After seeing many posts on forums about where to start with pu'er, I have decided to collect my advice and sample recommendations on this page. I will try to keep it updated; feel free to nudge me to revise it if you feel the lists are out-of-date.
Disclaimer: I have no connection to any vendors listed. I am recommending only teas I have tried and feel would be educational for a beginner. They are not meant as an endorsement that these teas will age well.
International vendor sample recommendations may be posted eventually.
- Buy samples before you buy whole cakes. This ensures you invest in larger amounts of tea only if you like it. 357-400g is a lot of tea to own and dislike, and it can be a real waste of money. Just FYI, these wasted purchases are known as "tuition" in tea jargon.
- Try at least one samples of all 3 main pu'er genres: cooked, raw, & aged raw. This will tell you rather quickly where your interest lies.
- Try aged pu'er first. Buying a sample or two of aged raw pu'er informs you of what young green pu'er will turn into with age and what shu/cooked/ripe tea is trying to emulate. If you do not like aged pu'er, buying young green pu'er is only advisable if you plan to drink it right away.
- Sample both "factory" and "small batch" style productions of raw pu'er. Big standard factories like Menghai, Xiaguan, Mengku, & Haiwan factories make a very different kind of tea than smaller batch producers like Yunzhiyuan, Hailang Hao, Xizi Hao, etc. The factories tend to make bitter teas with plantation materials blended from different regions, while small producers usually source sweeter old tree material from a single mountain/region.
- Try major factory cooked pu'er first. My own preference is Menghai/Dayi brand. The reason here involves the way cooked pu'er is processed: factories perform a controlled composting of the tea leaves. This requires more skill, knowledge, and cleanliness than I have found most small factories to have. Smaller factory offerings tend to taste "fishy" or "pondy".
It is increasingly difficult to find high quality samples of aged sheng/raw pu'er from US vendors, I am sad to say.
- 1980s Zhu Bao Qing Tuo - this is listed as a 1980s Xiaguan Factory production, but this is impossible as Xiaguan did not make sheng pu'er tuo in the 1980s. It is either not Xiaguan or not 1980s.
- 1985 Loose Menghai 8582 - I don't know how Tim (the proprietor) knows this tea is from exactly 1985, but it is good nonetheless.
- Recent years' Menghai/Dayi brand classic recipes, including 7542, 8582, 7532, & 8542. The (only?) US to carry samples of these teas is jas-etea.com. Click on cakes and look for the "25g" option.
- Xiaguan 2008 "Xizi" aka "Double Happiness" Tuo. Also available in the US at puerhshop.com.