On first glance, cha gao (茶膏 – literally “tea paste”) doesn’t have the same appealing appearance as that of a cake of raw puer, with its full leaves and silver buds, but rather bears resemblance to more nefarious substances. Rest assured though, cha gao is simply the result of further processing of puer. It often is referred to as a sort of “instant” puer, which is not necessarily inaccurate, but this label may cheapen what it is slightly.
Cha gao can be made using either raw or ripe puer and requires plenty of leaf and time. The leaves are soaked in large boilers and left at a relatively low, but consistent heat. After several days of simmering and boiling off the water, a thick resin will remain. This resin is then spread out over a surface or into shapes (cubes) and dried. The end result is a hard, rock-like brick or sheet of black sticky stuff. One often overlooked step is that of further aging and airing out. The final product require at least a year of rest before some of the “funky” tastes that are present in many cha gao disappears. One indication of adequate rest is the formation of ridges along the top surface.
Produced during the Tang and Song dynasties, then perfected during the Qing dynasty, cha gao was considered a delicacy and primarily exported north to be consumed by the ruling class. Since then the production of cha gao dropped off and the methods were largely lost. For something that was considered fit for the upper class during its zenith, much of the cha gao that is currently available often has an off-putting taste and doesn’t seem to reflect its former distinction.
Our Black Magic Yiwu cha gao, however, is one that we feel steps outside the “novelty” category and is enjoyable in and of itself. Offered in 3 grades, which reflect different tree ages and quality of material, this cha gao offers a range of flavours. Much of the flavour is earthy, though not necessarily in the same way as a shou puer. There is also a noticeable sweetness and huigan, as well as fragrance, bitterness and sweet flavours. There is also some smokiness, though again not like what is typically experienced with puers.
In our opinion, brewing methods for cha gao should should be taken with a grain of salt. An experimental approach will be the best way to determine how you enjoy yours. We suggest brewing (dissolving) approximately 1 gram gongfu style in a medium sized (125-165ml) vessel. Start with a flash rinse, and follow up with a first brew between 5-20 seconds, depending on your ratio. We suggest using a light coloured vessel, as the colour of the cha gao soup will provide the best indication of its strength, ideally showing up a light to medium orange-brown. If you intend to produce a stronger brew or dissolve an entire piece of cha gao, feel free to stir with a tea needle as necessary. This should allow for 3-4 infusions.