Purple Rain Butter (紫娟熟茶, Zǐ Juān Shú Chá, "Purple Grace Ripe Tea") is made from the Zǐ Juān 紫娟 (“Purple Grace”) varietal of the Pu'er tea plant. This cultivar was developed in the early 21st century to meet the growing demand for purple tea, which had previously only been available as Zǐ Yá 紫芽 ("Purple Bud"), the naturally occurring mutant purple plant. The rarity of Zǐ Yá made it very expensive, and therefore, an unlikely candidate for Shu Pu'er, because the Wò Duī 渥堆 (“Moistening and Piling”) fermentation process requires a large mass of leaves to work efficiently, and it produces a lot of dust, sacrificing some of the integrity of the leaves during the turning process. For this reason, purple tea was initially synonymous with purple Sheng Pu'er. It wasn't until the widespread dissemination of the cloned Zǐ Juān 紫娟 (“Purple Grace”) varietal, as well as the development of the smaller scale Xiǎo Duī Zi 小堆子 (“Small Pile”) fermentation process, that fermented purple Pu'er became viable. Li Shulin applies his decades of experience fermenting Pu'er in small batches to 2nd and 3rd generation Zǐ Juān clones to produce this dark, jammy riot of purpleness obscured within the black of earthy Pu'er. It's like digging a shovel into the ground and finding out that the Earth is actually a big steamy blackberry brownie. In Chinese, this tea is called Purple Grace Shu Pu'er, but we named it Purple Rain Butter in a nod to both our staple 2009 Xiǎo Duī Zi Shu Pu'er and the legendary artist Prince, who died the year that we first acquired this tea.
I'm not a fan of every Shu Pu'erh, but this one is really satisfying. Its sweet earthiness has a very grounding, relaxing quality to it. I'm putting this on my short list of favorite Shu Pu'erh teas.