Most people first contact with pressed tea cake are usually overwhelmed that have no idea where to begin with on the big giant tea brick. And if you not doing it right, may get your hands seriously injured.
A good quality pu’erh tea generally formed or pressed in appropriate tightness. If you have a really tight pressed or stiff tea cake such as ripe pu’erh, you have to be very cautious to use your tool when you pry it.
To break tea cake, you will need a strong and durable tool such as a professional tea awl or tea knife, as well as a flathead screwdriver which can be found in most of households. The tea awl is specially designed for prying tea cake that can reduce massive breakage or damage to tea leaves. Without these special purpose tools, the best recommendation to substitute is a flathead screwdriver. The smaller screwdriver the better. But make sure it is strong enough to do the job.
Another tool you may consider to use is pu’erh tea tray with a small opening corner which is designed to assemble scattered pieces from scraping. To my own opinion, tea tray is seemingly wasting money. A tea wrapper from 357 gram pu’erh cake, can handle the job. When you open up the tea wrapper, there is a plenty of room to hold up scattered tea. If you really love to own a tea tray, buy a large one instead (there are two common sizes on the market). The small tea tray is really useless.
Place tea cake on a large wide table so that you have enough room to fully expand the tea wrapper. There is an indentation on the opening side of most round tea cakes. It’s an evidence of pressure caused by a knot of molding. That is the tightest and stiffest part of whole cake. You should pay extra attention when you deal with it.
Look for a loose and an accessible point, and turn it to the right hand side in order to work with awl on your right hand later.
Place your left hand on left side of tea cake, and hold it tight by pressing tea cake against table top. Make sure the cake won’t move when you pry on the other side of cake. Gently stab tea awl into cake about 45 degree from top toward down ahead. Lift and push awl handle to pry it off. Make sure that your left hand is far enough to the blade point. Don’t poke toward your left hand direction.
Pry the exact amount of tea every time you want it. For best tasting result, pu erh tea should be pried off and exposed to air for oxidation two weeks before brewing it, especially tightly pressed ripe pu erh tea.
And general speaking, tea leaves from a cake should be mixed both inner and outer leaves for a good infusion. You should figure it out how much tea leaves you need to collect from each part of cake (inner and outer) before stab you knife into it.
To get better tea form from raw brick tea, you should use another way to break and pry through.
For your safety, this method is not recommended for ripe tea cake.
First, lift up tea cake as shown on the picture. Hold it firm, stab knife into from the side of cake straight downward.
Or, press and hold the tea cake against table from the top, and stab tea knife all the way into from the side.
And then start prying it to make it little bit loose. Try a few time from different points on closest side until you can pick them out easily.