We’re focusing on Pu’erh Tea for this week’s Tea Tuesdays post. Pu’erh is a large leaf tea grown and produced only in the Yunnan province of China. Just like how Darjeeling tea from India has a Geographic Indication, Pu’erh tea from Yunnan is trademarked in order to protect its unique flavours exclusive to the terroir of this south-western province of China. What makes Pu’erh stand out is the fermentation process it undergoes. The tea is picked, processed and partly fired in order to leave the tea leaves slightly damp. At this stage, two different fermentation processes can be applied to the manufacture of Pu’erh tea. Sheng (raw) which is a natural fermentation process or Shu (cooked) an artificial fermentation process. Sheng is a natural aging process for Pu’erh tea. The tea leaves are compressed into flat disks and left for a longer period of time allowing for microbial (bacterium causing fermentation) activity. The presence of bacteria (the good for you kind!) along with humidity mellows Sheng Pu’erh over time, normally up to a decade. The result is a light grassy flavour reminiscent of broth, mushrooms and earthy tones.
With the popularity of Pu’erh tea, a quicker production style was created in order to keep up with the demand. Shu Pu’erh uses Wo Dui artificial fermentation in order to speed up the aging process. Wo Dui or wet-pile fermentation allows the natural bacteria on the leaves to create a reaction similar to a compost pile. The finishing step is to age the Pu’erh, often done in underground rooms or caves. Shu Pu’erh delivers a fuller bodied cup of Pu’erh with strong earthy notes. Similar to the aging process of wine, the longer Pu’erh is aged results in a better flavour. Vintages of Pu’erh can go as far back as several hundred years, and are highly prized. See below for our tasting observations of a Shu Pu’erh.