Pu'er - Is It Your Cup of Tea?

Believe it if you need it, if you don't just pass it on.

Greetings, my fine friends!

As I write to you, I sit in the tea room here at Mandala Tea, sipping some 2006 raw (aka sheng, raw, uncooked) pu'er tea.  I am transported to a mountain I was on during my last tea trip to China.  I am moved by the recollection, almost to tears.  Such fond memories of the homeland of tea!

There are two type of pu'er - I'll refer to them as raw and ripe - and if you've had one type and found it wasn't your groove, I encourage you to try the other.  For even though both styles are referred to as pu'er tea, they are horses of a different color.

There is much information about both styles of pu'er in books and on the internet so I will not waste bandwidth telling you the whole story about the two styles and their processing.

In essence, raw pu'er is sun-dried tea leaf that once dried, is called mao cha (unfinished tea). That leaf, once steamed and pressed into bricks or cakes, becomes raw pu'er tea.  If stored properly, it is not unusual for it to get richer and deeper in flavor for 20 or 30 yrs, even longer.  It can smell fresh and even floral, lighter in tea liquor color and depending on age and preparation can sometimes be bitter, sometimes sweet.

Ripened pu'er (aka shou, ripe, cooked) tea is most famous for being earthy, leathery and thick. Depending on the brewing parameters, it may be light brown to dark black in color, like espresso. It can be bold and robust, like coffee.  This tea gets its bold flavor from what is most often referred to as "pile fermentation".   During that time of being moistened and turned, the leaf becomes dark reddish-brown in color.

Many people, when retreating from the adrenal-draining qualities of coffee and soda, gravitate toward the ripe style pu'er.  I believe that the similar color and robustness draws them to it at first.  Then they notice how much better they feel after making the switch.  For some of those folks, ripe pu'er will be their cup of tea for life.

Others, upon tasting ripe pu'er are simply not thrilled with the earthy, briny, leathery flavor quality and the hayloft-like, (pleasant) barnyard aromas of it and swear that pu'er is not for them.

We remind people here in the shop that there are many ways to make any one tea into their "cup of tea".  One can play with the various brewing parameters - amount of tea, temperature of water, steeping times - and tweak those variables in order to find out what works for them.

We also tell people to be prepared to experience a change in the way they taste things as they delve into the world of pu'er tea (or tea in general).  As ones palate is refined and as one gains more experience with brewing these teas, what was once an affront to their senses may one day be a delight.

I tasted my first pu'er in 2004 and was hooked immediately.  It was a ripe style pu'er.  I drink plenty of raw style these days, but ripe style has has been my first tea of the day for years.  I am comforted and enlivened by it.

At a later date, I will write about the various healing qualities of tea. While the benefits of pu'er tea are plentiful I, like many, drink pu'er for the flavor, the aroma and the "cha qi" (the energy of the tea).

So if at first you're not excited about pu'er tea, please don't give up.  Try a few of each style and prepare them in various ways.  Play with your tea.  After all, practice brings us closer to the perfect.

With gratitude,