Puerh [pu’erh, puer, pu’er] is my favourite type of tea as I think it has a certain body and depth to it that other kinds of tea just don’t have. Puerh is very unusual when it comes to tea as it is fermented and can be aged for decades. This is where it gets the depth of flavour that I really enjoy and that distances it from other tea types. It is common for puerh tea to be compacted into cakes in order for it to be fermented and aged. It can be made into mini cakes that are used all at once or into larger cakes from which the tea is broken off in chunks using a puerh pick. Choosing a puerh, especially a cake, can be a bit daunting at first. The easiest way to know you are buying a reasonable tea is to make sure you get it from a reputable and knowledgeable tea retailer. When buying an older cake this is very important to ensure it has been fermented well and to ensure you can be sure about what you are buying.
There are two kinds of puerh. These are sheng (raw) and shou (cooked). Sheng puerh is the traditional method of processing puerh and it can be aged for up to fifty years, dependant upon the conditions in which it is kept. As it ages it becomes earthy and develops a smooth sweetness. The way to process shou puerh was only developed in the 1970s and it is a way of speeding up the fementing and ageing process. It is very earthy but not as complex in flavour as an aged raw puerh. As a good aged raw puerh tea can be extremely expensive a cooked puerh can be an affordable way of having an earthier cup of tea. Although sheng puerh is my favourite I do really enjoy both types. Puerh is a tea that can be brewed multiple times and I always manage 5 infusions at the very least. Most puerhs recommend brewing at 95-98C for 20-30 seconds.
Yixing (clay) teaware suits puerh tea best. I have a large yixing teapot that I only use for puerh teas. The clay absorbs the flavour and the tea has plenty of space to infuse in the teapot. There is no removable infuser; on the inside of the teapot the spout has a few holes to allow the water to be poured out whilst stopping the tea leaves. Also, I have a small yixing teaware set where the cups only hold one mouthful of tea which is the way it is traditionally drunk by the Chinese.
Yixing teapots need to be seasoned before their first use. To prepare mine firstly I filled it with room temperature water and left it for a few hours. Secondly, I refilled it with boiling water and left it until the water cooled to room temperature before emptying. Thirdly, I put in some puerh tea leaves (that I’d already enjoyed a few infusions from) with some boiling water. I allowed it to cool to room temperature again before emptying. Lastly, I re-infused the leaves in boiling water and allowed it to cool to room temperature again before emptying. In order to keep the flavour in the pot I don’t use any detergents and only rinse the teapot with warm water after using. I don’t generally use detergents when cleaning any of my teaware and just rinse them with warm water as soon as I’m done.
Ancient Sheng Vintage
This a sheng puerh from the Mannong Manmai Co-op, Yunnan, China. It has been aged for seven years and is harvested from ancient tea plants. It has been compressed into small cakes designed to be used all in one go. This is my last pot as sadly the teahouse I bought it from no longer does business.
I brewed the cake for 30 seconds at 95C and enjoyed 5 infusions. Don’t feel as if you have to stick to the temperatures and times recommended as 85C for 2 minutes was the recommended brewing instructions given with this tea! Experimentation means you can make the tea how you like it. It’s deciding whether to use time or heat to extract the best flavour.
I found that the tea smelt fruity and tasted delicate and sweet. The smell in particular really reminded me of other Chinese teas.
The smell of the tea was stronger on the second infusion with the tea being darker in colour. This is because the leaves were already hydrated by the first infusion meaning more flavour could be extracted. The brewed leaves looked like needles and this, as well as the smell, reminded me of the Chinese white tea, Silver Needle.
I found the the smell sweeter than the other infusions. The taste had an earthiness coming though with the sweetness and fruitiness now being more background flavours. I think the change in colour going from amber to a light brown reflected this.
The colour of the tea started to lighten again and there was not much fruitiness or sweetness left with it tasting more earthy.
The colour of the tea was similar to the first infusion. The taste was a really delicate earthiness. Some more experimentation with times and temperatures would mean that the amount of infusions could possibly be increased.
Another raw puerh I would recommend is Haiwan Purple Bud puerh from Menghai, China which I bought from Canton Tea. It’s made from purple buds which are extremely rare as the mutation only happens in 1% of tea leaves. It’s not as sweet as Ancient Sheng Vintage and is more earthy in taste. It’s been aged for seven years and is expected to last for up to forty years if stored well.
This is a shou puerh brick from Menghai, Yunnan, China also bought from Canton Tea. It was only harvested in 2013 so it is a young puerh. As it is a cooked puerh the ageing process has been sped up but it expected to continue to age well.
I used a heaped teaspoon of tea broken from the brick and brewed it at 95C for 30 seconds. It can be brewed slightly warmer at 97C for 20 seconds.
As a young puerh, it is more mellow than other cooked puerhs. It had a slight earthy smell and the tea was more of a red/ brown colour compared with the amber of a raw puerh. The taste was earthy but with a slight sweetness as an aftertaste. It is a lot more savoury than a raw puerh.
The tea was a lot darker in colour. The smell and taste became saltier with less of a sweet aftertaste.
Again, the tea was stronger in smell, taste and colour. The saltiness was stronger with even less of a sweet aftertaste.
This is the infusion where the flavour started to weaken but there was still plenty of taste.
This was the last infusion I had as it had lost most of the sweet flavour.
Another cooked puerh I would recommend is Ancient Shu Vintage from Waterloo Tea. It comes loose rather than compressed into a cake or brick. It is a very strong smelling puerh with an almost fishy smell. Once you get past the smell it has a deep and strong earthy taste. It is not for the faint hearted but it is something a bit different.
[No tea companies were aware that I was going write this post]