There are two types of puer: sheng cha (raw tea) and shu cha (ripe tea). The initial process for both is much the same as that of green tea and creates a type of tea called mao cha. For true puer, large leaves (with var. assamica lineage) grown in Yunnan province must be used. Once the leaves are plucked they are withered briefly and heated by pan ring to ‘kill-green’. During this process the temperature is key, as the function of some enzymes must be maintained to ensure long-term ageing; too high and this will not occur. The leaves are then rolled by machine for the best results before being sun-dried for a couple of hours and then sorted. At this stage they can be sold as a loose-leaf tea or used to create puer or other fermented teas.
Sheng cha is the original style, whose character is created by natural fermentation over time. The more modern style of puer is shu cha, which was introduced in the 1970s to meet a developing demand for puer, but is now considered a category of tea by itself. Shu cha is made by speeding up fermentation to reproduce the flavours and characteristics of sheng cha in a much shorter period. To achieve this it goes through wo dui (heaping) for 1 1⁄2–2 months, greatly speeding up the fermentation before the final compression. The leaves are then sorted before being compressed. Shu cha is also available in loose form.
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