Aged to "Pu-Erh"fection
Pronounced oddly enough as "Pu-ar", this tea is the tea of Emperors. Plucked primarily from wild tea trees (wild generally refers to trees that have been allowed to grow in their natural state as opposed to constantly pruned to remain as low growing bushes) growing in the Yunnan province in China, Pu-Erh Tea is made from tea leaves harvested from the Camellia sinensis (assamica) plant.
"Black" Pu-Erh teas are not fermented per the normal fermenting process, but instead undergoes fermentation through a ripening process where the raw green tea leaves are pressed into cakes (also known as "bing") and then set aside to ferment. This process can happen either through a "cooking" method, or through ageing.
Aged pu-erh tea cakes (or tea blocks) are more widely sought after than the ripened ones, with some aged tea blocks fetching high prices.
Why Pu-Erhs Are Different
What makes pu-erh teas different from other teas derived from the Camellia Sinensis plant are its unique properties, such as,
- Pu-Erh teas are made from wild tea trees, not cultivated ones.
- Large tea leaves are harvested of the tea variety Camellia Sinensis assamica.
- Pu-Erh teas are not processed and fermented like black teas, they are instead processed only minimally and pressed into cakes or blocks, and aged or ripened, or sold as-is in its "green", or raw, state.
Different Types of Pu-Erh Tea
Pu-Erh teas can be classified into three groups, and these can further be divided into four different types of pu-erh teas.
Pu-Erhs can be classified as,
- Green, or raw Pu-Erhs - as with other green teas, pu-erh green teas are only minimally processed.
- Black, or fermented Pu-Erh - these teas are ripened or "cooked" for about one year to get a matured flavor.
- Secondary-fermented teas - these Pu-Erhs do not (normally) undergo the ripening/cooking method and instead are aged naturally from Green Tea blocks.
The different types of Pu-Erh are,
- Mao cha - Raw (green) Pu-Erh tea sold in loose leaf form.
- Raw/Green - Pu-Erh tea leaves that have been pressed into cake form (these cakes are also known as "bing").
- Cooked/Ripened - this type of Pu-Erh tea has been processed (ripened) and fermented. It is a fairly new process that was introduced to imitate the taste of the aged Pu-Erhs, without having to wait for a protracted period of time to get the tea.
- Aged raw Pu-Erh - originally Pu-Erh tea was aged, not ripened/cooked. Ideally Pu-Erh tea needs to be aged using the raw/green pressed tea leaves. Maocha and cooked Pu-Erh does not lend itself to ageing properly, not having the same clean taste that pressed green Pu-Erh tea does.
Sources of Pu-Erh Tea Leaves
Pu-erh tea leaves although ideally harvested from wild tea trees which have had no human cultivation, are also harvested from these sources,
- Cultivated tea trees - this is the least desirable of Pu-Erh teas as pesticides and fertilizers are utilized to cultivate the tea plants. This can bring about a bitter taste to the tea. Pu-Erhs made from these tea trees are considered to be inferior.
- Wild plantation trees - although better than cultivated tea trees, these tea trees are only a few steps above, having at some point been cultivated and therefore having pesticide and fertilizer residue still in them.
- Wild tea trees - leaves plucked from wild tea trees are considered to be the best for making Pu-Erh teas and are highly sought after. Connoisseurs of Pu-Erh teas say that these teas have more complex tastes, such as hints of mint or camphor which comes about as a result of the surrounding foliage (most of which are camphor trees).
...Read the next article in the series on Making Pu-Erh Tea
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