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Pu-erh. Raw vs Ripe.

There are two variations of Pu-erh tea: Sheng Pu-erh (the raw or green type) and Shou Pu-erh (the ripe or black type). 

Both Ripe Pu-erh and Raw Pu-erh teas are made from sun-dried leaves – shai qing mao cha. The raw material is usually camellia sinensis var. assamica. After roasting, pu-erh tea is left to age and ferment, 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 Province using sun-dried green tea from specific tea varieties found in Yunnan, Laos, Burma and some parts of Thailand and Vietnam.


Ripe vs Raw Pu Erh Tea (Shou vs Sheng Pu-erh):

Raw (Sheng) Pu-erh is a pu-erh that is made from tea leaves that were processed similar to green tea: picked, quickly roasted to stop the oxidation (this step is called sha qing (杀青) – "kill green"), 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 doesn’t go through the piling process, it retains a fresh scent as well as a little bit of astringency, with a sweet aftertaste.


Sheng Pu-erh


Ripe (Shou) Pu-erh is pu-erh that is made from fully oxidized tea leaves. At first, ripe pu-erh goes through the exact same steps as the raw pu-erh. However, at the stage of producing the cakes it undergoes the following procedure, called ‘wet piling’ (渥堆 – Wo Dui):

  • The fully oxidized leaves are placed in a warm, humid environment. 
  • 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 sometimes coved by a linen cloth. This step allows the tea to stay warm and creates a humid environment to accelerate the fermentation.
  • A complex of fungi and bacteria (from the Aspergillus family) develops in the tea pile under the influence of heat and humidity , further enhancing the fermentation process.
  • After the tea ferments to a certain degree, it gets unpiled and ventilated.
  • The tea gets pressed into cakes, bricks or tuochas. 

Many 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.

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.     


With any pu-erh, a longer aging process doesn't mean that the tea will have a better taste. There are some longer-aged pu-erhs with an exceptional taste, but we believe that this should not be your area of focus when buying a cake of fermented goodness.


Pu Erh Tea Benefits 

This tea's benefits are recognized by many societies. Throughout Southeast Asia it is an integral part of the food culture and is known for its slimming properties, as well as its aid in digestion. Furthermore, pu-erh has a nice dose of caffeine which keeps you alert but not jittery like in the case of coffee. This tea was one of the main exports on the Tea Horse Road, when Tibetan monks consumed the fermented drink during long meditation hours. 


To learn more about Sheng and Shou Pu-erh, check out our Pu-erh tag!


 How to brew pu-erh tea: