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 pressing, pu-erh tea is left to age, 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 grown and produced in Yunnan province using sun-dried green tea from specific tea varieties.
Ripe vs Raw Pu Erh Tea (Shou vs Sheng Pu-erh):
Raw (Sheng) Pu-erh is a pu-erh 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 pu-erh tea cakes. Afterwards, 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.
Ripe (Shou) Pu-erh is pu-erh that is made from fermented tea leaves. At first, ripe pu-erh goes through the exact same steps as the raw pu-erh. Then it undergoes an additional procedure, called ‘wet piling’ (渥堆 – Wo Dui):
- The Mao Cha is 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 sprinkled with water (and sometimes covered by a linen cloth). This step allows the tea to stay warm and creates a humid environment to create and maintain a fermentation process.
- A complex of fungi and bacteria (from the Aspergillus family) develops in the tea pile under the influence of heat and moisture, 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 small cups called "tuo cha".
Many believe that Shou Pu-erh shouldn't be aged any longer than 10 years, as it generally wouldn't benefit the flavor, only raise its price.
Under the joint action of fermentation, internal and external oxidation, 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 piling step in the production process is vital for the transformation of 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 breaking down the fats in heavy food, and generally assisting the digestion. Furthermore, Pu-erh has a nice dose of caffeine which keeps you alert but not jittery like coffee does. This tea was one of the main exports on the Ancient 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: