Chatou Shu Puer
Chatou (‘tea heads’ or ‘tea pieces’ in Chinese) is the lumps of shu puer that form at the bottom of the fermentation pile (渥堆 – wodui). It yields a very strong and dark beverage with a wide range of flavors that tend to fight for a spot on the palate all at the same time. The dry lumps of chatou have a fishy seaside aroma, while the freshly brewed lumps reveal an unexpected mellowness of dried fruit. Thanks to its strong taste, formidable appearance, and unconventional production process, chatou provides one of the most hardcore tea drinking experiences that Chinese tea culture has generated so far.
Why we like it?
In short, we like chatou for its strength. When we run out or grow tired of more conventional teas and start reminiscing furtively about coffee and cocoa, chatou comes to the rescue. It is quite strong – though not unpleasant – in flavor, so it’s probably not the best gift for someone whom you are hoping to introduce, let alone convert, to benefits of daily tea drinking. But it’s absolutely a must-try for any tea aficionado who is looking to expand their experience beyond fine leaves and delicate overtones.
Roman’s personal score: 75/100
Miha’s personal score: 55/100
The scores above represent how the Daoli co-founders Miha and Roman feel about each particular tea. The ratings are given on 0 to 100 scale and are absolutely subjective. We simply translate into numbers our first impression about this tea.
A few words about the manufacturer
Guyi is a relatively young tea manufacturer. They first started to make their own puer tea in 1999. Five years later Jiang Yingbao, the founder, incorporated the firm and registered several trademarks, such as Yubang, and Mijing Yunnan. Now the Guyi tea factory employs around 150 people, has fermentation and storage facilities in Menghai and Kunming, selling around 800 tons of tea annually both domestically and abroad. Some of the tea is grown on their own land in Jingmai and some tea they buy from trusted farmers in that area. Guyi is renowned for their integrity and innovative spirit.
Basic facts about puer
There are two kinds of puer tea: shu (ripe, cooked, heavily fermented) and sheng (raw). Shu puers undergo an extensive (several months to a year) fermentation process, whereas sheng puers are not fermented at all. Shu puers produce dark brown infusions quite similar to black tea. The color of sheng puer tea may range from lime to intense yellow – the spectrum typical of green teas, but that’s where the similarity ends. A typical sheng puer has a pronounced bittersweet flavor and a lingering mellow aftertaste called huigan (回甘) or liugan (留甘) in Chinese.
Some people are discouraged from exploring puer teas because of erroneous perceptions that all puers taste like earth or have other unpleasant qualities. This only applies to low-quality puers that were either made of bad leaves, processed in a wrong way, or stored under inappropriate conditions. Brewed properly, good quality puers may seem unusually strong to an inexperienced palate, but they should not feel disagreeable in any way.
Shu puer tea is often divided into supreme (gongting), extra, 1st, 3rd, 5th, and 7th grades. Sheng puers are sometimes classified into extra, 2nd, 4th, 6th, and 8th grades, but this system is far from universal. The grade of puer tea is primarily determined by the buds vs. leaves ratio, as well as the size and shape thereof. Supreme-quality shu puer (aka gongting), for instance, is supposed to be buds only with each bud averaging up to one inch in length. Extra class shu is 50-60% buds and 40-50% leaves. First grade shu puer is approximately 30% buds and 70% leaves. Third grade has leaves that are larger in size and the bud content is accidental. Fifth and seventh grades are almost entirely made up of leaves, the main difference being in size, thickness, and texture of tea material used. Shengs follow a similar pattern, but, again, standards vary significantly among manufacturers.
General steeping suggestions
Tea can be steeped in a tea pot, gaiwan, or a strainer placed right in your cup. Feel free to experiment with time, temperature, and quantity. If tea feels a bit strong or bitter, just use less leaves or steep it for a shorter period of time. The purpose of the first brew is to rinse the leaves, so it shouldn’t last more than five seconds and should be discarded. Pour the hot water again. This time, steep it for longer periods. Avoid leaving the leaves soaking in water between brews, because it makes tea taste bitter and steals a lot of its flavor. If used properly, about six grams of tea leaves can yield several middle-size cups of excellent tea. Chinese people enjoy the original taste of tea, so they never use milk, sugar, or lemon.
Steeping suggestions for Chatou
Start with this, then experiment:
- one serving: 6-10 grams
- water: ~ 90 °C, 100-250 ml (~ 195°F, 3-9oz)
- time: 60-180+ seconds
- number of infusions: 7-10+
- discard the first brew
Rinse thoroughly, then enjoy 7+ infusions. Longer steeping times will bring strong earthy character out of this tea.
Have you tried this tea? Do you have any comments? Please use the space below to share your thoughts and ask us questions.