PuErh Tea Types
What is puer tea? PuEr has two distinct categories, Sheng 生 & Shu 熟 (Shou) PuEr. Sheng PuEr translated means raw or green PuEr, whereas shu/shou can be translated as cooked or baked though ripe is a more suitable term for PuEr tea. Due to it's leaf colour sometime people refer to Shu PuEr as black PuEr.
Sheng PuErh production is the tradition method, it was not until the late 1960's and early 1970's that the China Tea Corporation began production of Shu PuErh.
Sheng PuEr Tea 生普洱茶 production has evolved over centuries, potentially millennia and many of processed may have arisen by chance. Sheng PuEr, like many Dark teas is well suited to post fermentation. A naturally process which combines bacterial and fungal fermentation which potentially occurs over decades during which time numerous factors may influence the ultimate outcome.
The raw tea leaf, which traditionally receives very little processing beyond wilting and drying, is commonly pressed in tightly packed forms. There is a lot of different views on how and when these teas should be enjoyed. Traditionally the local ethnic groups would drink them fresh and as such not store for long periods, however many modern consumers believe the teas should be kept and stored ideally for at least 3 years before drinking.
Both Raw and Ripe Puerh tea use a type of finished leaf, mao cha (毛茶), as base material; the only difference being that once leaving the mountain, Ripe Puerh consists of a the second stage production (artificial fermentation), whereas Raw Puerh is merely sorted, compressed and packaged.
Shu or Shou PuEr 熟普洱 is the result of a relatively modern process in which research begun on in the late 1960's. Shu PuEr production requires the raw leaf to be ripened using a controlled process which encourages bacterial and fungal fermentation. The processes is controlled by varying the ambient temperature along with the humidity.
PuEr Tea comes packed or pressed in many shapes and sizes/weights. This traditional evolved as a way convenient storage, transportation and exchange.
Pressed tea has been for centuries an effective medium of exchange. Tea money often was pressed with a whole in the middle in order that could be strung together making them easily divisible. One of the most common form over the last century, Qi Zi Bing PuEr 七子饼普洱茶, pressed as 357g cakes, derive their name, 'seven sons', from the fact that they are packed 7 to a 'tong'. A tong weighs 2.5kg and is wrapped in dried bamboo leaves and bound. A tong is in turn bound, with bamboo straps in a Jian, usually which consists of 6 or 12 Tongs.
Other forms of PuEr tea include, Zhuan, or bricks; Mu Gu Zhuang, mushroom shape; Tuo, bird's nest; Yuan Zhu Zhuang, column; Gua Zhuang, melon (these are often stacked in ever smaller sizes up to the high of a person!), along with a diverse range of impressively pressed tea in the form of pictures include some that are several metres in length and/or height! The Melon, or Golden Mellon (Jin Gua), is commonly associated with the Tribute teas given to the emperors of the Qing Dynasty period.
Higher quality and sort after PuEr teas come from tea trees that can be up to two thousand years old. Our Yunnan & Sichuan gallery has pictures of a wild tea tree that is believed to be a thousand years old, surrounded by semi wild tea trees originally cultivated during the Song dynasty over five hundred years ago. Old trees, those over sixty to seventy years old are often referred to as Gu Shu 古树 (ancient tree).
Those tea trees which are genuinely wild, which there are relatively few, are referred to as Ye Shu 野树 (wild tree). PuEr tea that is solely from these types of teas is becoming increasingly difficult to come by and it is important to remember this when buying. More often than not PuEr tea labelled as such is mixed with younger leaves. Furthermore because of the increasing demand, there are a considerable number of forged teas begin produced in GuangDong, FuJian and other tea producing regions.