Why is Pu’er often sold as disks? January 13 2015

posted by Teagora Teas


The difference between loose and block Pu’er has been documented here [insert link to Loose Pu’er vs Block Pu’er blog post], but that didn’t go into the details as to why it is sold in two different forms. In order to understand why it is sold in both blocks and loose-leaf form, we must first understand the tea’s history. Being traced back to the Eastern Han Dynasty, Pu’er tea has been around since about the 3rd or 4th century, while the exporting of its compressed (block) form originated in the 7th century.

This exportation was the reason for the origination of the disks or compressed blocks of tea. At first, traders who travelled across the Himalayas to Tibet would take large bundles of loose-leaf tea which often resulted in spoiling, as the treks often lasted up to a year and went through very extreme climates. Traders needed a product that they could bring with them by land or sea that would not spoil during the long trips. This led to many different fermentation and compression methods, finally landing on the disk shape, called bing (饼). The exported, compressed tea was found to be noticeably fresher and tastier, and was a very successful product. For the first 1,400 years, all pu’er tea was green, until the processing method for black tea was developed in 1973.

Premium Pu’ers are aged from anywhere between 5 and 40 years, and the compression allows for better control over the aging process than its loose-leaf counterpart. Traditionally, Pu’er tea disks were sold as groups of seven, or Qīzí bǐngchá (七子餅茶), which literally means “seven unit cake tea.” In most cases, the highest quality of tea is found on the outside of the disk with lower grade or broken leaves making up the middle. This strategy improves the appearance, and in turn adds value to the teas.

The most common and famous location for the cultivation of Pu’er tea are the Six Great Tea Mountains, a group of mountains in Xishuangbanna, Yunnan, in southwest China. Yunnan also lays claim to being the place where Pu’er was first discovered and produced. True Pu’er tea is fully fermented, and uses a processing phase which is similar to composting, as it requires a lack of oxygen. The aging process, which can last many years, is key in determining the degree of fermentation and the level of oxidation.

Today, both black and green Pu’er varieties are available and can be found in both loose-leaf and block form. Teagora’s Pu’er comes from Zhao Gui Ying, a grower who’s been in the industry for 18 years, and his farm in mountains of Yunnan. So if you’re curious about what drinking this ancient and delicious tea is like, we know of a pretty good place to start.