside of a paper envelope, itself placed inside of a cardboard box reminiscent of baking chocolate. The packaging overall is rather similar to how bings are sold, being wrapped in paper, but otherwise exposed to the air.

The envelope has a faint spicy aroma that isn't particularly tea-like that I assume is from an intermediate warehouse. In that sense, caveat emptor. One of the dangers of pu erh, even from reputable sellers, is that storage conditions during the lifetime of the tea can vary along the way to its final destination. The tea itself is almost odorless, having only a faint trace of earthy, composted hardwood leaves.

The tea is rather more compressed than the others I've had. I broke off a square that weighed 4.8g and decided that I'd steep it in a mug Western-style. I tried to break the square up a bit before steeping, but only managed to break the square in half. Since I wasn't looking to grind up the leaves or anything, I left it at that. The leaves are quite broken, but have a good color and aren't quite as dark in person as marketing images appear to me (I added a closeup photo of the brick). At this point, I don't see anything that looks like dirt or twigs. It looks to me like a less-expensive lower grade, but with decent production quality.

I decided to brew the tea Western-style for this first test, mainly because that's normally how I drink my tea, even pu erh. With pu erh, though, I do perform an initial fifteen-second rinse as is usually recommended. Since the water didn't seem to penetrate right away and the rinse water was barely colored, I decided to let the rinsed tea sit for a few minutes before pouring the water for the first proper steep. I steeped in a 16oz mug. I normally use 5g of tea for that much water, so the square is the perfect amount. I steeped for four minutes.

After hydration, it's obvious that the leaves are even more broken than I estimated and look like they belong in a tea bag. On the other hand, the aroma is richer and more complex than I expected based on the tea's appearance. The predominant aroma is the dark, loamy earth and composted oak typical of pu erh, but there are notes of malt and hazelnuts.

I'm glad I steeped four minutes rather than the recommended two. The flavor of the tea is less strong than the aroma led me to expect. It's slightly mineral and faintly malty, but both are fleeting and the mouthfeel is thin. The scent from the mug is still quite enjoyable, but doesn't translate over to how the tea tastes. I'm profoundly disappointed. One of the strengths of even cheap pu erh is the thick mouthfeel and strong flavors. This tea is extraordinarily mild, but not in a good way.

Once the tea cools to lukewarm, a few more flavors come out. There's a nice peat flavor that's reminiscent of Scotch whisky along with a bit of something sweeter, like roasted carrot. Unfortunately, it's still not enough to fully rescue this tea. I'll be interested to try this tea later in a gongfu session and see if maybe an initial steep or two is more intense, but I'm not optimistic.

On the positive side, this tea doesn't have any of the off flavors that are so common in badly produced or incorrectly aged pu erh. It's not fishy, moldy, or dirty smelling or tasting. Thinking about it, I'm guessing that whoever guides tea selection at Numi just likes mild pu erh. I haven't had the Emperor's Pu Erh, but the Chocolate Pu Erh is similar; it tastes wonderfully of chocolate, but not so much of pu erh. For that reason, this might actually be a good choice for someone drinking pu erh for its reputed health benefits, but isn't sold on flavor profiles involving descriptors like "compost." It's not for me, though. I'll certainly finish the brick and I'm sure I'll even enjoy it now with a modified set of expectations, but I'm glad that I didn't buy two or three bricks like I was originally tempted.

Numi sells these bricks for $12.99, but I got the brick on sale for just under $8. That's not expensive for pu erh or even overpriced for the quality, but per gram, that means a 357g cake would cost $40-$75. That's not the "good stuff," but I've had other pu erh in this price range that I enjoy far more.

I had such high hopes.

Add your own review

Login or Sign Up to comment on this review.