|2005 Hai Lang Hao Lincang Impression
Raw Pu-erh Hand-pressed Bing
Sizes and Shapes
The most common bing sizes/weights (in grams):
500, 400, 357, 250, and 200.
Some vendors make ones as small as 100 grams and as large as 5 kilograms or even larger. The edge can be rounded or perpendicular, determined by the pressing method.
A quantity of dry Máochá is weighed out in accord with the desired final weight of the bing. The leaves are steamed in perforated cans so they will soften and become a bit more tacky, thus holding together better during compression. Then colorful ribbons or a nei fei (a ticket with info on it about the tea but usually in Chinese) are put on top of the leaves in the can. The can is then turned upside down over a cloth bag, which is gathered tight and wrung into a sphere shape and any extra cloth is tied or coiled around itself. The end of the bag is twisted into a tight ball and pressed into the leaves, forming the characteristic indentation on one side of the cake. (The cloth bags are used and reused, becoming tea-stained and slightly altering the tea flavor.) The whole thing goes into the press. They are then set in a shady area to dry, releasing the moisture from the steaming. When dry, the cakes are removed from the bags and dried more in the sun. They are then wrapped in a paper wrapper that has been printed with various information for the buyer.
There are several compression levels. “T” on the label indicates an especially tight compression which is also quickest. Medium is another level. Loose and slow is at the other end of the spectrum. The tightly compressed cakes are meant to be aged for a number of years slowly and evenly. The looser cakes have more air in them and age a bit more rapidly.
How cakes are pressed varies these days from what it did in the early days of bing making. Many smaller tea factories still use stone presses. Other use iron presses, and the bings are called tei bing (“iron cake or puck”) because of their high level of density and hardness. The stone presses can be stood on to increase the pressure and density. (Tea urchin claims there’s a rumor that a pretty girl standing on the stone press makes the tea sweeter and worth more. I haven’t done any tests to see if this is true or not.)
Depending on the desired product and speed, from quickest and tightest to slowest and loosest, pressing can either be done by:
• Stone press – The old-time tried and true method using a large heavy stone, carved into the shape of a short cylinder with a handle. Put the stone on the bag filled with steamed máochá. The bag and stone combine effects to produce a nicely rounded bing, but the edge may often but a bit non-uniform. Lots of manual labor involved here, so it is more often used for artisanal bings. You will see “hand pressed” or “stone-pressed” in the description.
• Lever press – A step up from the stone press. A lever helps the operator achieve tight pressings. This type of press is rarely used these days due to the hydraulic press.
• Hydraulic press – The press forces the máochá into a metal form (sometimes decorated with a sunken-relief design) and can create cakes of various shapes, bagged or not. The cakes made without using the cloth bag are the iron cakes mentioned above.
See our article on this blog about loosening the cake to more easily break off pieces for infusing.