Diving into the world of tea unveils a vast spectrum of experiences, flavors, and knowledge, each variety holding its unique story and essence. In this article, we'll compare Raw Pu-erh tea (or Sheng Pu-erh) with Green tea. These teas, each revered in its own right, originate from the same plant but diverge vastly in their journey from leaf to cup, offering different narratives of taste, aroma, and experience.
At first glance, both teas might seem very alike. They use similar processing; ongoing discussions in the tea world question whether Raw Pu-erh tea belongs to the Green tea category; even Chinese farmers, when translating to English, sometimes write "pressed Greed tea" on Pu-erh tea cakes. However, Raw Pu-erh tea and Green tea remain two distinct tea types.
We'll get to know the distinguishing features of these teas, exploring their regional origins, the raw materials used, the unique processing stages they undergo, their oxidation levels, and their transformation over time. We will also delve into their contrasting tasting parameters, including color, aroma, taste, brewing resistance, and varied tea leaf shapes. Let's explore the differences that set them apart, each in their own category.
Differences between Raw Pu-erh Tea and Green Tea
Exploring the differences between Raw Pu-erh tea and Green tea, let's start with the significance of their respective regions. Yunnan province is the cradle of Pu-erh tea. Its growth and production lie within a designated area, which ensures its authenticity and quality. The definition for Pu-erh tea in the National Standard for Pu-erh tea Geographical Indication Product stipulates that only tea grown and processed within Yunnan can be legitimately labeled as Pu-erh. The province is recognized for its ancient tea trees, contributing to the unique and complex profile of this fermented tea from China. Yunnan's high mountainous regions with varied climate and unique terroir are critical to the cultivation of Pu-erh, shaping the distinctive character of this tea.
In contrast, Green tea is not confined to a specific region but grows in many areas across China. Some of the most renowned include Zhejiang, Anhui, and Jiangsu. Each region produces different varieties of Green tea (like the famous Dragon Well from Zhejiang), each with unique local characteristics. The variation in growing locations results in a broad spectrum of flavors, aromas, and appearances in Green tea, providing a diverse range for consumers to explore.
For Pu-erh tea, the foundation lies in the robust leaves of the Camellia Sinensis var. Assamica, or the big-leafed variety (Da Ye Zhong, 大叶种). Per the same National Standard for Pu-erh tea, the raw material for Pu-erh is the local large-leaf tea tree variety indigenous to Yunnan.
On the other hand, Green tea uses mostly the small leaf and medium leaf varieties, known as Xiao Ye Zhong (小叶种) and Zhong Ye Zhong (中叶种). These varieties grow in various Green tea-producing regions from Guizhou to Shandong provinces, each contributing distinct attributes to the final tea product.
Big leaf and medium leaf varieties are also used in Green tea production. An example is Yunnan itself, where farmers use the Da Ye Zhong variety to produce Green tea. However, it follows a different processing from Pu-erh and, like any other Green tea, is not compressed or aged.
Additionally, there is a difference in the grades of the tea leaves. Green tea uses higher-grade leaves, like a single bud or a bud and one to two leaves. Pu-erh, on the other hand, relies on more than just the younger, higher-grade leaves. Many top-quality Pu-erh teas incorporate more mature leaves, adding extraordinary depth and complexity to the flavor and mouthfeel than using solely young leaves.
The processing ways of Green tea and Raw Pu-erh tea have notable differences that define both teas' distinct characters. The main stages of the Green tea production process are picking, fixing ("Killing the Green" – Sha Qing (杀青)), shaping, and drying. Once harvested, Green tea does not wither. The objective is to submit it as soon as possible to high temperatures. The wok temperature might go as high as 300ºC or more, and the leaf temperature will generally exceed 80ºC.
On the other hand, Raw Pu-erh processing involves picking, withering, fixing, kneading, sun-drying, steaming, pressing, and aging. The fixing takes place at a lower temperature than Green tea. The wok temperature is around 200ºC, and the leaf temperature is between 60º and 75ºC.
The temperature of the wok and the tea leaves during the fixing phase is a crucial factor for the development – or lack of – further transformation within the tea leaves, which we will address in the next paragraph.
Oxidation degree is a paramount factor in the definition of the six types of tea. It is largely defined by the presence or absence of the fixing stage in tea processing and, subsequently, by the temperature during this phase.
Green tea is an unoxidized tea. The impact of the heat is the main factor that shapes the final product. Green tea undergoes high temperature during the fixing stage. It destroys all enzymatic activity within the tea leaf and prevents oxidation from the very beginning. That also helps in retaining its vibrant green color and fresh notes.
Pu-erh tea is a post-fermented tea. The final product results from the joint action of micro-oxidation and fermentation, taking place after the initial processing is complete. At the same time, the lower temperature during the processing preserves some biological activity within the leaf. That allows for further transformation to take place during the aging phase. It is how Pu-erh develops its robust, earthy flavors over time in an ever more complex and enriched character.
The value of Green tea lies in its freshness, while the most essential advantage of Pu'er is its aging ability.
Pu-erh tea, known for its transformative character, unveils its depth and richness over the years. This ongoing transformation is due to preserving certain biological activity within the leaves during its lower-temperature processing. It's this biological activity that allows Raw Pu-erh tea to mature, intensifying its flavor profile, transforming its content, and developing new nuances over time.
In stark contrast, Green tea's main advantage lies in its fresh, youthful state. The high temperature during the fixing halts any enzymatic activity, preserving the delicate, transient flavors. The absence of oxidation means that Green tea does not have the longevity of Pu-erh, and it's best consumed while the essence of the leaf is still vibrant and lively – usually within 18 months of production.
As time passes, Green tea will not go bad, but it will weaken in taste, with the soup color gradually turning from clear green to yellowish and turbid. On the other hand, Raw Pu'er tea becomes more mature as it ages, developing a thicker and fuller mouthfeel and sweeter taste.
To preserve unused raw tea leaves and make a profit, some tea manufacturers have started a malpractice of pressing into cakes low-quality Green tea from past years. Such tea cannot become more fragrant with age. We remind you to buy tea only from trusted sources.
Tasting parameters: color, aroma, flavor, and brewing resistance
Pu-erh is like a fine wine; it matures beautifully. Over the years, Raw Pu-erh tea gradually changes from light or apricot yellow through dark yellow to yellowish brown and reddish brown.
Then, there are different types of aromas. Raw Pu'er tea is very complex, encompassing honey, flowery, fruity, and spicy, as well as more earthy, mossy or woody notes. Its notes are often layered, gradually developing over many subsequent brews.
Green tea's most distinguished feature is its light, sweet, fresh aroma with notes of nuts and grains, chestnut, and umami. The taste of Green tea tends to emerge strongly in the initial brews. The leaves infuse a delicately colored emerald Green to pale yellow tea soup that is clear and bright.
High quality Pu'er is very enduring and can easily bear a dozen to 20+ brews at a time. Green tea is not resistant to brewing due to its delicate nature. Its composition depletes typically into the first couple of brews.
Exploring the shapes of Pu-erh and Green tea is like understanding their unique personalities. Raw Pu-erh tea, known for its versatility, is usually pressed into different shapes such as cakes, bricks, and the uniquely shaped Tuo Cha (bird's nest shape). Each form offers a different aging process and unfolds various flavors over time. The tightly pressed shapes provide less surface for the tea leaves to enter into contact with oxygen. Conversely, the loosely shaped tea will age and transform faster.
Hasty oxidation doesn't always translate to a better taste. If the tea is pressed too loosely or is improperly stored, contact with oxygen will happen too quickly. That will result in the inner content being lost rather than transformed.
Conversely, Green tea, known for its delicate and fresh character, is mostly enjoyed in its natural, loose-leaf form, allowing the drinker to appreciate its simple, subtle beauty. You might also find Green tea in small, tightly rolled pellets, or rolled into "dragon pearls", revealing a special flavor and aromatic profile to the tea enthusiast.
Sheng Pu-erh as a loose leaf tea is called Mao Cha (Maocha – 毛茶). It is an unfinished form of Pu-erh tea used either for producing Shu Pu-erh or for further pressing and aging as a Sheng Pu.
With that in mind, we conclude our journey in the realms of Green tea and Raw Pu-erh tea. We have witnessed how each of these major tea types takes its own shape and character through different varieties, processing, and growing areas among others. Each factor contributes to creating a distinctive profile – and an army of admirers and followers – for both teas! We've seen how Raw Pu-erh tea, with its potent character, undergoes transformation, aging gracefully into a richer, deeper self, pressed into intriguing shapes that add another dimension to its experience. We've also savored the fresh, delicate Green tea, savoring its essence from loose leaves to small, rolled pellets. Whether you're a long-time tea lover or a curious beginner, there's always a new story to discover, a new flavor to savor. So, let's keep exploring these wonderful tea tales together, one cup at a time!