Pu-erh is a post-fermented tea known for its rich, earthy flavor, abundant health benefits, and unforgettable tea high. With its ever gaining popularity, the myths that surround this tea also gradually keep increasing. We will tackle the top 10!
First, What Is Pu-erh Tea?
Starting from Yunnan Province of southwestern China, pu-erh tea has been favored across the world for over 2,000 years.
There are two types of Pu-erh: Sheng Pu-erh (raw) and Shou Pu-erh (ripe). Both Shou and Sheng Pu-erh teas are made from maocha, a sun-dried tea. After roasting and fermentation, pu-erh tea is aged for many years. The result is a dark-colored brew with a bold yet mellow flavor.
Much like Champagne and other regionally specific foods and beverages, pu-erh is a geographically indicated product. This means that pu-erh can only be produced and fermented in southern Yunnan. Learn more about the history of pu-erh.
Pu-erh Tea Myths
Myth: Old Sheng Pu-erh turns into Shou Pu-erh.
Reality: Shou Pu-erh and Sheng Pu-erh are processed using completely different techniques. The processing method of Shou Pu-erh includes the wet piling process (渥堆 – Wo Dui), while Sheng doesn’t. Sheng Pu-erh, generally, shouldn't be aged for more than ten years, after which it basically becomes an old Sheng Pu-erh. Shou, on the other hand, can be aged for over 20 years, and typically becomes better with age. Read more.
Myth: Because pu-erh tea is fermented, it is normal for it to have a fishy smell.
Reality: Pu-erh kept in poor warehouse conditions will not air properly and develop a strong fishy smell. It is best to stay away from fishy pu-erh. Earthy, on the other hand, is perfectly normal. Read more.
Myth: Shou Pu-erh is a healthy tea that was drunk for many centuries by nobles, the imperial court, and farmers alike.
Reality: Shou Pu-erh is indeed a very healthy tea. However, it was only developed and hit the markets around the early 1970s (1972-1973). Liu Bao, on the other hand, has a long and rich history. Read more.
Myth: Pu-erh can only come from Pu-erh City in China.
Reality: Pu-erh is indeed region-specific, which means it can only be produced in Yunnan province of China. However, it can be and is produced in many different areas of the province.
Myth: Pu-erh tea is produced from different types of tea leaves, small and large.
Reality: Pu-erh should only be produced from a large leaf tea tree variety. Pu-erh cakes made from a small leaf variety are in fact, technically not pu-erh.
Myth: Pu-erh made from “ancient tea trees” or wild tea trees is always better than farm tea.
Reality: The cake will generally only be as good as the technique of the tea farmer. Although ancient tea trees are more prized and could produce a better tea, it will always depend on the farmer’s skill at the end of the day. Many farmers produce amazing cakes using farmed tea leaves.
Myth: All Pu-erh is made from sun-dried maocha.
Reality: Yes, all pu-erh is made from maocha. However, with the increasing demand of pu-erh, and Yunnan’s climate, it is not always possible to sun-dry the tea leaves. Nowadays, many tea leaves are dried artificially in factories.
Myth: Big name pu-erh vendors will always have better tea than small businesses.
Reality: All big-name brands once started from a small business. Although the big companies have now established a following that enjoys their recipes, small companies are always improving and working hard to compete. Also, small pu-erh factories will often have more sanitary conditions, since they are easier to manage (i.e., less hair, bugs, etc. in the cakes). Ultimately, we always recommend trying and experimenting. Purchase samples, compare and see which tea speaks to you more.
Myth: The older the pu-erh cake — the better the health benefits.
Reality: After about 25 years of aging, it is believed that pu-erh stops to improve. Drinking a cake that is aged 50 or more years, for example, won’t bring you better health benefits. In fact, it is considered “too old”. Saying that older pu-erh cakes have better health benefits was a marketing strategy developed by some farmers to sell old, somewhat unwanted cakes.
Myth: The older the pu-erh tea cakes — the better.
Reality: Ah, this is one of our “favorite” myths and one that is debated over quite a lot in the tea community! In general, while 25-year-old cakes are prized, they will not keep gaining value once they have reached that mark. Selling 50-year-old cakes was a marketing technique created by individual farmers to get rid of old, forgotten cakes. Although there are some exceptions, we do not recommend possibly overpaying for a cake solely based on the age mark.
What are some other common pu-erh misconceptions that you are aware of?