How Many Times to Brew Puer – A Not-So-Definitive GuideBitterleaf
One of Puer tea’s most attractive features is arguably its brewing endurance. Taste, complexity, variety and ability to age/mature are also main draws, but they’re enhanced by fact that you can brew one serving of tea 10, 15, sometimes 20 or more time. Some teas will fare better than others, though a tea’s quality shouldn’t be determined by performance in this category alone. Like many other aspects of tea, the “endurance” can largely be affected by the drinker’s taste. If you’re looking for a concrete number, you won’t find one here.
This isn’t something I consciously thought about too much until Coomi and I were drinking our own teas and formulating recommended brewing guides. We decided that we want to include a rough estimate of how many times the tea can be enjoyably brewed, but we didn’t want to be just throwing out lofty numbers to make a tea sound impressive. A conservative minimum number of brews seemed to be the best way to go.
The first time I ever heard about Puer and the possibility of reusing leaves was in 2007 or 2008. My mother had just bought a brick from her Tai Chi teacher, a Taiwanese man living on the east coast of Canada – about as far from Yunnan as you can get. I don’t remember much about the specific tea she bought, other than that it seemed quite expensive at the time (I believe he offered several tiers, with the top tier being $100+ for a brick, if I remember correctly). The other thing that stuck out to me though, was hearing that you can brew this tea multiple times – 10 or more times. Again, I’m fuzzy on the details, but it was certainly more than 1, which was all I was used to at that point in life. At the time I also imagined that each infusion was a 2-5 minute affair, like with my teabags and loose teas at home, which made it even more impressive.
Claims of how many times a particular tea can be brewed should always be taken with a grain of salt though. There are certainly factors that will affect a tea’s endurance, such as quality and grade of the tea, season, region, brewing parameters, etc. 10 or more brews is almost always guaranteed for good Puer. 15 or more brews is also possible for a lot of Puers. 20+ brews and you’ve got yourself some powerful tea. At 25+ brews I’m going to be pretty skeptical and need to see for myself. If you tell me a tea will last 30 or more brews, I’m going to assume that the last few infusions will just be light tea flavoured water. Depending on the seller, a lot of times the number of brews is just marketing speak, rather than an actual assessment.
One thing I’ve noticed with some of the longer lasting teas is that they are considerably stronger during their middle brews. We recently tried a 2015 raw Puer that was on brew 20-something and still going when we had to abandon it. This tea was claimed to last up to 30 infusions and I it was one of the rare times I could believe it, however for much of the early and middle portion of the session the tea was exceptionally bitter and rough, almost overwhelmingly so. In cases like this, adjusting brewing parameters can help smooth that out though, but possibly hinder its “30 infusion capacity”.
Again, when it comes down to it, I feel that personal taste is the biggest factor in deciding when enough is enough. There have been plenty of times when I’ve drank tea with people who have continued brewing long after I would have changed it up. Likewise there have been times when people have called it quits on a tea before I was prepared to. Colour can be a good indication, but not always. In the end, there is never really a set number of brews for any particular tea; it’s just another aspect of the specific tea that you really have to learn for yourself. Sorry, but there is just no definitive answer to how many times your Puer can be resteeped.