More than one thousand years ago in China during the days of the Tang Dynasty (AD618-906) tea producers started compressing processed tea leaves into cakes or bricks in order to conserve the leaf and make it easier to transport.
Many compressed teas that are available today actually consist of Puerh Tea, though others are made from normal green or black teas.
The shapes of compressed teas vary from neat little bowls to flat circles, or triangles., bowls shaped like birds nests, globes in the form of a melon, tiny discs or balls and rectangular or square slabs.
Some are wrapped in bamboo or dried banana leaves, others inside grasses or paper. Some are packed simply, others in a stack of four or more cakes.
To brew compressed teas, the required amount is flaked or broken off with the fingers or a knife blade and the crumbled tea is then steeped in hot water for 1-5 minutes.
The longer the tea is steeped, the darker the colour of the liquor and the stronger the flavour. Black compressed Puerh tea can be steeped two or three times. Green Puerh tea can be re-steeped several times.
Taken from The Tealover’s Companion by Jane Pettigrew and Bruce Richardson.