Pu-erh tea: the wine of teas. I know by now that some of you know what Pu-erh is based on my article on Chinese Mythology: The Legend of Pu-erh. But those of you who had not read it, here’s a quick rehash as to the 101 on Pu-erh tea:
Pu-erh is characterized by the fact that it is packed into tight, hard cakes and allowed to go through an aging process of fermentation (very similar to wine) for a determined amount of time based on the taste and texture that the tea producer wants (also similar to wine!)
There are two main types of Pu-erh tea based on their characters. Today we are going to talk about Shu Pu-erh:
Shu Pu-erh is also known as “ripened” Pu-erh, created in the 1970s to accommodate the growing need for aged Pu-erh in China and Taiwan. In order to make Shu Pu-erh, you will find that there are a lot of similarities between Sheng Pu-erh and Shu Pu-erh until the initial drying.
Once picked, the leaves are withered then heat treated with a wok to stop oxidation. Then the leaves are left to dry in the sun. If the weather is not favorable, the tea is then heated in a large oven to try and replicate the process. This is not preferred because it can change the quality (and therefore taste of the tea). Then the leaves are arranged in piles and allowed to ferment in a way that is not so dissimilar to compost. Tea producers actually need to be careful with this step because if left to run amok, then the tea can actually decompose and lose any appeal. This process can take up to 60 days depending on the tea producer. Once finished the tea is steamed in order to be pliable again and shaped into the typical cake shape.