Lightly-oxidized: Shengcha Puer
We have categorised this variety as lightly oxidized tea rather than any others for a good reason. The first crucial stage of processing in genuine productions under this name are very much like those in traditional white teas — sunning. This results in a similarity of the biochemical activities in the leaves, and therefore befitting the definition of the category. Other people normally categorize it otherwise, or they cannot find a category for it.
Unique Taste Profile
Because of the huge difference of the leaves, however, Shengcha Puer tastes much, much sharper, astringent and bitter than White teas from Fujian. The usual and traditional practice is to collect the sunned leaves, twist them and briefly dry them for storage. Or they can be compressed into discuses or other forms. Exposure to the elements, including moisture and common microbes then turn the leaves gradually dark. What actually takes place, therefore, is a slow, partial, and possibly uncontrolled process of "post-fermentation".
This is similar to the ancient way of making of dark tea before the systematic and thorough process was devised. However, with proper maturing, sheng puers can be a complex tasting tea variety that has its own virtues.
Speculation Spoils a Good category
Marketing schemes by certain traders have led people to believe that some compressed tea discuses were of supreme quality and that all such teas develop better taste infinitely through time. This is far from the truth.
While it is true that the combination of light oxidation and partial and incomplete post-fermentation of leaves of various ancient tea cultivars can be quite unique and fine-tasting, a majority of products in the market are far from fine, some even taste unworthy. A scheme for quality is still lacking.
On the other hand, a whole arsenal of prestige building campaigns involving books, exhibitions, lobbying and even sticking a tea discus into a space ship has constructed a “history” and aura of such teas. The result is an incontinent rocketing of the prices. Speculations for compressed tea have benefited the financial interest for some traders, and political interests for others. There are thin economic elements in the pricing bubble, other than those that some can claim “uniquely Chinese”.
If you want to know this tea, stick to loose leaves. If you think the price for a respectable quality is too high where you can get it, wait till later and play with other varieties for now.
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