Pu’erh tea, also known as Pu’er, is a rare and unusual tea that stands out from other teas due to its unique processing, storage, and taste. In this lesson, we’ll delve into the world of Pu’erh and attempt to demystify this fascinating tea.
Origins and Processing
Pu’erh tea is only produced in the Yunnan province of southern China and is one of the oldest forms of tea. It is made from the larger-leafed assamica variety of Camellia sinensis and is the only tea that is actually fermented, not just oxidized. Fermentation involves microbes and is a process that occurs in the creation of wine, cheese, yogurt, leavened bread, compost, and Pu’erh tea.
There are two general categories of Pu’erh tea: Raw (Sheng) Pu’erh and Ripened (Shou) Pu’erh. Raw Pu’erh is processed similarly to green tea and is sometimes pressed into various shapes, such as a “toucha” or “bird’s nest”. After processing, the tea is carefully stored and aged for several years, refining the tea and bringing out flavors unlike any other variety. Well-aged Raw Pu’erhs can be quite expensive and have a connoisseur following.
Ripened Pu’erh undergoes a faster, deeper aging process by piling it together and adding moisture to encourage oxidation and fermentation. This only takes about 3 months and is therefore significantly less expensive than Raw Pu’erh. The resulting tea tastes similar to a green Pu’erh that has been aged for 15 to 20 years but has a deeper color and thicker body.
Storage and Medicinal Properties
The ideal storage for Pu’erh tea is a temperate, controlled environment. It should not be too dry or too humid and hot, as this can cause the tea to dry out or the microbes to die. A wine cellar or a cigar humidor works well for storing Pu’erh.
While Pu’erh tea lacks the polyphenols that give tea its mouthfeel and astringency, it has been consumed for centuries for medicinal reasons. The tea is processed using healthy microbes and microflora, which are also found in yogurt and required for proper digestive function.
Flavor Profile and Infusion
Pu’erh tea has a unique earthy, woodsy aroma, with flavors reminiscent of mushrooms, earthy herbs, leather, and hay. The tea can also have notes of tobacco, musty antique store, and barnyard. The tea is smooth and refreshing, making it an excellent choice for multiple infusions. Pu’erh tea is very forgiving when it comes to steeping time, and the depth and quality of the tea remain consistent, regardless of the infusion time.
Pu’erh tea is an extraordinary tea with a fascinating history, unique processing, and flavor profile. Its rarity and distinctive characteristics have made it a favorite among tea connoisseurs. By understanding the processing, storage, and flavor profile of Pu’erh tea, you too can appreciate this exceptional tea.