A Synopsis on Pu reh Tea
All puerh, whether it is raw or cooked, must be grown in south-western China’s Yunnan Province. Other countries such as Laos and Malawi in Africa produce very similar tea but technically their teas cannot be called puerh. Hei cha, also known as dark tea, is a more appropriate term. All pu erh is hei cha but not all hei cha is pu erh. Many believe Yunnan to be the birth place of the tea plant, Camellia Sinensis. Each of the mountain areas that produce tea have a distinctive style and taste.
1. Tea has been grown in Yunnan since at least the Tang Dynasty. Compressed tea was used as currency in China, Tibet, and Russia. For the majority of its history, all pu erh was of the greener raw variety.
2. The important thing to understand here is that there was no emphasis on aging tea like we have now. When demand for aged pu erh did rise, a method of speeding up the fermentation process was invented.
3. There were experimental batches as early as the 1950’s but the process was not refined until the 1970’s. The Menghai and Kunming Tea Factories usually take credit for this discovery. The basic principles were borrowed from Guangxi’s Liu.
Note: Bao, is also a type of fermented tea
Sheng, also known as raw pu erh, is processed very similarly to green tea. The leaves are briefly pan-fried before being rolled and laid out in the sun to dry. Unlike the kill-green step that is used for most teas, the goal is to slow down oxidation to a snail’s pace. This allows the tea to age slowly over time. If there is too much heat applied the tea will not age as desired. Once dried the tea is called mao cha, or rough tea. It can be left loose but is most often compressed into cakes or bricks.
Shou, also known as cooked puerh, is artificially fermented in order to achieve a dark and earthy taste. You may also see it referred to as ripe. The name is a bit of a misnomer as there is no “cooking” being done to the tea. During the process known as Wò Dūi the tea is piled, moistened with water, and continually turned. This combined with beneficial bacteria like Aspergillus Niger effectively makes a tea compost. The process takes about a month to complete. Afterward, the leaves are dried and then either kept loose or compressed.
"You know it when you are drinking, you are drinking time." Max Falkowitz
1.Raw pu erh is famous for having hui gan, a comeback sweetness in the throat. The younger the tea is, the more likely it will be to have some bite. Lower water temperatures and shorter steep times can help dial down this aspect.
2. Shou pu erh, on the other hand, has an earthy and woodsy taste. Mushroom is the tasting note that is heard most often, but there are those pu erh's that taste like cacao and brown sugar too. This tea usually has a soothing natural sweetness. Cooked puerh brews up extremely dark and it’s often even darker on the second infusion. Beware of poor quality tea (aka anything you’ll find on the shelf of the local Asian grocery). They will most assuredly taste like a mushroom infested swamp.
3. For a tea to be called pu reh, it must be made from the large -leaf subspecies Camillia sinesis var assamica and grown in Yunnan province in China's southwest region, where Han Chinese as well as many ethnic minorities share borders with Burma and Laos. Its one of the few designated, and protected origin product by the Chinese government.