7 Common Questions about Pu-erh Tea

Pu-erh tea
Pu-erh tea. Photo by Scott MacLeod Liddle.

What is pu-erh tea, exactly?

Darjeeling may be considered the Champagne of Teas, but it is pu-erh that has the most in common with wine. Unlike other teas, which are ready (and best) to consume straight after production, the best pu-erh is aged for years before it is used.

Pu-erh tea is fermented. It may or may not be oxidized, depending on the type of pu-erh (see below).

Pu-erh is sold in loose leaf or compressed form. It is compressed into many different shapes, from traditional round cakes to mushrooms, pyramids, coins and other shapes.

In China, pu-erh tea is known as black tea; what we know as black tea is called red tea in China.

Where is pu-erh tea grown?

Pu-erh gets its name from Pu’er county in southern Yunnan Province, China. From this region, pu-erh is made from extra large leaves plucked from long-lived tea bushes, which are plentiful in Yunnan Province.

Check out this website for more about Yunnan tea.

What are the main types of pu-erh tea?

There are two main types of pu-erh:

Sheng pu-erh is not oxidized (it is also known as “raw” or “green” pu-erh). Sheng pu-erh is traditional pu-erh, made to age for years before consumption. Mao Cha is the young sheng pu-erh, which requires proper storage and aging. This is cheaper than naturally aged sheng pu-erh, which can be consumed immediately or allowed to age even longer.

Shou pu-erh, on the other hand, is made to be enjoyed immediately. Invented by enterprising tea artisans in the 1970s who needed a way to satisfy growing demands for ready-to-drink pu-erh, shou pu-erh is oxidized (thus, it is also known as “black” or “cooked” pu-erh) to accelerate the aging process. Shou pu-erh is generally not as complex as sheng pu-erh, but it is much more affordable and can be drink within two or three years.

What’s the best way to brew pu-erh tea?

Pu-erh is best brewed in full rolling boil water around the 93°-100°C (200°-212°F). The same leaves can be infused many times, with each infusion revealing something different. You can steep pu-erh between 2 and 5 minutes, though I’ve seen suggestions around the internet that pu-erh can have a much shorter infusion time. As with any tea, experiment.

What are the health benefits of drinking pu-erh tea?

Scientific studies into the health benefits of pu-erh tea appear to have been conducted primarily on rats, so it is quite impossible to know for sure what the health benefits of drinking pu-erh might be. One study found that rats with pu-erh tea in their diet lost weight and cholesterol. Pu-erh’s ability to lower cholesterol has been examined in other studies, but again, results were not tested on humans. Another experiment on rats suggested that pu-erh tea can protect against bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus (also known as golden staph).

Does pu-erh tea contain caffeine?

As with every other tea made from Camellia sinensis, pu-erh tea contains caffeine.

For related information, see my earlier post about the caffeine content of green tea.

Where can I buy pu-erh tea online?

To begin with, browse the Tea Finely Brewed marketplace to compare pu-erh teas from different tea merchants.

Related Posts

Buy Tea Online – Firsthand advice on the best websites for buying tea
Buy Pu-erh Tea Online – Tips specifically for those looking for pu-erh tea

Pu-erh tea is growing in popularity, so you can find it amongst better known teas at shops like Adagio Teas (see their Pu-erh Dante and Pu-erh Poe), >Mighty Leaf[/mightyleaf] and Numi Organic Tea. These shops aren’t specialists, but they can help you get a basic introduction to the world of pu-erh.

Pu-erh tea can get very expensive, so if you’re a beginner, I’d recommend starting with a few cheaper examples from the shops above to get yourself acquainted. Once you’re sufficiently familiar with pu-erh, check out these pu-erh specialists.

Yunnan Sourcing is an eBay store specializing in pu-erh teas. They have a huge range, with over 500 pu-erh varieties. However, they ship from China, so shipping can sometimes take a while.

Generation Tea are based in the US and stock over 100 pu-erh varieties. One small store with a selection of hand-picked pu-erh teas is NadaCha.

Finally, I also recommend you check out The Half-Dipper, an excellent blog from one very astute tea aficionado with a particular fondness for pu-erh teas.

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Discussion

  • 1

    Pu-Erh tea should never be steeped for 2 to 5 minutes. The only time you should steep it that long is after many shorter steeps, such as the 10th infusion. The first steep should be 10 seconds and thrown out as it cleans the tea leaves (They really are dirty, like rice or lentils), and opens up the leaves. The next 5 or 6 infusions should be brewed between 8 and 20 seconds, usually the lower end of that.

    You should also use quite a bit more leaves than you think you should.

    I can give you more information but this is the Gongfu style. It’s traditional but it also has a very good utilitarian value in it as well in that it gives you the most steeps while retaining the greatest amount of flavour.

    The worst thing you can do is multiple steeps of a few minutes, which cooks the tea and renders it bitter. While many people say you can’t ruin pu-erh by oversteeping, it’s one of the hardest teas to brew right and is easily ruined. In fact, teas that are commonly thought hard to brew right like white teas are much easier to get right than pu-erh.

  • 2

    I prefer to distinguish between Western and Chinese techniques for brewing tea. I sometimes use about 3 teaspoons of Pu-Erh for a bigish cup of tea, steep it 2.5, even 3 minutes and get a dark, rich, beautifully clear brew with no bitterness. If I have more time, I go “Kung Fu” and use even more tea, do several infusions for only a few seconds, and use very small cups. It’s a totally different experience — color, smell, taste, and mood. It’s wonderful to do with a friend, I think. But I also like the 2.5-minute Western way, too. It is true, however, that steeping the last infusions for a very long time can result in some bitterness, though nothing like with other teas. I suggest experimentation and multiple modes of enjoyment!

  • 3

    I’m with Michael. I need to update this page with the Chinese techniques for brewing tea, but I don’t think it’s necessarily wrong to steep pu-erh in a more traditionally Western way. I’ve done it often enough myself, and while the tea doesn’t end up being quite as interesting as when I brew it for a shorter period, I still really enjoy it. Plus, when I’m at work, I don’t have the luxury of time, so doing it the brutish way works good enough for.

  • 4

    Great introduction. I’ve found there is a wide variety of brewing times in different traditions. I read that Tibetans may brew their pu-erh overnight. check out my blog on this.

    http://www.pu-erhteas.com/preparation-of-pu-erh-teas/

  • 5

    Hello.
    I was given a box of Ever Lotus Pu-Erh tea and after reading up on it I’m very excited.
    Seeing that I can use the same bag for a few cups, is there any special way to store the wet bag until I use it again? How long can I keep a wet tea bag before chucking it?

    Thank you.

  • 6

    Githe,

    With a tea bag, I don’t think you’ll be able to resteep it quite as often, though it does depend on the quality of the tea. I generally would suggest trying to use the bag within the same day. Though to be honest I don’t think I’ve ever had a pu-erh tea bag before!

  • 7

    Yes, I don’t know how good the bags are.They cost only R14 for 25. (South African Rand)That’a the same price as normal tea. But when I made it the first time I nearly died from the taste because it was so strong and yuck, so I’m hoping strong equals not too bad tea. I forgot to ask: is there any benefit in having only one cup a day, or should I have more.

    Thank you for replying. Your site is pretty.

  • 8

    I don’t see the Ten Ren Tea Co. listed here. I’m asking since I’ve bought my first aged pu-erh teas from them locally here in the Bay Area of California. Are they considered a lesser choice than the ones listed here? Thanks for the feedback. This is a very cool site!

    Cheers
    Diane

  • 9

    Hi Diane,

    I’ve picked up some pu-erh from Ten Ren here in Melbourne. While it was pretty ok, I think you could probably get better value from some of these other places. Two companies I would recommend who aren’t listed here:

    http://www.banateacompany.com/
    http://www.cantonteaco.com/

    Both have some great pu-erhs that I’ve reviewed (http://teafinelybrewed.com/shop/types/pu-erh-tea/)

    Cheers,
    Eric

  • 10

    I’ve been to Yunnan on business, and they drink their Pu-Erh very differently…

    In common business meetings, we would have compressed green tea served to us, perhaps a teaspoon in the bottom of a cup that was constantly re-filled with hot water (tea leaves were never removed, until discarded 2-4 hours later). One particularly wealthy businessman broke out the aged Pu-Erh, which was consumed in the same manner.

    During one special “tea ceremony” event, I experienced the 30 second steeping method, and it was great, but mostly for show.

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