Today we’re going down a slightly different path and explore one of Yunnan’s most bizarre tea exports. This just happens to be Cha Gao - which is a tea paste made from tea leaves. While calling it a paste is a bit misleading, it’s actually a hard and brittle piece of dissolvable tea that’s often marketed as ‘Puer on The Go’. But what is Cha Gao? Well, Cha Gao is made when tea is boiled for two to three days straight, and is boiled down so much that everything decomposes into a tar like substance. Then it’s poured over a sheet to cool down, and is stored for over a year before it’s ready to be consumed (a waiting period for humidity to leave the brittle).
Today however, we’re going to dive into Bitter Leaf Tea’s Cha Gao. Bitter Leaf Teas calls their Cha Gao ‘Black Magic’, which comes in three different grades: bronze, silver, and gold. Their Cha Gao is made from 2015 Spring Yiwu Raw Puer, and released towards the end of 2016. For this review I’m going to tell you what to expect when drinking the gold standard of this oddity, and further explain why you shouldn't eat it…
Steeps 1 - 3
According to Bitter Leaf Teas, their Black Magic should be brewed to around 1g for a 100ml vessel. And also, before the first three steeps, I gave this tea a quick rinse before moving forward. With the first steep, Black Magic brewed for thirty seconds. The first thing that I detected when drinking this tea was its thick body. The soup poured down my throat - with a light bees wax texture and left an earthy aftertaste. The notes of an autumn leaf pile was noticeable through out its body. Also, it held an astringency that brought on a leather like texture to this teas body.
Steeps 4 - 6
While this session continued, I went forward with the next three steeps with a longer steeping time. As the Cha Gao became thinner, the steeps became longer to compensate for the constant changing tea-to-vessel ratio. While the Cha Gao still tasted nearly identical to how it did earlier, I was able to direct a light resin that seemed to drag a burnt leaf tasting note across the tongue. With the last steep, I held the tea up to the light and found tiny tea leaf particles at the bottom of the cup! At the end of the session with Cha Gao, I was immediately overpowered by a persisting energy that quickly made its way throughout my body.
Eating Cha Gao
Just like a cat with a diminishing number of lives, curiosity got the best of me. Looking down at this Cha Gao, there was a tiny piece that resembled a miniature breath mint. So like any other insane being, I took it upon myself to pop this piece of Cha Gao in my mouth and eat it like a tick tac. At first, I was so overpowered with the strong sense of bitter and astringency that I reached out for anything to aid the drying sensation in the mouth. Hell, at one point my gag reflex couldn't handle the strength of this concentrated tea and I began to dry-heave. After spending over ten minutes hacking up pieces of Cha Gao my tastebuds were fried. For the week following the Cha Gao incident, my tastebuds were still not back to normal because the tongue was slowly recovering.
Overall, Black Magic 2015 Yiwu Raw Puer Cha Gao was a great experience, considering what it is. Cha Gao definitely isn't for everyone, and definitely isn't a drink that should be recommend to people who are easily put off by the idea of pure and unflavored teas. While there are many different variations of Cha Gao out in the market, the Gold standard of Black Magic by Bitter Leaf Teas offers the easiest and clearest one to drink. Besides that, the presentation and packaging of this tea was fantastic! It honestly felt like unwrapping crack-cocaine.
In the end, Cha Gao isn't for everyone, but Bitter Leaf Teas does a great job providing an option that is tastier than most other options in the market. So see for yourself if Black Magic Gold is an oddity worth trying, or worth looking at from a distance — either way just don’t eat it…