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Hei Cha vs Pu-erh

Posted by Path of Cha on

Both Hei Cha and Pu-erh are known as fermented teas, so many wonder what the actual difference between the two tea types is.


Pu-erh Tea vs Hei Cha


First, What Is Hei Cha?

Literally meaning “Black Tea” (or, as some say, "Dark Tea"), Hei Cha is not the same black tea we are used to in the West, which is actually called “Red Tea” (Hong Cha) in China.

Liu Bao Hei Cha
The origin of Hei Cha dates back many centuries, and the methods used to make it are a somewhat iconic part of Chinese tradition that has been passed on for many years. Hei Cha is a post-fermented tea category that includes teas like Shou Pu-erh, Liubao, Liu An, Hua Juan, Ting Juan, Dzang, and Tian Jian.

What is the difference between Hei Cha and Pu-erh?
Well, many consider Pu-erh to be Hei Cha. But it’s not as simple as that...


The tea leaves used to make Hei Cha are fully oxidized, so Hei Cha is the most oxidized tea on the spectrum of tea types, with White Tea being the least oxidized.

So if Hei Cha is fully oxidized, then what makes it different from black tea (red tea)?

What takes Hei Cha a step further from black tea is the wet fermentation process, which exposes the tea leaves to high amounts of moisture and humidity in the tea factory.

Similarly to Pu-erh, the older the Hei Cha is, the more it is prized, as it is known to gain more sweetness and complexity with age.


Hei Cha is, in fact, an ancient tea with a rich tea history. Especially Liu Bao Hei Cha. The processing techniques of Liu Bao served as the basis for modern-day Ripe Pu erh preparation (which is quite new and wasn't developed until the 1970s). 
Read more about Liu Bao Hei Cha here


what is hei cha

What Is Pu-Erh?

Pu-erh Tea

Originating in Yunnan, China, Pu-erh tea has more than 2,000 years of ancient history.

There are two distinctive types of Pu-erh: Sheng Pu-erh (the raw or green type) and Shu Pu-erh (the ripe or black type). Both Shu and Sheng Pu-erh teas are usually made of Camellia sinensis var. assamica. After pu-erh tea is processed and pressed, it is aged, often for many years, resulting in its dark color and bold, mellow flavor.

To learn more about Pu-erh, you can read our article on it here.


Many consider Pu-erh to be a sub-category of Hei Cha. Pu-erh is produced exclusively in the Yunnan region of China, and if produced anywhere else, even if by the same technology, it cannot be called Pu-erh.


However, in the tea world today, there are still many debates about whether or not pu-erh falls into the Hei Cha category. While both teas are fermented, Hei Cha is a post-fermented tea. Shou pu-erh is also a post-fermented tea, but sheng pu-erh continues to ferment throughout its lifetime and never really becoming post-fermented. Some schools of thought would categorize only shou-pu-erh as Hei Cha, while others would include very old sheng into the category, as well. Some would exclude all types of pu-erh from the Hei Cha category altogether. 

Since Sheng (Raw) Pu-erh is not fermented during the production process, it is generally not considered Hei Cha unless it lives long enough to become fully or post-fermented post-production.


Raw Pu-erh


What Is The Difference Between Hei Cha and Pu-erh?

One difference between Pu-erh and most Hei Cha is that while Hei Cha gets sweeter and more mellow with age, the taste itself doesn’t change so drastically after 5, 10, or even 30 years. Many people describe Hei Cha as having a "fresher" taste than to Pu-erh. While the flavor of Pu-erh keeps changing drastically with age, gaining more complexity and a variety of flavor notes.


The taste of a quality shou pu-erh is sweet, rich, thick, creamy, and very dark. Furthermore, it has strong foresty notes with hints of wet leaves. It is warming, grounding, and comforting. Compared to shou-pu-erh, Hei Cha is often more uplifting and has lighter qualities. It has a combined warming and cooling energy as well as heat and dampness expelling properties. 


Yet another crucial difference between the two teas is that Hei Cha can technically be produced anywhere in the world, as long as the climate is suitable. On the other hand, the name "Pu-erh" can only be attributed to tea produced in Yunnan, China, like Cognac or Champagne.

While plenty of technicalities differentiate these two tea categories, we urge you not to get caught up in the classifications themselves. We suggest trying as many different types of Hei Cha and pu-erh as possible and deciding on the differences of taste, aroma, and mouthfeel for yourself.