Breaking into a Puer Cake

Puerh and other heicha
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Shine Magical
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Location: Boston, MA

Sun Jun 21, 2020 10:49 am

My friend asked me to break off a piece of puer from one of his cakes as he was setting up the teaware for our session.
When I started to pry into the cake from the outside in, he got upset with me (he takes his puer very seriously).
He told me he only breaks apart puer from the inside out, meaning putting the puer pick into the bing hole. He couldn't really explain why he needed to do it that way, other than that's the proper way to do it.
He really struggled to break off a piece since that area of most tea cakes is very compressed. I think he broke a lot of leaves doing it that way, whereas with my way it's a lot more gentle and makes more sense to me.

Your thoughts?
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Sun Jun 21, 2020 11:07 am

I would take the easier and more gentle path... No point forcing the cake and risk piercing my hand doing it..... hehehehe... I would usually allow the cake to age a little and it will eventually loosen up (with the exception of iron cake). The edges would come off very easily without much effort.
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Location: Oslo, Norway

Sun Jun 21, 2020 11:19 am

There's no fixed rule here. I usually go from the inside and out, like your friend, but not always.

If your friend insists there's only one way to do it, you can show him this video from Cloud ;)

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Joined: Wed Oct 11, 2017 3:26 pm
Location: Montreal

Sun Jun 21, 2020 11:22 am

I'm with you on this matter. I've only heard about breaking a cake from the center quite recently - if one pries off only a bit for each session then this way the shape of the cake is initially preserved better. That's the only advantage i can think of. And it only works if the leaves are loose.
On the other hand, when going from the outside, it is much easier to follow the horizontal leaf strata when breaking the cake, resulting in less broken bits.
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Sun Jun 21, 2020 11:39 am

I don’t think there is a certain way to break pu erh; however, the goal is to damage lease leaves as possible vs. safely break them without stabbing yourself. I drink pu erh in cake, brick, tuo, and other forms, I either wait for them to loosen over time or I would gently stab around the edge to loosen them without breaking the whole thing.
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Sun Jun 21, 2020 1:32 pm

considering the compression is usually looser at the outer edge, pulling tea from there is effective and low-effort. until you run out of that loose edge. :mrgreen:

i'm still learning, but if it's an expensive cake i've never tried, i'll pry some out of the outer edge. if i decide i don't like it and might want to re-sell it as a partial cake, then having a bit missing from there isn't a big deal. i think people would appreciate a mostly intact cake.
if the compression is really loose, then maybe i'll try taking a sample from the center instead. but i think i can usually do less damage by pulling from the outside.

if it's a cake i know i'm keeping, i usually start by splitting the cake in half horizontally like in cloud's video that @Balthazar posted. i end up with two circular, half-thickness sheets. not two semi-circles.
i usually work the pick in from the binghole, but if the compression is really crazy, i might attack from the outside, too.
i feel that doing it like this gets the hard part out of the way, and when i want more tea from it later, it's easier to break off pieces from a thin sheet.

and for the record, i love loose compression. especially with big, beautiful leaves.
i don't think i'll ever be thankful for hard-compressed cakes.
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Sun Jun 21, 2020 3:33 pm

He's allowed to be precious about his stuff... but if he is he'd better learn to warn people about the fact in advance.

The video by Cloud, above, makes most sense to me if you need to break up a whole cake or large part thereof.

For me, I'm usually breaking up 20-40g at a time. I'll usually snap off the edges of the disc to (eventually) end up with a square - you remove a full-thickness section of the cake, favouring the least-compressed (ie most-aged) leaf, and the straight-edged/square tablets you end up with are generally more efficient to store.

Taking thin slices off the back can give you a weird sampling of leaf that isn't necessarily representative (since cakes aren't always homogeneous throughout their thickness), an as you've noted, binghole-out is a pain in the arse.

At the end of the day, I have tea to drink, not to look at, so keeping the bings pretty just isn't a consideration for me.
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Location: Ontario, Canada

Sun Jun 21, 2020 4:56 pm

I think what is more important is the technique, and tool(s), you use to pry off the pieces. As with most things, smart small; don't try and break apart large pieces right away. I point my knife away from me, starting at the edge (like 12 o'clock). I then work backwards and across, often taking out a wedge-like section from the edge to close to the middle (that section goes into a tin for week(s) worth of drinking). When I start at the edge, or anywhere else, I'm hoping to break off a small chunk, working slowly with my finger close to the edge of the knife/item...always in control. If it's an older raw pu'erh (more compressed) I wear a glove on my left hand in case the knife doesn't go where expected.
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Sun Jun 21, 2020 5:04 pm

Balthazar wrote:
Sun Jun 21, 2020 11:19 am
There's no fixed rule here. I usually go from the inside and out, like your friend, but not always.

If your friend insists there's only one way to do it, you can show him this video from Cloud ;)
At the end it looks like he just snapped it in half and I've done that by accident with samples that weren't broken up *gasp*.
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Thu Jun 25, 2020 7:59 am

I also prefer the method of prying from the bing hole outward. I like this method because 1) I only break off small chunks at a time and I find that cakes start to disintegrate/fall apart more easily when starting from the outside edge 2) it seems more aesthetically pleasing to gradually thin our the round cake than to have a chunk missing off the side, and 3) I can hold the cake and pry/poke outward, away from my hand to avoid injury. I use a very small awl which makes it easy.
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