If you read How Puer is Made you may be wondering how your maocha [the loose leaf, dry puer material] gets to its pressed state. Puer can be pressed into an infinite number of forms. Any form that can be made into a mold will suffice. Some traditional forms even include shapes like melons or mushrooms. In addition to a variation in forms, the pressing methods also vary, from hydraulic presses to weighted stones. For the purposes of this article, we will be focusing on stone pressed puer cakes.
Every form has an ideal size and weight, for example some tuocha [bird's nest shaped tea like this] are around 100 grams. The only limits on weight are the size of the form and being able to adequately dry the tea after pressing. Other than that, the sky is the limit. Stone pressed cakes can vary in size, but in these photographs the traditional qizibing [seven cake stack] weight of 357 grams is used. A stack or tong of seven of these cakes will be 2.5 kilograms. The tea is weighed in a metal cylinder with holes on the bottom to allow steam to pass through the base. This is also the step where the neifei [inner ticket] is placed in the cylinder near the top of the tea.
The metal cylinder is then placed upon a steam vent. The steam passes through the tea briefly as it courses through the cylinder and through the top of the tea. This softens the tea and readies it to be pressed. If one were to press raw maocha, it would crunch together in a brittle mess. The steaming allows the tea to accept a pressing and stick together afterwards.
The steamed tea is now pliable. The pliable tea is dumped from the cylinder into a bag and flattened using the palm of the hand or fingers in a similar manner to the way one flattens a ball of pizza dough. The left over cloth of the long cloth bag is then balled up and place in the center of the cake as it is passed off to the presser. You will notice a dimple in stone pressed puer cakes such as this one. This is the imprint of the left over cloth.
The last step is to the place the cloth bag underneath a very heavy stone. The stone is lifted on top on the cake and a person stands atop the stone. After doing a little puer pressing dance for 15 seconds or so, they hop off of the stone and allow the stone to sit atop the cake until it cools a bit. After the cake has cooled, it is removed from the cloth sack and placed on a drying rack.
The pressed cake is then set out in the sun in order to dry the cake. The amount of time varies greatly depending on weather and altitude. In some cases the cakes are placed in a hongfang [heated room] in order to dry, or dried in the shade. There is a danger in not drying the cakes fast enough due to the remaining moisture from the pressing. If the cakes are too moist, mold could form and ruin the cake or turn it sour. Therefore, pressing is often weather dependent if a producer intends on sun drying. Our 2014 cakes are all sun dried on racks in a traditional manner.