When I first saw chenpi pu-erh (pu-erh aged in a green orange peel), I was very impressed. I thought to myself, well that must the ultimate pu-erh experience. I do not have the same level of excitement now, as I do find pu-erh in chenpi fine but unsuitable for multiple brewings. However, I like brewing pu-erh with some aged orange peel which makes pu-erh’s aroma less earthy and perhaps more pleasant for many who do not particularly like the signature earth element in pu-erh teas.
I bought this tea in Beijing (tea city) when I visited it for the first time. I thought it was expensive and tried to haggle a bit. Not every trader was into haggling so what I got was probably not the most decent example. It’s a shame but without going through these experiences, I don’t think I could have learned as much. In other words, when you taste the low-quality teas, you do appreciate better teas even more.
What I found interesting recently about chenpi, is that the orange peel indeed more valuable than pu-erh itself. This was a shock for me. The best chenpi comes from Xinhui in Guangdong province where baby orange production is a speciality. Xinhui’s history of producing dried orange peels go back thousands of years. They are expensive due to high labour costs. Farmers only pick the mandarin oranges that meet picking standards and they are cleaned, unpulped, stuffed with tea within two days. Then there are either left for drying or baking. To deserve the name chenpi, the dried peel needs to be dried for at least three years. Chinese use chenpi in stews and soups as well for flavouring. In traditional Chinese Medicine, it is believed that dried orange peel has multiple health benefits and the effect of which is enhanced the longer it is stored. The prices of chenpi increased astronomically over the years and a higher grade chenpi that has been aged for more than 30 years may fetch prices over 1,000 USD per kg. It is indeed very valuable, and some families pass down dried chenpi to younger generations. Something that valuable can also become a subject of a crime! In 2015, a Hong Kong woman reported her son to police authorities for steeling her inherited chenpi (has been ageing for more than 80 years). The police could not find sufficient evidence and the case was dropped. It is said that such old chenpi may be worth millions of dollars!
Not all chenpi pu-erh teas are genuine and I cannot say I know how to judge a good chenpi. To me, this tea tasted like a pleasant palace pu-erh with nice citrus notes.
I am also confused now as to how to call this tea: 'chenpi with pu-erh' or 'pu-erh in chenpi'.
Type: Dark tea
Harvest time: Unknown
Leave colour: Dark brown/red
Liquor colour: Bright dark red
Tea aroma: Earthy and citrus
Steeping/brewing: Unlike other pu-erhs, you should not use boiling water which may scorch the tender leaves. Try to wait a couple of minutes after boiling water and even so try not to pour the water directly on the leaves. Steep for up to one minute in gongfu style or up to three minutes in Western-style. You can brew the leaves a few times (until the taste is lost). To each infusion add additional time. Experiment for a result that suits your taste.
Shelf life: 30 years or more, if stored correctly (to improve shelf life store the sealed tea leaves in a dry, dark place with low temperatures)