For years since Teewald opened, one of the most common questions I've been asked is probably, "So, what's that, Pu Erh tea?" when a first-time visitor came to stop in front of the shelf with Pu Erh. I still get asked the same question up to a dozen times a day or more. How can you explain successfully what Pu Erh tea is in a few minutes? How can the broad world of Pu Erh tea be presented in a structured and understandable way? So I took the chance of the long winter holiday to conduct a kind of QnA for myself and try to answer the questions as clearly as possible.
What is pu erh tea? A quick glimpse
For a beginner Pu Erh Tea drinker, the easiest ways of recognising Pu Erh tea is by looking at the shape of the tea leaves and colour of the tea liquid.
When you look at the appearance of Pu Erh leaves, the first thing you notice is that the tea leaves are much bigger than other teas. This is due to the fact that most Pu Erh tea is made from Yunnan Da Ye Zhong (Yunnan Large-Leaf varietal) from plants that are known as Camellia Assamica instead of the common Camellia Sinensis used for producing other types of tea. In 2003, the Yunnan Provincial Bureau of Standards and Measures announced that Pu Erh tea was defined as "Tea produced from tea leaves of the large-leaf varietal (大叶种) harvested in a specific area of Yunnan Province."
Once brewed, you can see that the colors of the tea ranges from citrus green (Sheng Pu Erh, more intense and yellower than a green tea) to gold and amber (aged Sheng Pu Erh), to reddish brown like jujube (aged Sheng Pu Erh or lightly fermented Shu Pu Erh), and to an almost opaque and an even intenser colour than a black tea (Shu Pu Erh).
Origin of pu erh tea
Pu Erh tea has its roots in the province of Yunnan (云南) in southwestern China. The majority of the tea is grown in Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture (西双版纳傣族自治州) and in the mountains in the southern part of Yunnan province, bordering Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar. The name Pu Erh tea (普洱茶) is derived from the name of Pu Erh (普洱) city in Yunnan province, one of the trading centers in the famous Ancient Tea Horse Road, Cha Ma Gu Dao (茶马古道). Aboriginals of Yunnan have been producing Pu Erh tea in the mountains along the Lancang River (澜沧江) for thousands of years. As a Yunnan regional specialty tea, it is nowadays one of the 10 famous teas in China with so much history and tradition. Pu Erh Tea has been almost the only tea known to the Yunnan abriginal people before modern communications came through. For them, Pu Erh was the tea and tea was Pu Erh. They did not know any other tea.
Sheng pu erh and shu pu erh
Pu Erh Tea is mainly categorized as Sheng (生; raw) and Shu (熟; matured).
Some people state that Sheng Pu Erh tea has a similar flavor to lightly oxidized oolong tea, less astringent than green tea and weaker in aroma than black tea. Shu Pu Erh tea, on the other hand, has a unique flavor not found in other teas, that is often described as tree bark soaked in water. It is a combination of the old woody scent and a hint of fermentation. Or more accurately, it reminds of the smell of mold on the wood rather than the smell of wood itself. This comes from Aspergillus Luchuensis, a specific bacterium that is active in the post-fermentation of Shu Pu Erh tea.
Sheng Pu Erh
Sheng Pu Erh is the unfermented Pu Erh, the production of which is close to that of a green tea: picking, withering, sha qing (kill the green), rolling and drying. The Sha Qing process is done with a much lower temperature than for making green tea, as the process should not kill all the enzymes in Pu Erh in order to enable the tea to age by itself. Because of the similarity between the Pu Erh and Green tea productions, some people call the Sheng Pu Erh the Green Pu Erh. The difference is Green tea normally does not age due to the high Sha Qing temperature that kills most enzymes in the leaves to preserve the greenness of the leaves; Sheng Pu Erh leaves transform through time together with the tastes and tea energy. Of course, Sheng Pu Erh after the stage of drying is only known as Mao Cha (the rough tea), and the production of Sheng Pu Erh goes beyond drying, as most Pu Erh tea on the market are in pressed forms. The round, brick and other forms of Pu Erh are achieved by steaming Mao Cha again, shaping the leaves in desired forms and drying the formed tea cakes or bricks.
Unfermented Pu Erh has the closest taste to the natural tea leaves, and in comparison to a black or green, a Sheng Pu Erh provides more palpable Cha Qi (the closest translation for Cha Qi could be Tea Energy).
Shu Pu Erh
Shu Pu Erh is a post-fermented dark tea. The post-fermentation techniques were invented in the 1960s to imitate the tastes and tea body of an aged Sheng Pu Erh.
The early stages of Shu Pu Erh production is the same as the production of Sheng Pu Erh Mao Cha: picking, withering, sha qing (kill the green), rolling and drying. After the drying process, if the Mao Cha is selected for further processing into a Shu Pu Erh, the leaves will be sprayed with water and kept in a space with temperature from 35 °C to 60 °C depending on the desired result. With the moisture and the warm temperature, the leaves are left to ferment for 60-70 days. After this process, even freshly produced Shu Pu Erh tea has a dark red color, thick body and a deep flavor.
Depending on the quality, both Sheng Pu Erh and Shu Pu Erh can be stored and aged for years. It takes more than 20 years for the flavor to fully mature, so it can be stored and drunk for 10 to 50 years. Not only in China but also globally, Pu Erh tea is loved by many for its unique, rich and soft flavor deepens over years and for its alleged medicinal benefits.
Size of tea leaves, Da Ye Zhong or Xiao Ye Zhong?
Technically, only tea made from large-leaf varietal tea leaves cultivated or grown wild in Yunnan can be called Pu Erh tea. However, there are still three types of tea leaves used for making Pu Erh tea these days: small-leaf varietal, wild large-leaf varietal and cultivated large-leaf varietal.
First, there are wild varieties, traditionally cultivated varieties and improved tea trees for the small-leaf varietal. Contrary to popular belief, 90% of Pu Erh tea trees planted in tea gardens are improved small-leaf varieties. Then there are wild and cultivated tea trees for the large-leaf varietal. In nature, wild varieties account for about 95% of the total large-leaf varieties and cultivated varieties account for the remaining 5%. However, many of the Pu Erh tea on the market are made from cultivated large-leaf varieties. This is simply because picking the leaves of the wild large-leaf varietal is more difficult than that of the cultivated large-leaf varietal, and therefore, the former is not as favored by the tea producers as the latter.
The way to distinguish between the large-leaf varietal and small-leaf varietal first is to examine the shape of the leaves. Along the midline in the center of the leaf are leaf veins that extend to both sides. If these veins extend to the end and the margin on both sides of the leaf is small, it is a small-leaf varietal. On the other hand, if the leaf veins extend and bend relatively sharply and the margin on both sides of the leaf is broad and thick, it is a large-leaf varietal.
There is another difference between the large-leaf varietal and the small-leaf varietal. With the same fermentation time, the leaves of the large-leaf and those of the small-leaf change their color. Over the years, the tea leaves of the large-leaf varietal turn black and maroon. The leaves of the small-leaf varietal, on the other hand, turn reddish to reddish brown. After brewing, if the rest of the tea left in the pot is dark red and rough, it is a large-leaf varietal; if it is reddish brown and soft, it is a small-leaf varietal.
Various pu erh tea forms
In Western culture, tea is usually sold either in tea bags or as loose leaves in a tin. Pu Erh tea, on the other hand, is commonly sold on the market in pressed cake or brick form, which necessitates a Pu Erh knife or something similarly sharp to pick a piece off the cake or brick for brewing.
According to its appearance, Pu Erh tea can be divided into two types: San Cha (Loose tea, 散茶) and Jin Ya Cha (pressed tea, 紧压茶). San Cha are loose leaves known also as Mao Cha (rough tea, or unfinished tea product). This loose leaves are sold on the market by Jin (斤，500g) or selected as material for further processing into other tea, like black tea or Shu Pu Erh. Jin Ya Cha is made by pressing the San Cha into a specific shape. Pu Erh tea sold on the market is mainly in the form of Jin Ya Cha including flat disk-shaped (饼茶; Bǐng chá), nest-shaped (沱茶; Tuóchá), brick-shaped (砖茶; Zhuānchá), and mushroom-shaped (紧茶; Jǐn chá) forms.
The pressed Pu Erh tea should first be broken carefully by a Pu Erh knife. It should be done with care to avoid damaging the leaves as little as possible. The broken-up tea pieces or leaves should be put into a container to “wake up” or “activate” for at least one day. In this way, the different degree of ripeness of each part in the lump state is balanced, and traces of unpleasant aroma from the fermentation process is removed.
Gushu und dashu pu erh
Gushu, Dashu and Shengtai, the terms indicating the age of the tea trees, are important criteria in the recent 15 years for classifying Pu Erh tea. It was not so important in the past when there were not so many Pu Erh tea drinkers in other parts of China and around the world, and when the consumers were not so picky about the specific qualities of Pu Erh. However influential it has become to the consumers, since it is not an official standard regulated by any relevant organization or the Chinese government, the definition varies depending on the Pu Erh tea merchant, tea farmer, and consumer. Nevertheless, the commonly accepted criteria are as follows.
Gushu Cha (古树茶): Pu Erh tea from tea trees of 100 to 300 years old or older
This is the high-end category on the market for Pu Erh tea. In Yunnan Province, at an average altitude of 1500 meters, there are tea trees that have been growing for hundreds of years in the natural primitive forests. Contrary to tea trees on plantations that are usually grafted, Gushu tea trees usually are naturally seed germinated and sexually propagated. There are even tea trees that are 800, 1000 and 3200 years old. A tea tree that has lived for hundreds of years in the deep mountains where human footsteps are hardly seen, is called Gushu, and Pu Erh tea made from Gushu leaves is called Gushu tea. Originally, it was called as Gushu if the tree was over 300 years old, but recently the standard age has been lowered to 100 years, and Pu Erh tea made from these old trees is also marketed as top quality premium Pu Erh tea and beloved by many Pu Erh tea fans.
Dashu Cha (大树茶): Pu Erh tea from tea trees that are age 70 to 100 years old
Below Gushu, there is another Pu Erh tea called Dashu, that is made from trees slightly younger than Gushu tea trees. In fact, the distinction between Gushu and Dashu started after the 2000s, and this classification can be said to be a result which reflects the market's enthusiastic response to Gushu’s popularity.
Taidi Cha (台地茶): Pu Erh tea from bushes cultivated in gardens
Taidi Cha refers to the even smaller and younger plants than Dashu and that are grown and cultivated in tea gardens much like the tea bushes for making other tea types in other parts of China as well as around the world. Taidi Cha is most likely cultivated with agrochemicals, the ones that are grown naturally without any pesticides or fertilizers are usually distinguished by another more euphonious name - Shengtai Cha (生态茶).
Is a gushu pu erh definitely tastier and more dignified than a dashu or taidi cha?
The answer is yes and no. If one takes the biological environment as the most important criteria for a Pu Erh, yes, Gushu is certainly more exclusive than Dashu and Taidi Cha.
Also, since Gushu tea trees are older than 100 years, the roots reach deeper into the soil and absorb more nutrients, so the nutritional contents of tea leaves are richer. In addition, since they are not grown in a tea garden, Gushu tea trees have an isolated and cleaner habitat and are free from harmful substances such as pesticides and fertilizers. Due to the rich nutrients in the leaves, Gushu tea can be infused more times and the sweetness of the liquid lasts and the aroma of the tea lingers even after 8 to 10 infusions. However, because Gushu tea trees are usually hidden in deep forests and normally tall like other forest trees, it is much more difficult to harvest the tea leaves, thus Gushu Pu Erh tea is scarce, and the price is much more expensive than Dashu or Shengtai tea.
Tea lovers seeking for special Cha Qi (tea energy) would most likely go for a Gushu than a Dashu or Taidi, as more often than not, tea drinkers comment that the Cha Qi of a Gushu is much sooner and more evidently to take effect. The answer is also no, as taste is the most personal thing. First, Gushu from different mountains vary greatly, each Gushu has its local signature. It is not impossible that one prefers, for example, a Dashu from Nannuo mountain to Gushu from Gedeng mountain, simply because he favors Nannuo tea over a Gedeng tea. Second, Gushu tea can be richer in taste, but it can also mean that it is stronger and bitter. Many of our customers actually prefer a Dashu because it is an easy drinker compared to Gushu. Take our Nannuo Shan Gushu and Dashu for example, many of our customers find Gushu from this terroir is much more potent in taste and body sensation than Dashu. However, despite the weaker energy and slightly fewer infusions, Nannuo Shan Dashu is easy on them and never gets bitter so easily. To many people, whatever pleases their palate more is more worthy of their choices.
The difference between pu erh produced in spring, summer and autumn
In Yunnan, where the average annual temperature is 18 °C, tea leaves can be harvested almost all year round except in winter. In general, the harvest season for the large-leaf varietal tea leaves, the raw material for Pu Erh tea, ranges from early February to mid-November each year, varying by region and climatic conditions. Depending on the harvest time of the tea leaves, the name and the character of Pu Erh tea can be divided as follows.
Spring tea (春茶; Chūn chá)
The harvesting period of Spring tea is from the beginning of February to the end of May. Among them, the leaves of fresh tea harvested between the beginning of February and the Qingming (淸明, April 5) period are called Ming Qian Cha (明前茶), literally meaning the tea leaves before Qingming. The leaves picked between Qingming and Guyu (谷雨, April 20) are called Chun jian (春尖). It is commonly said that the fragrance and the sweetness of Spring tea is the best, but at the same time its bitterness and astringency is also stronger than, for example, an Autumn tea.
Summer tea (夏茶; Xià chá)
From the beginning of June to the end of August, the summer tea leaves are picked. Among them, tea leaves harvested between Mangzhong (芒種, about June 6) and Dashu (大暑, about July 23) are called Er Shui Cha (二水茶) or Yushui Cha (雨水茶). The taste of Summer tea is softer and less bitter than Spring tea, but also much flatter and more watery as the region is visited by rain season. The quality of a summer tea is considered the worst. Tea leaves harvested in this season are usually used for producing Shu Pu Erh and black tea, as the strong fermentation and oxidation balance out the watery tastes in the tea.
Autumn tea (秋茶; Qiū chá)
Autumn tea leaves are picked from the end of August to November. The tea leaves picked between the Bailu (白露, around September 8) and Shuangjiang (霜降, around October 23) are called Guhua Cha (谷花茶). It is softer, less astringent and less bitter with a smoother mouthfeel than a Spring tea. Due to its excellent tastes and its much more affordable price, some Pu Erh tea lovers prefer Autumn tea to Spring tea.
Winter tea is customarily not produced in most regions of Yunnan, except for a small amount in the subtropical region.
The 12 major pu erh mountains
Although Pu Erh tea is broadly produced throughout Yunnan region and there are always new tea fields found, the most famous regions throughout history are the Old 6 Great Tea Mounts (古六大茶山) and the New 6 Great Tea Mounts (新六大茶山), with the Lancang River (澜沧江) in between.
The Old 6 Great Tea Mounts boast the largest amount of Gushu in Yunnan and many tea farms are scattered on the mountain peaks, ridges and slopes. The region enjoyed the most prosperous time in ancient times due to the trading of Pu Erh tea, and this was the beginning of the Cha Ma Gu Dao (Ancient Silk Road).
The 6 Great Tea Mounts are Youle, Yibang, Mangzhi, Mansa, Gedeng and Manzhuan on the southeast side of the Lancang River. The 6 mounts have been prosperous and famous since the Qing Dynasty. Later, instead of Mansa, Yiwu was added and became the center of the Old 6 Great Tea Mounts. The New 6 Great Tea Mounts are located on the southwest of the Lancang River surrounding Bulang Mount, a place that has gained great popularity nowadays.
Of the New 6 Great Tea Mounts, Nannuo, Nanjiao, Mengsong, Bulang and Bada are all in Menghai County, and only Jingmai Mountain is in Lancang County. The ancient tea gardens are mostly located on the slopes and hills at an altitude of 1200 to 1800 meters. The annual rainfall of this region ranges from 1200 to 1400 mm. The climate is mild and rainfall is abundant throughout the year. The big altitude gaps and climates have also shaped a multitude of unique styles in the New 6 Great Tea Mounts. It can be said that the Old 6 Great Tea Mounts are the classics that have history and tradition for hundreds of years, while the New 6 Great Tea Mounts are the new powerhouse of Pu Erh production, thus the popularity and the price are soaring year by year.
The old 6 great tea mounts (古六大茶山)
Tea produced in the region of the 6 Great Tea Mounts is known to be soft, gentle and sweet, with Yiwu tea as the representative and crowned as the queen of Pu Erh.
Yiwu (易武): A typical large-leaf varietal is found in the Yiwu mountains. Yiwu tea is famous for its deep golden color, soft and deep umami, and has a scent of orchid and wheat. The harmony of taste and aroma is superb, centering on orchid scent. Yiwu Pu Erh tea generally exhibits the so-called Yue Chen Yue Xiang (越陈越香) characteristic: The longer the tea is stored, the better the taste and aroma. The quality of the tea produced here is well-known for its soft and smooth mouthfeel with a clear, sweet taste.
Youle (攸乐): Youle Mount is located within Jinghong City, the capital city of Xishuang Banna. It is also known as Jinuo Mount. The Mount has a great distance of 750 km from east to west end and 520 km from north to south. The sum of Gushu gardens found in Youle mount amounts to about 10 thousand Mu, located mostly between 575 m and 1691 m above sea level. Pu Erh tea here is made from the large-leaf varietal close to the mid-leaf varietal. The color of the tea is transparent golden, and the taste is soft and reserved. It has a fresh and floral scent, and it is characterized by a distinctive taste and scent as time goes by. The local Jinuo people in the mountains have a long history of making tea in their own traditional way.
Gedeng (革登): Located in Mengla county, small and large leaf-varieties both are harvested here. Gedeng Pu Erh tea has a transparent golden color and potent flavors with a soft, deep lingering aftertaste. The tea aroma reminds one of cinnamon and wheat.
Yibang (倚邦): Several varietals with a focus on small-leaf varietal are blended. Color of the tea liquid is light green to light gold, and the taste is clean and pure. It is characterized by Chingxiang and orchid aroma, and is famous for its clear, delicate aftertaste.
Mangzhi (莽枝): Small-leaf varietal is used. The color of the tea is clear and light yellow. The taste is soft and thin, and fragrant.
Manzhuan (蛮砖): Located in Mengla county and surrounded by Yiwu, Gedeng, Mansa and Yibang, the mountain sees mostly large-leaf varietal. It has a deep golden color and is famous for its thick, craggy, and broad taste. Furthermore, it has a mellow and deep aftertaste.
The new 6 great tea mounts (新六大茶山)
Facing the Old 6 Great Tea Mounts, the New Great 6 Tea Mounts are situated on the other side of the Lancang River. Since the Pu Erh produced from this area didn’t belong to the tributary tea to the Emperor of the Qing Dynasty, it was quite out of the public eye for centuries, so the tea forests and Gushu tea mountains have been well-preserved. Today, the production of the New 6 Great Tea Mounts has been increased even more than the Old 6 Great Tea Mounts’, and a variety of unique Pu Erh teas are produced here.
Nannnuo (南糯): Located between Jinghong city and Menghai county, Nannuo Mountain is one of the easiest to reach tea mountains in Yunnan. Thus, it receives tourists all around the world and enjoys a big name in and out of China. The mountain boasts of 12 thousand Mu Gushu gardens with tea trees aged between 200 and 300 years old. The typical large-leaf varietal scatters the mountain. The color of the tea is deep gold. It is famous for its strong and warm taste, as well as floral and fruity scent.
Nanqiao (南峤): Improved large-leaf varietal is used. Nanqiao Tea Mountain is also known as Mengzhe Ancient Tea Mountain (勐遮古茶山). The taste of Pu Erh from Nanqiao is thin and sweet, the color of the tea is dark orange, and the aroma is ascending.
Mengsong (勐宋): Located east to Menghai county and west to Jinghong city, Mengsong is a mountain with famous names like Hua Zhu Liang Zi and Na Ka under its belt. The typical large-leaf varietal is found here. Tea produced here has a clear golden liquid with a sweet and intense taste with flowery as well as wheaty aroma.
Bulang (布朗): A mountain that has a long tradition of making Pu Erh, especially Pu Erh in Bamboo sticks. The world’s most famous and expensive tea, Lao Ban Zhang, is located in Bulang mountain. Typical large-leaf varieties with yellowish green leaves are to be found here. Tea produced in Bulang Mountain is famous for its strength and its bitter momentum which does not linger around but instantly changes into sweetness with the aroma and throat sensation of a wild camphor tree.
Bada (巴达): The mountains in located in the west part of Menghai County, looking at Myanmar on the other side of a river. Xiao Hei Shan in Bada Mountain boasts a wide range of wild tea trees with the king of tea trees that measures 1 metre wide and over 30 meters tall, the oldest wild tea tree that has ever been found so far. Tea produced here has a typical honey aroma and sweetness with a slight bitterness.
Jingmai (景迈): The mountain is located in Huiming village, Lancang county, famous for its beautiful natural sceneries and landscape. A large-leaf varietal is harvested, which is close to a mid-leaf varietal. Known for its typical flora aromas, tea produced here is also well known for its harmonious balance between strength and gentleness. A Jingmai Pu Erh is also famous for its “Leng Bei Xiang” (冷杯香), aroma lingering in the cooled-off tea cups.
The old and new 6 great mountains in general
There are several leaf varietals used for the production of Pu Erh tea from the Old 6 Great Tea Mounts, so the characteristics of tea including tea color, flavor and aroma also vary greatly. The aroma is mainly Chingxiang (clear and high aroma), and it is characterized by a soft and deep taste. This reflects the main characteristic of traditional Pu Erh tea.
On the other hand, in the case of the New 6 Great Tea Mountains, leaf varieties are mainly unified with the large-leaf varietal, so the color of the tea is a certain golden color. Tea Aroma features floralness and fruitiness, and a strong, intense, but harmonious taste. By drinking Pu Erh tea produced in this region, you can experience the taste of modern Pu Erh tea in the market. In comparison, Pu Erh tea from the Old 6 Great Tea Mountains in Mengla County (勐腊县) has a strong kick, but with soft mouth feel and less bitterness. Meanwhile, Pu Erh tea from the New 6 Great Tea Mountains in Menghai County (勐海县) has also a strong kick but with a relatively more prominent bitterness.
Outside the 12 major tea mounts
In addition to the 12 major tea mounts, Pu Erh tea market in the recent decades has witnessed the rise of new tea mountains. Some of them have enjoyed great popularity and soaring prices. To just name a few, Da Xue Shan, Bing Dao, Xiao Hu Sai, Xi Gui, Wu Liang Shan, etc.
Da Xue Shan (大雪山): the Big Snow Mountain is located northwest to MengkuTown. The mountain has the reputation of producing Pu Erh of highmountain quality, as the world’s highest wild tea trees were found in great ranges between 2200-2750 m above sea level in the mountain. Many of the trees were believed to be over a thousand years old and dangerous to reach by tea pickers. Judging from the large ranges of wild ancient tea trees of large-leaf varieties, the mountain is named as the cradle of large-leaf varieties. The tea leaves harvested from Da Xue Shan are dark green with oily and shiny surfaces; the tea liquid ranges from bright yellow to amber gold; the aroma and taste of the tea has typical qualities of wild high-mountain teas.
Bing Dao (冰岛): As one of the loudest names on the Pu Erh market, the Bing Dao village is located in Mengku town. Tea trees are typical Mengku Da Ye Zhong (Large-leaf Varietal). Tea produced in the village is extremely low in bitterness and astringency and highly sweet like candy sugar with high aroma. The tea liquid leaves a slightly cooling sensation on the back of the throat.
Xiao Hu Sai (小户赛): The village is located on the slope of Bangma Da Xue Shan in Mengku Town with limited access to streets, roads and modern facilities. It can only be reached through muddy mountainous paths on foot. The village has had no more than 50 households for a long time in history, reaching 100 households in recent years due to the ever-growing name of its tea trees. Tea trees are of Mengku Da Ye Zhong (large-leaf varietal). Tea produced there is highly honey sweet with bitterness and strong Cha Qi.
Wu Liang Shan (无量山): The Mountain is located east of the Lancang River. Its climate is a transitional climate from central subtropical to subtropical; Pu Erh tea here is transitional from large-leaf to medium-leaf varietal. Because of the high mountains and deep valleys, there is a big difference in altitude, so the quality of tea leaves here varies greatly, and the taste is not consistent. Generally speaking, the tea here is not too bitter and astringent, with a mellow taste and good aftertaste. Wu Liang Mountain is also the site of the famous Puerh tea factory Xia Guan Cha (下关茶).
Xi Gui (昔归): The mountain is located in Bangdong village, Lincang city. Its Gushu gardens are located on slopes of 700 m above sea level. It is one of the lowest altitudes among Pu Erh tea mountains. The leaves belong to the Bangdong large-leaf varietal. Tea produced here is considered to be strong tea with high aromas.
How to brew pu erh gongfu cha?
There are several ways to brew Pu Erh tea, including a local method with big tea kettles or simply in a bowl. Since a few decades, the Gongfu Cha style with a Gaiwan or Yixing Zisha teapot has been sinking deep into the local tea drinking customs.
- Choose a porcelain Gaiwan or teapot made of the Yixing Zisha clay (if not, a porcelain or glass teapot is also okay).
- Rinse and warm up the Gaiwan or teapot with boiling water.
- Use the rinse water to wash and warm up the tea cups.
- Put the amount of the tea leaves you prefer into the teapot. We recommend about 4-8g for 100ml to 200ml of water.
- Close the Gaiwan or teapots and give it a slight shake to appreciate the aroma of the dry leaves.
- Boil the water at 100 °C again and pour the boiling water into the Gaiwan or teapot, the first pouring of water is only for the purpose of ‘tea washing*. Wait for no more than 5 seconds and pour away the tea liquid into the cups for washing and warming up the cups.
- Open the lid to appreciate the aroma of rinsed leaves.
- Pour boiling water over the leaves and let it sit for 10-15 seconds for the first infusion.
- Open the lid of the teapot halfway to prevent the tea leaves from being cooked by the heat.
- Enjoy the first infusion of tea.
- Repeat the brewing with slightly shorter brewing time for the first 2 infusions and then increase the brewing time by 5 seconds afterwards, for example 15 seconds for the first infusion, 10 for the second, 10 for the third, 15 for the fourth, 20 for the fifth…
*Tea washing (洗茶): the process of rinsing the tea to activate the tea leaves and to remove dust and impurities mixed with the Pu Erh tea cake.
To evaluate the quality of a Pu Erh tea more precisely, it is often recommended to use Gaiwan for a new tea, which is glazed inside. Since the tea pot made of the Yixing clay has the tendency of absorbing bad taste and unpleasant scent, it is difficult to discover the true nature of the new tea with a Yixing teapot.
How to store pu erh tea?
Both Sheng Pu Erh and Shu Pu Erh can be stored and aged for years. It is believed that the tastes and mouthfeel of a Shu Pu Erh reaches its peak at 12-15 years old, and the optimal time for enjoying a Sheng Pu Erh has a bigger range, 10-25 years, depending on its nature and quality. So, storing a Pu Erh tea well can help with the aging process, while a messed up storage could destroy the potential of a good Pu Erh. Basically, Four things must be avoided.
- Direct sunlight
- Strong smell
- High humidity or extreme dryness, ideally 50%-70% humidity percentage
- Too high or low temperature, ideally room temperature around 25 °C
Pu Erh tea has a tendency of absorbing smells from its surroundings. Make sure to avoid places with strong smells or miscellaneous odors such as kitchens, refrigerators and smoking rooms, and store it in a well-ventilated area, to prevent the moisture from being stuck in the container. Sunlight should be by no means in direct contact with the tea for more than 10 minutes, as the ultraviolet is highly detrimental to the quality of a Pu Erh. In particular, if Pu Erh tea is stored in a tea container or jar made of the Yixing Jisha clay, its aging proceeds more stably, and the taste and aroma of tea remain clean and become deeper and richer over the years. At last, make sure Shu Pu Erh and Sheng Pu Erh are stored separately, as the two have ultra different aromas, and they should not interfere with each other.
The five key rules of determining a good pu erh tea
Defining a good Pu Erh tea perhaps can be a subjective matter. There are various kinds of Pu Erh tea products on the market, moreover they vary vastly in price and quality. To find the right Pu Erh tea that suits your expectation, you need to first gather information and feedback about the tea, taste it and feel the body sensations after tasting.
Here are a few important tips to decide for a Pu Erh:
Origin: A valued Pu Erh tea is mostly grown and produced along Lancang River, the most important geographical signature in Yunnan and in the Pu Erh world.
Right way of storage: The tea should have been stored in a dry and clean place, not in a highly humid place, not in basements.
Clearness: The tea leaves should have clean and pleasant aromas but not musty or miscellaneous odors.
Whether it is Sheng or Shu Pu Erh tea, whether it is old or new, cheap or expensive, the first thing you need to do is smell the tea leaves. After aging and fermenting, Pu Erh tea definitely has a kind of old smell, but it should not be a musty, moldy one. The musty smell means that the storage space was damp or too humid, and it was not ventilated enough. The so-called 'old but imperishable' old smell will be dissipated with heat when tea is brewed, but a rancid odor is deep in the leaves through fermentation or by storing at a wrong place, and it is not possible to get rid of even after rinsing due to the deterioration of the leaves’ quality.
Pureness: The color of tea liquid should be clean. It doesn't matter whether it’s yellow or gold or brown or reddish, it should be clean and clear. Tastes should be pleasant sweetness and slight bitterness that does not linger after swallowing.
When Pu Erh tea is stored in a proper environment, even if it is stored for 30 or 50 years, the color of tea never turns black or gives weird tastes. The most common misconception people have is that the older the tea, the darker it is. This is not so. Normally after a certain period of time that a Sheng Pu Erh is stored, the longer it is stored and the slower the aging process, the more its color changes from pale yellow to amber and finally to jujube reddish with a bright tone. If the color of tea is as black as ebony when brewed or if the tea is not transparent and just murky, it means the tea is flawed. Even a Shu Pu Erh should not be opaquely black or murky, but clear and dark red like the skin of a ripe cherry.
Aftertaste: It should be smooth, mild and mellow without lingering bitterness or stale taste.
In short, a good Pu Erh is the result made by a combination of time and space. The longer the time in a clean space, the better the tea will transform. By evaluating the aftertaste of a tea, you can determine the aging environment and the length of oxidation time, furthermore value the authenticity of the tea exactly.
Qi: Your body should enjoy a nice, relaxed and comfortable sensation.
Pu Erh is called an "Antique for drinking"; it plays with its drinker, bringing joy, curiosity and excitement. So far, we’ve covered several topics related to Pu Erh tea. However, these are shallow talks on paper that cannot replace your own truths found through your personal exploration of Pu Erh Tea. Welcome to the Pu Erh world.