a short guide to puerh tea
Where does Puerh tea come from?
Unlike most teas, which are classified according to their method of production (green, black, white, and so on), this is the only tea category named after a specific place.
Puerh is the name of a city in Yunnan province in south-west China. Yunnan province lies in the Himalayan Corridor, which also comprises the north of Vietnam and Laos, Myanmar (previously known as Burma) and Assam in north-east India.
These regions in the Himalayan Corridor are where tea is believed to have first grown naturally for hundreds of thousands of years.
Puerh was an important trading post in the tea and horse trade with people high on the Himalayan plateau. Tea was compressed into cakes and wrapped, then transported by horseback along the “Tea Horse Trail” 茶马古道. Tea cakes were, and still are, wrapped in paper and transported in stacks called “Tongs.”
What type of tea is Puerh tea?
Puerh tea is made from the larger-leaf variety of the Camellia plant, Camellia Sinensis Assamica, which originates in the Himalayan Corridor.
Puerh tea is a sub-category of tea known as Hei Cha 黑茶 (dark tea).
How is Puerh tea made?
The base tea (Mao Cha 毛茶) is produced and subsequently undergoes further processing to encourage secondary fermentation or further ripening.
There are two types of Puerh tea; one is left to age and ripen naturally (Sheng Puerh), whereas the other has the ripening process sped up artificially (Shu Puerh).
What is the difference between Sheng and Shu Puerh tea?
Sheng 生 Puerh tea is also called “raw” Puerh.
This is the same type of tea that was carried on the Tea Horse Trail. The young tea cakes are lighter in colour but darken as they age over time. These tea cakes are often bought by families to celebrate the birth of children, much like families in the west might buy a bottle of port and lay it down for years until the child is older.
Shu 熟 Puerh is tea that has been artificially ripened.
After producing the base maocha , it is “wet-piled” and kept covered to allow the microbial organisms in the leaf to ferment or ripen the tea. This process was developed in the 1970s in an attempt to recreate the ageing process that occurs in Sheng Puerh over many years.
If you are interested in finding out more about the production processes involved in both Sheng and Shu Puerh teas, here are two articles that explain it in more detail: