Tea – Deeper into Puerh Tea with Global Tea Hut
(38 things you probably didn't know about Puerh Tea)
This information was sourced through Global Tea Hut, who I consider to be one of the greatest English language resources for accurate information tea (Camellia Sinensis) – and they are awesome humans. They have a brilliant monthly magazine you can subscribe to which comes with a lovely tea sample each month.
Puerh Tea Facts (38 of them!)
1) The importance of quality of the raw material (The, soil, tree and leaf) for Puerh is much higher than other teas.
2) The value of Puerh is 90% in the tree
3) Puerh tea comes from the regions Puerh, Lincang and Xishuangbanna
4) Tea is sometimes picked in one region then taken to another to be sold at a higher value, pretending it is from the higher value region
5) Puerh trees are either old growth or plantation
6) Old growth are those that are 100+ years
7) Green Puerh, known as raw or uncooked is not fermented during production or compression.
8) These sheng cakes ferment slowly, it takes 70 years to reach full fermentation. This is the traditional fermentation process of puerh.
9) Puerh can be drank at any stage and it will have different characteristics.
10) The changes in puerh happen exponentially. I.e they change a lot at the beginning and less as time goes by. (As puerh ages the rate of change decreases)
11) 70 years is considered mature because the changes slow down enough to be considered as not changing. 5 to 10 years is a big difference, 34 to 40 but after 70 it doesn’t change significantly.
Shou & Sheng Puerh Tea Facts
12) Called cooked or ripe. This is fermented to various levels before it is pressed into cakes.
13) The tea is plied, moistened and then often covered with a thermal blanket. Sometimes previously fermented tea is introduced to add certain bacteria.
14) This artificial fermentation lasts typically 45 to 60 days.
15) Older Shou was part fermented, today it is often fully fermented
16) This artificial fermentation was developed in the late 60’s and was licensed for commercial use in the 70’s 1973 is the date most books use. This was done to try to mimic the qualities of sheng sheng in less time.
17) They were not successful in mimicking sheng puerh but they did manage to create a whole new category of Puerh tea.
18) If the Shou was partially fermented it will age further but if fully fermented it tends to mellow out.
19) Sheng and Shou puerh tea processing differences:
20) Mao Cha is kneaded and bruised, then left to dry in the sun (early morning to late evening – midday is too hot).
21) The markings we often see on the leaves are from pressing and not packaging. They are made by special cross-woven cotton bags.
22) Steam is used to prepare the tea for compression – this is to ensure the leaves are soft and pliable but not cooked or oxidized in any way (light re-hydration).
23) Sometimes steaming is done between metal pans instead of in cloth.
24) In a non-mechanized factory, a wooden tables is placed over a hot wok full of water. The steam rises through a small hole in the center of the table. This is more difficult to prevent burning this way. it required the skill of generations to perfect this.
25) Compression was traditionally done between stone block moulds, turning the tea (in the cloth) into a ball. This is when they add the inner trademark sticker (nei fei)
26) The producer would then stand on the block, using his weight to compress it. Some of the smaller family run puerh tea factories still do it this way.
27) In the more modern factories pressing is done by a machine, and others are done by hand and lever.
28) After compression the cakes are taken out of the cotton cloths and put on wooden shelves to dry, because they are still slightly damp from the steam at this stage.
29) The tea, compression, shapes of the cake all affect the drying time – this can be hours, days or up to a week.
30) When dry the cakes are packaged. Each generation has it’s own unique style of wrapping, paper, printing, style of Chinese characters, nei fei etc. There is a whole science to wrapping. The paper is handmade and the fiber, texture and ink can be a sign of authenticity – it’s impossible to genuinely age the paper and ink.
31) Discus shaped cakes are individually wrapped in handmade paper and then buddled in 7’s. This is called a tong. 12 tongs are then packed together (84 cakes) Each tong is wrapped in bamboo bark (not leaves) to preserve freshness and protect it from the elements. Bamboo also has good energy. When bamboo trees get bigger or sprout new stems they shed skin/bark.
32) ‘New’ sheng puerh tea was originally only drank in order to check the aging process. Tea lovers as recent as 15 years ago would have considered new puerh unfinished. Now, rather than comparing young and old puerh we enjoy different ‘categories’.
Bonus Tea info
33) ‘Antique age’ tea was produced prior to the formation of Communicat China and is from before 1949. Around this time Puerh tea was just another commodity alongside rice, and other agriculture products. Often these teas were not wrapped because at the time it was considered too costly. Now some cakes are worth more than a hundred of thousand dollars.
34) Song Ping Hao and Tong Qing Hao are two legendary tea families.
35) In 1949 “New China” was established and the central government declared that all agriculture belonged to the people. At this time the tea industry was handed over to the local government. This closed the family run, private businesses (1950’s) and the Antique Era came to an end.
36) The Masterpiece Era began with the creation of the state-run factories, like Menghai.
37) “Chine Tea Corporation, Yunnan Branch” was created and trademarked in 1951. This now the famous “8-Zhong Tea” character that is stamped in the center of all cakes from the Masterpiece and later, Seven Sons eras.
38) Luncang in Yunann is known as the birthplace of Tea.
Global Tea Hut. September. 2014 Special Puerh Edition.
This information on Tea was sourced from Global Tea Hut who I consider to be one of the greatest English resources for high integrity information on tea.