Two Pu Erhs That (Not Much) Money CAN Buy

In these tough economic times it's more important than ever to be able to relax with a good cup of tea, so we're introducing a couple of full-sized shou (finished) pu erh cakes that are ready to drink and make a pleasant brew at an affordable price. While the cost of exceptional and rare pu erh remains high, the deflation of China's pu erh price bubble means many quality teas are cheaper than in recent years. We're pleased to be able to offer these two cakes personally selected by Imperial Tea Court Teamaster Roy Fong.

The 2007 Spring Tip Pu Erh Bing Cha features small, early leaf buds and abundant golden tips. It has a mild, sweet taste with only subtle hints of earthiness. The liquor is a rich reddish brown. For best results steep a generous quantity of leaves in near-boiling water with a slightly longer than average brew time. Exact quantity and time depend on the vessel you use to brew. In my six-ounce gaiwan I used three heaping tablespoons of tea and steeped for 3-4 minutes. Adjust quantity and time to taste; it's hard to push this mellow tea over the edge to bitterness. $35 per 375-gram cake.

The 2007 Pu Erh Bing Cha is the type of finished cake many residents of Yunnan, the home province of pu erh, turn to as their everyday beverage. The leaves are picked later than the Spring Tip, meaning they're larger and heartier. The flavor is less sweet and a bit more earthy and robust, with a darker brown brew that can develop a bitter edge when it's oversteeped. In my gaiwan I used about three level teaspoons of tea, and brewed for about three minutes. As always, experiment and adjust to suit your own preference. $25 per 375-gram cake.

Between the two my personal preference is the Spring Tip, but you won't be disappointed in either of these teas given the price. By the way, Chinese consider aged and finished pu erh to be the most warming of the various types of tea, so winter is the perfect season to warm up with a cup of this delicious, traditional beverage.