Breaking up a Puerh cake
Breaking up a Puerh cake is not difficult and it’s worth doing properly to get the most out of your tea. The Chinese believe that breaking up a cake correctly helps the tea to ‘breathe’ before infusing and improves the flavor of the end-product. Grinding your puerh to dust will mean that you will only get limited infusions and your tea will be full of leaf fragments.
Knife: You’ll need a short, relatively blunt blade or Puerh Pick – nothing too sharply-pointed or -edged or you risk cutting up the leaves and/or injuring your hand. A Puerh knife, Puerh Pick, parmesan or oyster knife, letter opener, or even a screwdriver are all good.
Brush: If you want to be extra authentic you can use a soft tea brush to clean your Puerh cake of dust before breaking it up. How much you break off is up to you; you can do just enough for a single infusion of a whole cake, which can then be stored (preferably) in a yixing storage jar.
How to break up Beeng Cha and Brick Puerh
To break up a Beeng Cha (disc-shaped Pu-erh cake) or brick: You are aiming to split the cake laterally as if it were a bread roll. Choose a relatively broad-bladed knife – 1-2cm is fine. Place your cake flat on a clean cloth on a solid surface, grip it with your hand protected by the cloth , hold your knife with the blade parallel with the cake, and gently start probing into the edges of the cake, making deep incisions towards the centre. Once you have done this, start again to insert the knife into the edges of the cake, this time gently levering it to prize the disk apart. Next take one of the disk halves and gently bend it in your hands so that the leaves come apart, using your knife to prize out any particularly stubborn leaves. Try to keep as many of the leaves as intact as you can.
How to break up Tuo Cha Puerh
The principle here is the same as above. However Tuo Chas tend to be smaller and denser than other Puerh cakes, so it pays to use a special Puerh Pick or a very narrow-bladed knife. Again, on a flat surface covered by a cloth, grip the Tuo Cha firmly and start to work the pick up through the bottom of the cake, gently prizing away the leaves until you have the desired amount of tea for your infusion. There are plenty of good videos on the web demonstrating these techniques - just google 'breaking up a Puerh cake' and enjoy the show!