This is a collection of my advice and recommendations for people who are new to pu'er tea and would like some advice on how and what to sample.
Disclaimer: I have no connection to any vendors listed. Below, I recommend teas I have tried and believe are educational for a beginner. This is not meant as an endorsement that these teas will age well.
- Buy samples before you buy whole cakes. Pu'er comes in cakes that are anywhere from 50g to 500g or larger. That is a lot of tea to own and dislike; try a sample first, if possible. FYI, purchases of inferior (or faked) teas are called, with a dose of sarcasm and affection, "tuition."
- Try at least one sample of the three main types of pu'er: cooked (shu), raw (sheng), and aged raw. This should help you find which type or types fit your taste.
- Try aged sheng pu'er before you start collecting young sheng pu'er. Buying a sample or two of aged raw pu'er informs you of what young raw pu'er will turn into after it ages. It also informs your palate of what shu pu'er attempts to emulate. If you dislike aged pu'er, you won't want to build a huge collection of young raw pu'er for aging, but buy only in smaller quantities.
- Sample both "factory" and "boutique" productions of raw/sheng pu'er. Large factories like Menghai, Xiaguan, Mengku, and Haiwan factories make a different raw pu'er differently than smaller batch boutique producers. The factories tend to make teas with from younger plantation bushes, sometimes focused on a region or blended from different regions. These tend to be more bitter. Boutique producers usually source sweeter-tasting leaves from older trees from a single mountain/region, although some boutique producers are recognizing the benefits of blending regions.
- Try major factory cooked pu'er first. My own preference is for the Dayi brandbecause of the way cooked/shu 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.
Sample Recommendations (US Vendors)
Aged RawIt is increasingly difficult to find high-quality samples of aged sheng/raw pu'er from US-based vendors, I am sad to say.
- 1985 Loose Menghai 8582 - I don't know how Tim (the proprietor) knows this tea is from exactly 1985, but it is good nonetheless.
Young Raw/Sheng Plantation
- Recent years' Dayi brand teas. Puerhshop.com has many on sample.
- Yunnansourcing.us also has samples of teas from large factories like Xiaguan and Mengku Rongshi.
Young Raw/Sheng Single-origin or Boutique
- I will update this with recommendations later. Unfortunately, I haven't tasted recent boutique productions.
- I prefer Dayi, Xiaguan, Mengku, Haiwan, and Nanjian factories for shu pu'er. Yunnansourcing.us has some on sample.