What is Pu Erh Tea?
Pu erh is a tea that originates from Yunnan, China. It can be sold in loose leaf (Mao Cha), brick or cake form ( pressed into discs). Puerh is arguably the oldest cultivated tea in the world with evidence of use within Yunnan, China reaching back over 2000 years! The ancient peoples of this area most likely used the tea leafs for medicinal use. Puerh was given as tribute to various emperors of China for centuries and in recent decades has seen a re ignition of interest within China and the West because of its unique flavour characteristics! We could go into medicinal properties and this tea's effects on the body but we prefer to admire puerh for its flavour and hobby of collecting! Grades of puerh are roughly set out as:
- Terrace or plantation
- Wild Arbor
- Old Arbor (Da Shu)
- Ancient Arbor (Gu Shu)
What Is Raw Puerh?
Raw or 'Sheng' is Pu Erh that has gone through minimal processing meaning that natural bacteria and fungus that was present on the leafs of the tea is still around, alive and producing enzymes. Over time, these enzymes will ferment the tea, changing the flavour from youthful, floral, fruity bitterness to more aged, sweet and complex notes. These tea's (just like cigars' require a level of humidity (55-70RH) to be aged for best results.
What Is Ripe Puerh Tea?
Ripe or (Shou) is a Raw Pu Erh that undergoes an accelerated fermentation process or (wet piling). This takes 7 + weeks. In the early 80’s factory owners in Yunnan wanted to replicate the taste of a heavily aged Raw using this method. The results were similar…but not the same! Ripe tea’s will be dark,smooth, sweet maybe earthy. With age these teas will become more rounded, smoother, sweeter, perhaps with hints of mushroom or camphor. Again, Ripe Pu erh needs a level of humidity to help reach its best potential. 55-75RH is best.
Because someone who buys loose tea must, unlike someone who buys non-loose tea, individually measure it to use it in a cup, mug or teapot, this person can more easily control the flavour and strength of the tea that they will drink. Loose tea can be brewed especially effectively with use of a gaiwan, a Chinese lidded bowl that is used for infusing tea leaves and consuming tea.
So Whats The Big Deal???
When a fresh voyager embarks on their tea journey and starts to appreciate and explore tea, ultimately Pu erh is at the end of the line. The place where ‘proper tea heads’ can hang their hat and say “i’m home!". But why? Pu erh has an insanely vast spectrum of flavours within. The taste of your tea will evolve, even month after month with little nuances. That coupled with the fact that brewing tea in a controlled way can be challenging means that every tea session you have will most likely be unique in one way or another. Raw Puerh is highly regarded for its pleasant after taste that can sometimes linger for 20 minutes or more. With a good tea such as a Gu Shu (ancient arbor) you may notice a returning sweetness after drinking. The hobby of collecting and appreciating your tea, watching it evolve is very satisfying. Don’t forget to brew with a Gaiwan (lidded bowl) with short infusions. Always use filtered water, it really does make a big difference!
Annual China Tea Trips
We regularly visit Hong Kong And Guangdong searching out new and interesting tea’s for your tea table! Our store is being added to all the time, make sure to keep track of the new in stock section. We currently offer the widest selection of Pu erh tea in the U.K along side many other tea such as Oolong, White & Black tea!
Tips for a tea noob!
When embarking on your tea journey please remember that to understand any one genre of tea will take time. For instance, Raw Pu Erh alone carries a breadth of flavours and taste profiles. Add to that the changing character of the tea over time means there is an ever changing selection available, each unique. Most importantly, have fun and enjoy the ride!
If your just sitting out and need more help, tips and advice please check out our blog.
If you need any advise on what might suit your pallet or any questions relating to Pu Erh tea in general please get in touch.