Pu-erh Tea ( pronounced Pooh-air ) is one of the most interesting teas, but is relatively rare in this country. Dark, smooth, rich and almost chocolaty, it almost reminds me of espresso, without the excess caffeine.
It is the only tea that is aged like wine or cheese and has a rich, full taste. While some Pu-erhs are old, age by itself doesn’t indicate how well it will taste.
The prolonged resting period gives the teas their own earthy flavor. Pu-erh tea processing, although straightforward, is complicated by the fact that the tea itself falls into two distinct categories: the “raw” Sheng Cha and the “ripe” Shou Cha. All types of pu-erh tea are created from máochá (毛茶), a mostly unoxidized green tea processed from a “large leaf” variety of Camellia sinensis (C. sinensis assamica) found in the mountains of southern Yunnan.
Pu-erh is a microbially fermented tea obtained through the action of molds, bacteria and yeasts on the harvested leaves of the tea plant. It is thus truly a fermented tea, whereas teas known in the west as black teas (known in China as Red teas) have only undergone large scale-oxidation through naturally occurring tea plant enzymes. Mislabelling the oxidation process as fermentation and thus naming black teas, such as Assam, Darjeeling or Keemun, as fermented teas has created endless confusion. Only tea, such as Pu-erh, that has undergone microbial processing can correctly be called a fermented tea.
Aside from vintage year, pu’er tea can be classified in a variety of ways: by shape, processing method, region, cultivation, grade, and season.Pu’er is compressed into a variety of shapes. Other lesser seen forms include: stacked “melon pagodas“, pillars, calabashes, yuanbao, and small tea bricks (2–5 cm in width). Pu’er is also compressed into the hollow centers of [bamboo]stems or packed and bound into a ball inside the peel of various citrus fruits.
If you have tried it before and had a bad experience with pu-erh that tasted musty or like medicine, you may want to give it another chance. There are a lot of counterfeit pu-erhs out there, and authentic, aged pu-erh is difficult to find.
It can come in all shapes and sizes and you can try your local Oriental foods market or you can order it on line. My market carries a nice one and I also order from Harney & Sons. Give it a try and let us know what you think!
Also, follow my fellow tea lover, northernteaist, who does all kinds of experimenting with this tea!