January 24, 2019

How to Brew Puerh Tea, the Shou Edition

The key to drinking shou puerh is to acquire good shou puerh. I do not recommend purchasing your shou puerh from a grocery store. My first experience buying shou puerh was just that. I bought what I now know to be a tuo cha from a well-known grocery chain. Maybe I didn't brew the tea correctly but I'm pretty sure my tasting experience had to do with poor leaf quality.

My favorite aromatic qualities in a shou puerh are earth and chocolate. Sweet potato is good. I like a full bodied, inkly liquor. I find it challenging to drink a shou with barn and fungal notes. And if it smells fishy, compost immediately.

Related - Learning to Evaluate Shou Puerh, a Review of Teanami Palace Mo Hei

So, how do I brew puerh tea? I use a gaiwan.


The leaf:water ratio is a must to make a good cup of tea. Too little or too much of one or the other and you get weakly flavored water or a bowl of bitter liquor. I find that shou puerh gives you a bit of wiggle room especially a good shou. If I err, I don't typically get something unsatisfactory. I tend to go a little leaf heavy for that thick soup. I came across a magical leaf:water ratio for puerh--it works for oolongs, too--by reading tea blogs. In fact, the tea blogger who hipped me to this ratio I am about to reveal is oolong owl. Others confirmed it. Use 1 gram of leaf to 15 grams of water. (If the puerh tea has a reputation for being a powerhouse, you can use 1:20.)

I like to use a gaiwan that's anywhere from 100 ml to 150 ml capacity. I actually don't have big gaiwans. I've only been tempted occasionally to invest in a larger capacity gaiwan.Much of the tea I make if for my own consumption so I smaller gaiwan is best. If you don't know the capacity of your gaiwan, fill the gaiwan with water to lid level. Pour that water into a measuring cup to find out your gaiwan volume.

My step-by-step guide to steeping puerh
    1. Set out the tea and teaware.
    2. Weigh your tea based on your gaiwan volume.
    3. Boil the water. You want to use 212 F/100 C temperature water to brew shou puerh.  
    4. Brew your puerh. You can do this casually, or more formally as follows:
    • Pour hot water into the gaiwan, replace the lid, pour out the water; 
    • Add the leaves to the gaiwan, pour enough water over them to cover them, wait for several seconds, then discard the water (I like to do this step twice for shou puerh); 
    • Infuse the leaves by filling the gaiwan with water to lid level and gently stirring the leaves with the lid; 
    • Steep for 5 to 10 seconds; 
      Drink then infuse repeatedly gradually increasing the steep time.
      You could increase the formality of your brewing session by evaluating dry, rinsed, and infused leaves as well as assessing the aromatic qualities of each infusion.

        Related - Puerhshop - 2007 Menghai Yunhai Puerh


        Full disclosure: I don't know the absolutely correct spelling of puerh. I have seen it written as puerh, pu erh, pu'erh, pu-erh, puer, pu er, pu'er, and pu-er. I know that the town of Pu er/Pu'er in Yunnan Province was a major tea trading center during the Song Dynasty (source: Tea by Gascoyne et al.)

        What I can definitively is that there are two types of puerh: sheng (aka raw) and shou (aka cooked). The former is a much older production than the latter. After plucking, both sheng and shou share the following processing steps: withering, panning, rolling, drying, and sorting. A sheng puerh is compressed and dried. A shou puerh is fermented to accelerate the aging process, sorted again, compressed, then aged for a few months. A sheng puerh is more complex for having undergone a much more gradual aging process and it continues to evolve its profile over time. A shou is more-or-less a drink now tea.

        I mentioned a tuo cha at the start of the post. Puerh is compressed into several forms one of which is a tuo cha or nest shape. The typical form is a 357 bing cha or cake. There are also mini cakes (see the first photo). 

        If you want to give shou puerh a try, I highly recommend my current favorite, Trap Bird by White 2 Tea. Let me know your favorite shou puerh in the comments.


        1. Awesome guide! Funnily enough, all of the different spellings of puerh are technically correct. They are so many variations because of the different methods of transliterating into English. I tend to go with puerh because that seems to be the one most commonly used by tea drinkers in the U.S.

        2. I knew a tea head would weigh in on the spelling issue! Thanks, Nicole.


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