I recently found this method for loosening cakes/bricks and was wondering what everyone thought about it. It comes from a Q&A area on the http://www.houdeasianart.com/ site.
“Q: Now I have my newly acquired Pu-erhs. Then what? What to do with them to make my pu-erh tea? 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.
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.”