After experimenting with Puer for quite some time on the different water temperatures suitable for preparing and serving the tea, I found that bringing the tea to near boiling is extremely important for the first steep in order to induce enough heat into the leaves and bring out the fermentation and quality. While in doing so may cause the tea to become hotter than desired on the first steep, causing you to have to wait several minutes before undertaking the first steep, it nevertheless sets the tone for future steeps that can be done so at a cooler temperature.
I found that if the first steep is not hot enough initially it is very difficult to make up for the rest of the brewing later on. If the first steep is with water at a lower temperature and the leaves do not react properly they then react by only providing a semi-finished taste that does not bring out the full flavor. What is strange is that if you try to make up for this by doing a very hot steep the second time to try and activate the taste you were initially hoping for the first time it doesn’t work. It is almost as if the leaves do not know how to react and have been accustomed to the milder water temperature, and no matter what you do cannot bring it back.
Out of fairness for the first tea seeping, this has been more apparent to me for teas left in wetter environments, particularly where there is high humidity. All teas need to be brewed hot initially in order to open up and this cannot be emphasized enough, but there is a sweet spot between the hot and boiling point that you need to find for each tea. In the middle of those two points is a good point for green teas and Oolong but a bit higher at around 90% boiling is where Puer is best suited. Sometimes it is hard to gauge this point unless you have a programmed function set on your water heater or boiler, which are widely available in the market and recommended. Otherwise, you are going by feel and take a gamble each time. Nevertheless, over time you become more accustomed to this method but need to be careful.
In the case of Puer, if the first steep is not done hot enough it will cause the rest of the steeps to follow the same way. No matter how many times you steep again with hot water or how extra long you let it steep it will not make up for the fact that the first steep was weak and hence will pretty much ruin the whole preparation. This seems exaggerated but for Puer that has been subjected to wet environments this is something to keep in mind. If you are pouring the Puer out and fund that it doesn’t quite have enough color or full and rounded taste there is a good chance either it is too wet or you didn’t steep it hot enough in the beginning. It is hard to see a nice Puer go to waste and many people face this problem throughout their tea making.
Also, make sure there are enough leaves in the pot. Despite what we just said, the third element to this equation is that perhaps there were never enough leaves to begin with in the teapot. If too much water is added to a pot with not enough tea the ratio of tea and leaves is skewed, causing the taste to be weak and bland. Make sure there are enough leaves and this in itself is an art. In short, we suggest about 1/3 of the pot for Puer tealeaves if they are fluffier and about 1/5 if they are a more refined powder. Mix this together with the right temperature, pot and mindset and you have yourself a good cup of tea.