Both Shu and Sheng Pu-erh teas are made from a sun-dried tea called Saiqing Mao Cha. After fermentation and roasting, pu-erh tea is aged, often for many years, resulting in its dark color and bold, mellow flavor.
Like Champagne or other regionally specific foods and beverages, pu-erh is a geographically indicated product.
This tea can only be produced and fermented in southern Yunnan using sun-dried green tea from specific tea varieties found in Yunnan, Laos, Burma and some parts of Thailand and Vietnam.
Raw vs Ripe Pu-erh (Sheng vs Shu Pu-erh):
Raw (Sheng) Pu-erh is a pu-erh that is made from non-fermented green tea leaves that were picked, quickly roasted, sun-dried and then steamed to be compressed into round disks called cakes. After which the cakes are aged until the tea’s taste is properly transformed.
Because raw pu-erh is not fermented and doesn’t go through the piling process, it retains a fresh scent as well as a little bit of astringency, with a sweet aftertaste.
Ripe (Shu) Pu-erh is pu-erh that is made from black tea – the one that is fermented. At first, shu pu-erh goes through the exact same steps as the sheng pu-erh. However, at the stage of producing the cakes it undergoes the following procedure, called ‘wet piling’:
• The leaves get piled up to a certain height that is usually around 70 cm, but different tea masters have their own preferences.
• The piled tea gets wetted with water, and then coved by a linen cloth. This step allows the tea to stay warm and creates a humid environment to accelerate the fermentation.
• After the tea ferments to a certain degree, it gets unpiled and ventilated.
Depending on the degree of such fermentation, pu-erh turns from green or yellow to a reddish-brown color. You can tell the degree of wet piling by the color of the liquid – the darker the liquid gets, the higher the wet piling degree, and vice versa.
The process of piling transforms the tea’s taste to a very thick one with an earthy aroma.
Pu-erh tea is believed to have significant health benefits. Throughout Southeast Asia it is an integral part of the food culture and is known for its slimming properties.
Most pu-erh teas brew best at water temperatures of around 200-210ºF (95-99ºC).
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