Just recently, after a long search [& a lot of tasting] we were very pleased to receive two new Pu’erh teas at the Tea House. These are currently just being served in the Tea House, but will be available to buy online and in the Tea House soon. We get a lot of questions about this type of tea so thought it was time for a blog....
So why Pu’erh? This unique type of tea is often deemed an acquired taste and until the end of last year our experiences of Pu'erh had not been too positive. After some further research, some expert advice and tasting of a few select samples our perceptions started to change and we realised that if we could source one or two great examples in 2015 then Pu'erh could be experienced and enjoyed by all, not just the connoisseur. As with all our tea we like to understand every aspect of the tea and source it properly. We had some learning to do!
In this blog I though I would share what we understand as the key facts for Pu’erh. As with all teas, we are still learning new details everyday, so if you can add to what we say please do get involved in the conversation! Pu’erh (or Puer, Pu-er or Pu Er) is a post-fermented dark tea from China. Simply put this is when fermentation of the leaf takes place after the tea has been processed, which means it continues to change with age. This particular type of tea is named after the small town of Pu’erh in Yunnan, a province in Southwest China which borders Laos, Vietnam and Burma. Pu’erh tea is created from máochá, a mostly unoxidised green tea processed from a large leaf variety of the Camellia Sinensis tea plant. The leaves are initially picked, withered, heated to stop oxidation (kill green) and then dried. Máochá can then be sold as a loose leaf tea or used to create Pu’erh tea.
There are two types of Pu’erh, Sheng Cha (raw tea) or Shu Cha (ripe tea). Sheng Cha is created when Máochá is compressed, naturally aged and then matured for several years. All Pu’erhs begin in this way. The traditional style Pu’erh are then compressed to again make Sheng Cha. The compression forms them into bings (cakes or disks). These are then aged for many years. It normally takes a long time for this type to turn dark in the modern environment, usually five to eight years before the colour is acceptable and another two to three before they are “ripe” enough. Therefore most Sheng Pu’erhs are not considered aged until at least 10 years.
The more modern style of Pu’erhs (Shu Cha) go through another process before this final compression. This is ‘Wo Dui’ ripening, when the leaves are placed in a temperature and humidity controlled room for several months. This speeds up the post-fermentation to copy that of an aged raw Sheng Cha. The leaves are then compressed to form Shu Cha bings. Shu Cha is also available in loose form.
Both types appeal to different drinkers. Shu Cha offers an increased smoothness and lower bitterness straight away, whereas Sheng Cha takes many years to develop a similar character. Both types can be aged further, but Sheng Cha will develop a greater complexity over time. Shu Cha will not develop dramatically over time. Another major difference is cost, with Aged Sheng Cha bings sometimes being sold for thousands of pounds. In fact there are Pu’erh collectors who have long wish lists of named vintages from various established makers, which are either rare or highly regarded. This is an aspect which deserves another blog.
The loose-leaf form of Shu Pu’erh is by far the most consumed for actual 'drinking'. The compressed forms are sold mostly for speculation (see above), decoration and gift purposes.
We serve two different Pu’erhs. One is a Shu Cha called Golden Tip Imperial 2005 from the Mengai region. This tea comes in loose form and gives a lovely round earthy yet sweet flavour, with a long, clean aftertaste. It originates from a fine tippy tea which produces its full body. We will also be selling packets of this Pu’erh.
The second is a 2014 Sheng Cha bing called Zhangjia San Dui from the Bulang region. Although not aged for very long we chose this one as it has a delicate yet distinctive flavour ideal for those starting their Pu’erh experiences, or for those who like it a bit lighter. For those who want a bit more strength and bitterness it can be brewed longer, without losing character.
We feel that our exploration into Pu’erh is only just starting and have enjoyed our education to date on this fascinating type of tea. There is still much to explore and learn and we look forward to your reactions on tasting our selection. No doubt we will share our ongoing experiences with you in future blogs.
We look forward to sharing tea with you soon!