Tasting Lab: Sticky Rice Puerh

AJ Ward - May 1, 2024

So far in the Tasting Lab, we've explored discontinued blends, old recipes from the blend book, and new blends following old techniques. It's been a lot of fun! But for May, we're swinging in a new direction, and trying something more single-origin.

This month's tea is a compressed puerh. Each piece comprises about five grams of material, enough for a two-cup pot, or multiple steepings in a mug. But what makes this tea unique, is it blends tea with semnostachya menglaensis, or nuòmǐ xiāng (literally 'sticky rice fragrance'), an herb that smells deliciously of cooked basmati rice, sweet bread and vanilla. The resulting tea has a rich, earthy, sweet flavour, with roasty cooked rice and vanilla notes throughout.

Puerh can be a daunting tea for drinkers to first get into. The dark colour it brews can be intimidating, and with flavour descriptions like 'earth', 'wood' and 'tobacco', it's difficult to know what to expect. This won't be an in-depth introduction to puerh (that's its own deep, deep rabbit hole!), but I hope to spur a little appreciation for this interesting tea.

Puerh originates from the Yunnan province of China. Readers are likely aware that we already sell a puerh--Tribute Puerh; this is a solid restaurant-style shou puerh. The sort you may be served with a particularly heavy meal, characterized by a peaty aroma, and a deeply ripe, earthy taste. With next to no bitterness, it's a very comfortable tea that contrasts well with greasy foods.

Our Sticky Rice Puerh is a similar style of cooked or shou puerh, but sees the addition of nuòmǐ xiāng nèn yè (糯米香嫩叶), or 'sticky rice fragrance tender leaves'. This herb has a similar flavour and aroma to pandan leaves, used in Thai dishes. It smells like warm, cooked white rice, with sweet flavours of rice, popcorn, and vanilla.

This tea was chosen for the Tasting Lab due to its comfortable, inviting aroma and flavour. Toast and vanilla paired with earthy and woodsy flavours make for a very cozy cuppa; the days are getting longer and warmer, but at least in Vancouver, rain is still the norm. Whether you prefer to brew this in a mug or a gaiwan, I feel like it pairs particularly well with stormy, rainy afternoons sat at the window. Its surprisingly smooth flavour goes very well with heavy meals--I think it's a good cup with meat dishes, pork chops or steak, heavy sauces, fatty, or dairy-rich meals. It's also a great introduction for those who have been curious about puerh, but haven't quite taken the first steps. Each piece is individually wrapped in rice paper, making it convenient to carry and taking the guesswork out of portioning your tea.


This puerh is conveniently packaged as individual compressed tuocha, and can be brewed a couple of different ways depending on your preference and available teaware. Below we'll explore brewing in a mug, a teapot, and a gaiwan.

Before brewing, remove the rice paper cover and place the tuocha in your desired container; pour fresh boiling water over the tea, and discard this first steep after ten seconds. Because the tea is tightly compressed, this 'rinse' will help open up the leaves so that the tea can brew to its full potential.

Because the tea is compressed into small tuocha, the leaves can become a bit crumbly, so a good, fine strainer is recommended to keep leaves out of your cup.


One piece is easily enough for one 8oz serving, and the steeping-time can be adjusted to accommodate a 6oz teacup to a 12oz mug.

After the initial 10 second rinse, pour freshly boiled water over the tea, and steep it for one minute. This will produce a deep, rich cup. Add or remove 20 seconds for a larger or smaller cup.

This tea can be steeped a second time at two minutes; you'll find the flavours evolve and change between each steep.

Steep this tea a third time for four minutes.


Use one piece for a two cup or three cup teapot. Steep for ten seconds and discard the water to wake up the tea, as noted above. A good strainer is recommended when pouring from the pot, to prevent stray leaves from ending up in teacups.

Steep the tea for two minutes, and serve by pouring through a strainer into cups, leaving the leaves in the teapot. Immediately top up the pot with freshly boiled water and keep steeping. Top up teapot as needed after each cup until the tea loses flavour.


Those already familiar with a gaiwan will find this tea does excellently with short, quick steeps. Use one piece for a 100ml-120ml gaiwan. Steep for ten seconds and discard to wake up the tea.

For the first, second, and third steeps, steep the tea in ten second intervals.

After the third steep, increase by five seconds for subsequent steeps. This tea will easily last seven or eight steepings before it loses flavour.

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