We've already spoken well in-depth about pu-erh and even about the differences between ripe pu-erh and raw pu-erh. Unlike the brisk, fruity, floral, vitalizing raw pu-erh, ripe pu-erh is undoubtedly more of a grandpa of the tea world. Ripe pu-erh is unmistakably earthy, usually with strong notes of tobacco and firewood, cocoa, as well as dried stone fruits. Today, let's take a deeper look into grandpa pu-erh.
What Is Ripe Pu-erh?
Ripe (Shou/Shu) Pu-erh is pu-erh that is made from raw pu-erh tea that has been fermented. The tea leaves are first picked, roasted, sun-dried, steamed, and later compressed into round disks called cakes. Before the stage of producing cakes, ripe pu-erh undergoes a unique technique called "Wet Piling" (渥堆 – Wo Dui). This is the vital stage when tea gets fermented and turns into ripe pu-erh.
Many seasoned tea drinkers are under the preconception that ripe pu-erh must be stored for years before even touching it. After purchasing a sought-out cake, tea enthusiasts will proceed to store it away, diligently not touching it until that one special day years later. This is certainly a practice that holds its place in the tea world, and you can read more about it here. However, it is not a necessity. Many ripe pu-erh cakes are perfect as they are, and you can surely enjoy them right after purchase.
In fact, it is raw pu-erh that usually benefits more from good aging. Ripe pu-erh is already sufficient to enjoy on its own. Read more here.
If the tea was produced within the past three years, it might be better to leave it for a year or so. However, it is important to note, many tea enthusiasts don't see a vast difference between ripe pu-erh tea cakes aged over 10 years. Although there is undoubtedly a large price gap. While there are some concerns that pu-erh aged for 25+ years and costing a fortune is just a marketing ploy, we always recommend trying for yourself. It's best to do a couple of tea tastings if you can and see what suits your taste buds best.
Most believe that shou shouldn't be aged any longer than 10 years, because it generally wouldn't benefit the flavor, but only raise the price of such pu-erh.
In general, however, a ripe pu-erh aged for a more extended amount of time will become smoother, more rounded, less pungent.
You may want to store away your ripe pu-erh for a year or so in the case that it has a strong and unpleasant smell—for example, a particularly pungent earthy or fishy scent. However, you may want to be careful with this — an exceptionally fishy pu-erh can also be a bad sign. Check out this article for more information on how to tell if your pu-erh is good.
Storing A Ripe Pu-erh Tea Cake
Proper tea storage is something we never tier of addressing. After all, how you store your tea is the make or break of so many precious teas. Expose a shincha to an excess of air and sunlight — and you won't end up with the original fresh, grassy, umami-rich tea you waited a year to acquire.
When it comes to pu-erh, tea storage is different from all the other tea types. Since pu-erh is fermented, it is literally a living, breathing organism. That is precisely why proper aging can transform it into a miraculous being. Or sometimes — kill it. With that in mind, it is essential to not keep our living pu-erh wholly sealed off from the outside world the way we would with a fresh green tea, per se. On the contrary, it is best to keep the pu-erh cake in its original wrapper and in a container or packaging that gets at least some air exposure. Plus, away from an excessively damp or humid environment (humidity of over 70% might cause a problem).
Learn more about pu erh tea.