Sunday, October 6, 2013

Loosening of toucha

You probably know the situation. You buy a toucha so well pressed, that to get a few leaves from it, in anyhow elegant way, is almost impossible. Even when one knows what is doing with his/her pu-needle, leaves of such toucha are broken at least. With few grams of broken tea leaves you can get few grams of tea dust. Is there a solution?

Few years back, I was going through Houde's eshop and found a few interesting information at his blog as well as in the "f.a.q" section. One of those was this:

   There are two ways to loosen a compressed Pu-erh (cake, brick, mushroom, or toucha):
1. Brutal-force way! Use hammer, knife, chisel or whatever your landscaping tools (kidding, of coz) to chip or knock down enough amount for brewing.
2. Steaming method: This is a much more civilized version. Several advantages from this method:

a. The loosened leaves will retain more complete and original shape than the brutal force way.
b. If you are like me, it is fun to get your hands "tea-y"!
c. It becomes more convenient to have all the loose tea than having to find your hammer everytime you try ot enjoy.

We use the following pictures to illustrate how we do the steaming to loosen two 2004 Jia Ji XiaGuan Toucha.
Step 1: Find a wok and a bamboo steamer (or whatever have similar functions). Put a bowl of water into the wok. Then put the two toucha onto the steamer.

Step 2: Turn on the heat and cover the steamer. Your pu-erh is now enjoying some steamy Sauna! Steam for around 3 mins. The time is only experimental; different cakes or bricks may requires different steaming time.

Step 3: See... after 3 mins Sauna, the toucha are looking very "relaxed"!

Step 4: Now is the most FUN part! Use your mighty hands to gently loosen the toucha and try NOT to cook your fingers! They can be very hot. The toucha now is soft and flexible, as you can see how I "bend" one of them.

Final: Now, you have a pile of good loose Pu-erh for easy enjoyment : ) However, newly steamed pu-erh need to be dried for about 2 hours (more is better) before you put them into containers. Just let them dry in an open and dry place without direct sunlight. Otherwise, those nutritious leaves will invite some fungus to grow on them very quickly.

You can make a brew of the loose Pu-erh tea just like ... yea, a loose tea. Try this! I am sure you will love the extra connection you build between your pu-erhs and you.

Do you know someone who do it this way or who, at least, tried it? I did not heard about it before and I was sure: I have to try it one day. And that time come last February. It was weekend with many tea friends around, we were testing teas and having great time when this "loosening technique" pop up. Lets do it! I was a bit sceptical/afraid about the result. So I pick one not very special toucha from Dayi, found clean stainless pot, stainless sieve for cooking dumplings and turn of a cooker....

 In two minutes we got very furry chunk of tea. Leaves were quite easy to seperate, a bit wet from outside and still a bit hard in the middle of the nest. To dry out, I put that  toucha  loose leave tea on our heating and later on even to oven. Not to cook, just to warm and dry it out.

Next day I could put it in this jar...I was quite curious to see if it will get any worst. And it is not. Now after several months, it is still that mediocre tea as I remember it. :) I would not do it or recommend it to do it with tea which we would like to age. The heat from steam is not going to make any good to living nature of the tea and it may slow or even stop the aging. But if you have a tea you would like to drink soon then you can give it a try. You can get very nice loose tea instead of broken, dusty mixture. For sure, you might want to try it first on something less expensive than 80' Xiaguan products, as I did. Who can find this helpful are those who serve toucha (or other strongly pressed teas) on daily basic. One just open a jar and scoop up few grams of leaves- I can imagine that for a tearoom or a teashop,  it can be pretty convenient.

 For my daily tea live, I still prefer gentle work of puehr needle to this sauna style. On other hand an experiment and experience is always more valuable than reading and thinking about it. I am glad we have tried it.

Thank you for reading!


  1. The steam should not damage the tea - every mao cha is steamed before compression.

    1. Thanks for the comment. Yes, I know and you are prabably right. On other hand why would we want to open/loose a tea which we would like to let age...

  2. Steaming is one of the officially recommended methods by xiaguan and is printed on some xiaguan product wraps. However, most people I know don't use this method. I think it's a good method for tuos with nice leaves that you don't want to wreck up. But it's not a method for lazy people like me :-p Lazy people let the tightly pressed tea sit around to get loosened up by themselves ;-)

    1. Hi Gingko, It is nice to have readers who brings new information to the topic:) I somehow feel that I have already heard about this note on some Xia products. Is it possible that it was mentioned on you blog? (still one of my favorites)

      Does the "lazy method" work? I mean after how many years starts a tightly pressed tea open? It is not so long ago when I was treated by Xia tou from 82' and it was everything but not loosened tea (more like stony style)

      Thank you for your comment!

  3. Thanks Petr :-) But I didn't have this topic on my blog. I think it was discussed on teachat once or twice.
    The regular xiaguan tuo has leaves intentionally cut. I think it might be the combination of very tight compression and sticky juice from cut leaves that make xiaguan tuo very very tight. Some non-routine product tuo of xiaguan (not the jia ji, yi ji series) from earlier years are much easier to open and have whole leaves. They were probably easier to open to begin with. And I also feel (reasonably) dryer stored tea gets loosened up faster.

    1. Dryer stored open up faster? I thought it will be the other way around...

      Thank you for your comment!

  4. I have been fortune to have tried some "Mini Toucha" sent to me by Teavivre last year and when steam and steeped it is soften cake like. I want to say like sponge cake or those Twinkies sponge cake but only earthy in taste and coloring and probably much better for you than Twinkies.

    Another experience of the "Mini Toucha" were to drop them in very hot and boiling water and have them dissolved like aspirin at the bottom of the cup leaving a darken smudge resonating to earthy aroma that of dirt and dewiness. And when tasted it is like caramel but only purely raw with slightness of iodine dispense in the air.

    Teavivre "Mini Toucha" were truly exceptional. I may not remember such wording ever again. Thank you for this post as it brings back a fondness long had.

  5. Thanks for sharing nice information. I need the more information about that. If you want to know more details about chinese puer tea reviews then touch on that you can also visit here:

    1. dear teanaga, please dont put a direct links to the comments. We dont want to make it spamy here :) Thank you.