The Vast World of Pu'er Tea
by Daniel Mahoney
Pu'er is a one of the most famous forms of Chinese tea. Its' cult following is a testament to its' unique quality and outstanding charm. Pu'er tea is grown and produced in Yunnan province in China and much like Champagne or Scotch whisky, pu'er is a regionally specific product. This means that even tea made with a similar production style cannot hold the name pu'er unless it originates from within Yunnan province.
When considering pu'er, there are two production styles to choose from: Raw (Sheng), and Ripe (Shou).
Raw pu'er (Traditionally known as sheng pu'er) is my personal all-time favourite category of tea. Very similar in production to that of green teas, pu'er is processed using the large leaf varietal of the Camellia Sinensis Assamica plant. Its preparation allows for a slow and complex transformation over many decades of aging. Starting out strong and bitter in its youth with vegetable, fruit and floral notes, these teas age into progressively smoother, low notes. Aromas of forest floor, sweet root vegetables, camphor, wood, minerals, and subtle ripe fruits are brought out with age. Even in the more well-aged earthy teas, the complex florals and fruits often remain quietly in hints that remind of the tea’s youthful character. With a rich history and a large cult following, these rich and layered brews are often compared to and referred to as the Scotch whisky or fine wine of the tea world. Raw pu’er is easily one of the most vast categories of traditional tea and one in which even seasoned drinkers continue to find surprises as they explore its rich flavor.
Shou pu'er (also known as ripe or cooked pu'er) is one of the most recently developed styles of tea processing. Using a complex, detailed and intricate wet piling process (the wòdui method), the leaves of freshly processed raw pu'er, known as "maocha", undergo an accelerated fermentation. This simulates the flavours of slower, naturally aged raw pu'er. While it is true that the profile of shou pu'er cannot accurately reproduce the rich and complex flavour, aroma, and experience of sheng pu’er, it in itself is an amazingly satisfying drink. Known for its unmatched thick, creamy texture and rich, earthy sweetness, ripe pu’er can be enjoyed young, or can be aged to smooth out its rough edges. A ripe pu’er is a must have in every tea junkie’s collection!