As early as in the period of the Ancient Tea-Horse Road, with the long distance and rough conditions, the sun-dried pu erh maocha (processed loose tea) was first compressed into different shapes to save space and facilitate transportation for the caravans.
Nowadays, when we talk about pu erh tea, usually we think of a tea cake or a tuocha, which are the most common shapes of pu erh. However there are more shapes to discover! Here’s list of the different shapes of pu erh tea.
Tea Cake (Bing Cha)
This flat disc shape is one of the most familiar shapes of pu erh. Tea cakes sizes range from 100 to several kilograms.
In the pu erh market, we usually see the tea cakes with a net weight of 357 grams each. These tea cakes are packed in a seven unit package (which totals 2.5KG), that’s why they are also called seven-sons tea cake (Qizi Bing Cha).
A less common variation of the regular cake is an iron cake also known as ‘tie bing’. These cakes have sharper edges and a tighter compression. Like normal tea cakes, iron cakes most often weight 357 grams.
With a shape like a bird’s nest or a thick bowl, tuocha is also a common shape of pu erh. The mainstream size of tuocha is 100 grams, but there are also larger ones of 250 grams. The quality of Xiaguan tuocha is generally recognised as the best as this factory is specialized in this particular form.
Compared with the traditional tuocha, the size of mini tuocha is much smaller. A single mini tuocha weighs from five to ten grams, which is perfect for a pot of tea. Other than the convenient size, with the mix of herbal and floral ingredients, the innovative flavours make it more and more popular these days. These small units of pu erh are often also made in square shapes.
Brick Tea (Zhuan Cha)
There are two types of brick tea: rectangle and square. In the past, this shape of bricks was the most convenient to stack and transport on the back of horses along the ancient tea route. Brick tea weighs from 100 grams to a couple kilograms, the popular weight is 250g.
Square cakes tend to be lower in weight (100-200 gram), while larger bricks are most often rectangle in shape.
Mushroom Tuocha (Mogu Tuocha)
Mushroom tuocha is also called Jincha (tightly pressed tea). It has a similar shape as tuocha but with a stem coming out of the cap, which resembles a mushroom. Usually it weighs 250 grams.
The mushroom tuocha got its unique shape from the tea-horse trading with the Tibetan region. The stem helped create space for the distribution of the moisture, so to prevent the growth of mildew on tea during long transportation.
However, eventually tea bricks were preferred as more weight of such shape could be carried on the back of horses.
Pumpkin Tribute Tuocha (Jingua Gongcha)
Back in 1729, this pumpkin shaped pu erh was specially made for the imperial court as a tribute tea. The tea buds turn golden after aging, that’s why it is called jingua (golden pumpkin). The sizes of this tea range from 100 grams to more than 100 kilograms!
Bamboo Tube Tea (Zhutong Cha)
In the making of making this tea, bamboo tubes are filled with pu erh maocha and roasted on wood fire. The maocha inside the bamboo tube will be steamed, softened, and then compressed. This way it has the tube shape as well as the fresh aroma of the bamboo.
At last, there’s the pillar shape. This shape of pu erh is often used to process leftover teas that result after sorting (Huang Pian). Pillar shape pu erh teas are often sold in higher weights starting from 500g to 5kg. This is because the unit cost of such teas are relatively low.