How to Safely Break Pu'erh Tea Cake
I drink a lot of tea. I began from green tea as many people begin drink tea from oolong or black tea. After I felt bored about drinking green tea all the time, I started to try other type tea. I tried oolong tea, yellow tea and black tea. I kept switching from these teas depending on my moods later. But I had never had pu'erh tea before. I read blogs, reviews about tea, so I knew most advanced tea lover would finally reach out for pu'erh tea which most of them praised. One day, I decided to give it a shot. I bought a piece of pu'erh tea that costed me about $50. When I received my tea, I was stunned because I had no idea where to begin with on that big giant tea brick that many were not what I expected to be, although I knew it was compressed tea. It is firmer than what you thought it was. We should be very careful to handle pu'erh tea, and if we not do it right way, we may get hands seriously injured.
A good quality pu’erh tea generally formed or compressed in appropriate(moderate) 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 away from the blade point. Don’t poke toward your left-hand direction.
You can pry the exact amount of tea leaves every time you want it, or pry the whole thing off completely into small individuals. 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. If you drink tea regularly, we recommend to pry whole thing off and store it in a ceramic tea container for oxidation.
General speaking, many lower quality pu’erh tea are blended from two or more ingredients. They blend in better quality ingredients for crust, so that will increase the value of the tea. In order to have pu'erh tea taste evenly every time, we recommend to break it through completely. No matter the tea is blended or not, when you completely pry it off, the ingredients are mixed. You should no longer have any issue with uneven taste.
If you want to get better looking pieces of tea leaves rather than safety, you may try using following way to break and pry through.
For your safety, this method is not recommended for firmly pressed 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.
Then start prying it to make it little bit loose. Try a few times from different points from the edge side of tea until you can pick them out easily. And separate them into smaller individual pieces as possible and store it in tea container.
Some lower quality wet-storage ripe pu’erh tea from Meng Hai has musty or fishy taste. (Due to water quality and geographic position of Meng Hai County, it pu’erh tea has stronger earthy note than any other pu’erh tea, but good quality Meng Hai pu’erh tea should not have fishy flavor.) You may pry it off completely and leave it in a ceramic tea container for a period of time to air out, it will help to weaken any unwanted flavor.