Once you start getting really hooked into tea, investing in good teaware is an obvious next step. I’ve got a few gaiwans and tiny cups in my cupboard, as well as the requisite filters, measuring spoons, and so forth, but one of the things that was conspicuously absent from my setup was a pu’erh knife, also called a tea knife.
Pu’erh knives are used to break apart tightly-packed cakes and bricks of dry tea. You can do the same thing with your fingers, of course, but it takes longer and you risk breaking up the large leaves into tiny bits, thus risking bitter tea when you start steeping. A pu’erh knife (which has a flat blade) or pick (which has a thin spike) allows you to do so without destroying the integrity of the tea leaves themselves.
I bought a lovely-looking tea knife off of eBay about 3 weeks ago, and it came in the mail last Friday. (I got it from a vendor called vin_enjoy, but there are a lot of others out there.) When I opened the heavily taped-up package, I was a bit nervous, since my anticipation had been pretty high. But honestly, I shouldn’t have worried. I mean, look at this thing: it’s gorgeous!
It’s about 6 inches long and one half of the wooden casing unscrews to reveal the blade. The blade itself is 1-2 inches long and ends in a dovetail point that’s thin enough to cut through tea cakes, but not thin enough to risk cutting through skin — or at least, I haven’t been clumsy enough to experience such misfortune yet. The handle feels heavy and comfortable in my hand, with a good weight to it.
But does it actually work?
It looks like it does. Here’s a cake from my cupboard:
When I tried making tea from this cake in the past, I got a few whole leaves, but it was difficult to find a weak spot and really dig in with my fingers. However, with the pu’erh knife, I was able to pry apart huge chunks of leaves fairly easily. I’ll probably need a bit more practice, but so far I’m pretty happy with my first attempt to pry the leaves off with the knife: