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Determining A Good Quality Pu-erh

Posted by Angelina Kurganska on

Pu-erh is a very unique tea type. For many, it’s either you like it or you don’t, and there is no in-between. It is a dark, very robust tea that has often gone through years of fermentation and births a flavor that is unusual to many.

For some, pu-erh is just not for them, no matter how many top-shelf cakes they have tried. If trying pu-erh for the first time we always recommend trying a quality sample. Otherwise, you may end up with a ruined pu-erh that will make you never want to experiment with the stuff again.

So How Do We Determine What Would Be Considered A Good Cake?

  • Smell 

A common question we see: should my pu-erh be smelling like fish? Should I give it an extra rinse or let it air out?

The answer is no. Your pu-erh should not be smelling like fish.

A fishy smell is the first sign of bad storing conditions. For example, it could have been an overly humid factory or a factory with drastic climate changes. All this could contribute to a rancid pu-erh.

The tea also shouldn’t have a strong moldy smell.

Instead, your pu-erh should be smelling:

Sweet, like dried fruits or honey. Earthy, like a forest. Woody and slightly earthy. 

A good rule of thumb is if the smell seems to bad for you to like, it’s probably not the best idea for you to drink it.


  • Appearance

You can tell a lot from the appearance!
First, check the wrapper in which your pu-erh arrived. Make sure it is whole and doesn’t have any holes in it, which could mean that it has been nibbled on by bugs.

Also, make sure that the tea leaves do not have any mold on them. Even though pu-erh is a fermented product, mold is a clear sign of fermentation gone wrong.

When breaking your pu-erh cake with the help of a pu-erh needle make sure to pay attention that the there is no debris in between the tea leaves.

We have heard horror stories of people getting hair, bugs, and even cigarette butts in their pu-erh cakes when purchasing from untrustworthy tea companies.

After you have checked both these points and your pu-erh seems ok to drink you can start trying the brew itself to see how you like it.

How Does A Good Pu-erh Taste?

A good pu-erh has a sweet, slightly fruity taste. A thick body, and a lingering sweet finish. Pu-erh should not taste stale or like dirt.

Generally a good pu-erh can be brewed gong fu style up to 20 times even! The taste will definitely transform from start to finish. You can also be met with notes of wood, earth, tobacco, chocolate, flowers, and everything in between! 

With pu-erh especially there are many “fakes” going around. If the price is too cheap to be true, most likely the cake isn’t that good. Producing a good quality pu-erh cake is a laborious process that calls for a fitting price. Be cautious of anything that seems too good to be true. And always try to buy from trusted, reputable sources!

Are you still new to pu-erh and intimidated by all the varieties? We always recommend starting from samples first, to see what flavors you are into before investing in a whole cake.