Tea 101: An introduction to Puerh tea
Puerh tea is made from the large leaf Puerh Assamica (Daye Zhong 大葉種) cultivar native to Yunnan, China.
There are two main categories of Puerh tea:
- “Sheng” (生), or “raw” Puerh is greener and more astringent. It can be enjoyed when it is young and fresh, or after being left to age and ferment over time.
- “Shou” (熟) or “ripe” Puerh is darker, earthier and more mellow, with a rich, creamy mouthfeel. Our Classic Ripe Puerh is a signature puerh if you want to try the original taste. If you are up to a different kind of ripe puerh, our Rice-scent Aged Puerh would be the best as it has a very warm and soothing taste that resemble of rice!
Both types begin as a minimally oxidised mao cha (毛茶), or “unfinished tea”, which is fired at a lower temperature and for a shorter duration than other types of tea, to allow heat-resistant spores to survive. It is also sun-dried for the same reason – to preserve the spores needed for fermentation.
A quick clarification between oxidation (which all teas go through) and fermentation (unique to Puerh or “dark tea”) here:
- Oxidation: an enzymatic process where cells break down when exposed to oxygen, just like how a half-eaten apple turns brown after being left for a while.
- Fermentation: a metabolic process that involves bacteria and microorganisms converting sugar to acids, gases and alcohol – just like for yoghurt, cheese and beer.
After being wilted, kill-greened, rolled and dried, Sheng Puerh is typically steamed and pressed into round cakes for sale, to be stored in a dry place while it continues to oxidise and ferment over time. Well-aged cakes often hit eye-watering prices at auctions and are passed down from generation to generation as family heirlooms.
Shou Puerh undergoes an additional step called wo dui (渥堆) or “wet-piling”, where the tea is piled to about a metre high, sprayed with water and covered with a thermal blanket to speed up the fermentation process. It can take between 45 and 60 days for the bacteria to break down the cell walls, after which the tea is compressed into bricks or cakes, or left loose and dried.
Because it is so rich in microbes, Shou Puerh serves as an ideal digestive to enjoy after heavy meals like dim sum and Lunar New Year family feasts.
Shop our Puerh Tea collection here