Whether it is mandarin oranges or tangerines, citrus fruits have played a large role in Chinese medicine for centuries. So it is no surprise to find a practice of stuffing tea into these dried fruits.
Starting back around the Song Dynasty (900-1269CE), citrus fruit was used to treat sore throats, nausea, and congestion. The fruit would be eaten, then the rind would be dried and steeped in boiling water or tea. There is currently no known documentation around when tea, and specifically puerh, began being stuffed into dried citrus fruit. However given that the Song Dynasty continued the rise of tea as an everyday beverage for all Chinese people, that began during the previous dynasty, it is not a far stretch to speculate that tea may have been stuffed into citrus during this period. Much of the citrus fruit in China is also grown in the same regions as the tea – Yunnan, Guangdong and Fujian.
How Mandarin Oranges are Stuffed with Puerh
As you can imagine it is a rather labor intensive to stuff tea into an empty citrus rind. To start, a small hole is carved into the top of the fruit and then needle nose plyers are used to reach into the fruit and pull out all the citrus meat and thin the rind. Then, while the rind is still soft, tea is dropped into the rind, the fruit is then shook and the tea gently pressed down until the rind is full. The cap is put back on and the fruit is put out to sun dry or into a dryer at less than 200°F to dry the rind. The tea has already been fully dried. So, the thing to note about this production process, the goal is to not crack the rind while pulling apart the fruit or stuffing in the tea. The amount of money a tea manufacturer can get for these creations is judged on how little damage there is to the rind.
Since this tea is thought of more as medicine in China, its flavor profile is rarely considered. However, those of us approaching it strictly for its flavor will find a similarity to Earl Grey. It is earthier, because of the aging of the puerh and citrus rind, but still has a citrus finish. One of our favorites is a 2007 Mandarin Orange stuffed with a shu puerh from Yunnan.
How to Brew a Mandarin Orange Stuffed with Puerh
Western Style Preparation: Break off roughly 3 grams (about a teaspoon) of puerh and orange rind and add to infuser. Steep 2-3 minutes with boiling water. Re-steep a second time for 3-4 minutes. Try additional infusions at 5 minutes each while you are still happy with the taste & strength of infusion. Store any unused mandarin orange puerh in an open zip-lock bag away from any strong aromas (a home office is a great location). This tea can continue to age for years to come if desired.
Asian Style Preparation: Using a medium size Gaiwan infuse 2/3 to one whole mandarin orange ball with boiling water. Perform a quick wash by pouring boiling water over the mandarin orange puerh ball before immediately discarding. Then steep 20 seconds and pour off into a cup or small pitcher and enjoy. Steep a second time for about 15 seconds and enjoy. Steep 6-10 more times adding slightly to the infusion time subsequent infusion.