Pu-erh is a large leaf variety of tea (Camilla Sinensis) from China’s Yunnan province. Pu-erh tea is thought to have many health benefits, including lowering cholesterol and reducing body weight.
Pu-erh teas have an ‘elemental’, earthy flavor. Its deep red amber color and rich underlying hardiness is appealing to many – tea lovers appreciate the rich, multi-layered flavors, while casual tea drinkers enjoy the smoky quality that separates it from other blends.
One of the most oxidized tea varieties, pu-erh is aged and often more expensive than other tea types. Just like fine wine, this tea actually gets better with age and doesn’t go stale like the other tea types.
Pu-erh has many similarities to black tea; however, it is not a black or oolong variety. It falls into a tea category of its own.
How is pu-erh tea made?
The large-leafed tea is picked, processed, and partially fired, which helps retain moisture. Then, the slightly moist tea leaves are piled up and left to ferment.
The leaves are then aged and may be packed into cakes or bricks.
The exact processing method used for this type of tea is unique and hasn’t been divulged in detail to the rest of the world.
Different types of pu-erh tea
There are two main types of pu-erh tea:
- Sheng (aka raw), and
- Shou (aka cooked).
Shou is a more modern production than sheng.
After harvesting, both types share the following processing steps: withering, panning, rolling, drying, and sorting. A sheng pu-erh is then compressed and dried. However, a shou pu-erh is fermented to accelerate the aging process, sorted again, compressed, then aged for a few months more.
A sheng pu-erh undergoes a much more gradual aging process, giving it more complexity. It continues to evolve its flavor profile over time.
How does pu-erh tea taste?
Pu-erh has a distinct flavor that one can easily recognize, and this is one of the main reasons for its wide popularity.
Its flavor is markedly different from the other teas, and may contain notes of earth, chocolate, or fungus. It has a mellow and smooth taste resulting from the extensive oxidizing and aging processes that it undergoes.
Many types of pu-erh tea smell earthy (some would say even a bit fishy). However, the taste is very different from the aroma, so don’t let that put you off.
Like whiskey or fine wine, pu-erh tea gets better with time. Some pu-erhs are aged for more than 50 years and are highly prized for the superb, mellow taste they acquire over that time.
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