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Pu-erh Tea FAQ

  1. What is Pu-erh tea?
  2. What is raw Pu-erh (green Pu-erh, sheng Pu-erh) and what is the difference between raw Pu-erh and green tea?
  3. What is ripe Pu-erh Tea?
  4. What is the difference between ripe and raw Pu-erh?
  5. What are the criteria that define the quality of Pu-erh Tea?
  6. What are so called " Six Great Tea Mountains" and what is their history?
  7. How to pry Pu-erh Tea cake properly?
  8. How to brew Pu-erh Tea?
  9. How to store and age Pu-erh Tea?
  10. What is the health benefits of Pu-erh tea?

1. What is Pu-erh tea?

Pu-erh tea, a well-known traditional Chinese tea, has been categorized as sun-dried green tea(Maocha), and its pressed products from large tea leaves 大叶种晒青毛茶为原料(Camellia sinensis O. kuntzevar. assamica Kitamura) are manufactured mainly in Yunnan, China. In the markets,three kinds of Pu-erh teas have been sold: loose Pu-erh tea, pressed Pu-erh tea,and Pu-erh tea bags. Pu-erh tea is a popular tea with a long history, which originated from the districts of Xi-shuang-ban-na西双版纳州, Si-mao思茅, and Lan-chuang-jiang valley澜沧江, Yunnan Province云南省,China.

Such sun-dried maocha is commonly compressed into various shapes such as cakes, bricks in the market. Freshly-made Pu-erh can be consumed directly but would taste better after years aging. Nowdays, people call it as raw Pu-erh or green Pu-erh to discriminate it from a new type of Pu-erh invented in 1970s. Pu-erh traditionally begins as the raw type. It undergoes a complex process of post-fermentation and gradually matures with time.

As for the new type of Pu-erh, it was developed in 1973-4 by Kun Ming Tea Factory. It invented the Wo-dui process to facilitate the fermentation of tea so that we do not have to wait for 10-30 years to get the tea matured. Less than 1 year of fermentation allow us to enjoy similar flavor and taste just like an aged vintage raw Pu-erh. All types of Pu-erh can be stored for maturity before consumption and that is why it has become common for the products to be labeled with year and region of production.

2. What is raw Pu-erh (green Pu-erh, sheng Pu-erh) and what is the difference between raw Pu-erh and green tea?

Raw Pu-erh can also be referred to as green, sheng, or shengpu. Basically raw Pu-erh is made with the similar process as green tea. The plucking of leaf is carried out based on one bud and 3-4 leaves, just like oolong tea. It is different from green tea in plucking standard . Green tea is usually made of a single bud with 1 or 2 leaves. In fact, the 3rd or 4th leaf is very important in contributing the identical flavor of Pu-erh. As compared to the 1st bud or 2nd leaf, the 3rd and 4th leaf has stayed much longer on trees, hence it is very rich in polyphenols and minerals. In order to get a strong flavor and aftertaste, the 3rd or 4th leaf is essential.

The plucked tea leaf is fried in a pan in order to inactivate enzymes. In fact, pan-frying process isn't able to completely inactivate enzymes and some enzymes still remain alive, unlike green tea which enzyme is completely inactivated due to the intensive heat treatment. As for Pu-erh, tea leaf is not dried with hot air, but dried under the sun.

Sunshine drying does not increase the temperature of leaf, and therefore the remaining enzyme stay alive. The leaf is spontaneously fermented during the sunshine drying process and produce identical flavor of Pu-erh. The reason why we can enjoy the aging of Pu-erh during storage is that there is continuous oxidation and fermentation taking place during the aging of Pu-erh. This is the major difference between Pu-erh and green tea. Due to the subsequent oxidation and fermentation, raw Pu-erh is rather similar to semi-fermented tea or yellow tea in character.

The freshly-made raw Pu-erh is still green in color. The longer it is kept, the browner in color it becomes. At first, it changes from yellow to amber color in the first 5-years time. Then it gradually turns into brown color in the following 10 years. The taste of freshly produced raw Pu-erh is similar to the taste of green tea. With moderate oxidation and fermentation along with storage, it will change like yellow tea and finally it becomes like ripe Pu-erh tea or other kinds of dark tea. Enjoying different taste as time goes by is a fascinating experience, full of pleasant surprise.

3. What is ripe Pu-erh Tea?

Ripe Pu-erh has a much shorter history compared to raw Pu-erh. Ripe Pu-erh was invented in 1973-1974 by Kun Ming Tea Factory (昆明茶厂). It was developed by referring to the process of ancient dark tea such as Fuzhuan Cha that is made with mold fermentation. During fermentation, mold produces organic acid and pH of tea is reduced. Due to the mold fermentation, tea is completely fermented in a much short time. The color of tea changes to dark brown and it gives a mellow taste with thick body. Good quality ripe Pu-erh gives flavor like dried Chinese dates. In oversea market, ripe Pu-erh is much more popular than raw Pu-erh.

4. What is the difference between ripe and raw Pu-erh?

Both ripe and raw Pu-erh tea come from Yunnan Big Leaf varieties of the tea plant(Camellia sinensis O. kuntzevar. assamica Kitamura). The difference is that ripe Pu-erh is made by post-fermented artificially, whereas raw Pu-erh is processed with little or no fermentation. Raw Pu-erh will spontaneously and gradually undergo post-fermentation and oxidization as time goes on. Obvious change will take place after 3-5 years aging but it takes at least 30 years for raw Pu-erh to fully mature in the dry and clean environment.
Raw Pu-erh is strong in taste with full aroma. Most of Raw Pu-erh tastes bitter, pungent and astringent but the bitterness can quickly turn to sweetness and astringency can turn to fluidness if it is good in quality. Ripe Pu-erh is mostly thick, smooth, rich and sweet without bitterness(expect Half-cooked). (Freshly-made ripe Pu-erh tastes of heap).

5. What are the criteria that define the quality of Pu-erh Tea?

Not only Pu-erh tea, but also for all kinds of tea, the depth of taste and flavor defines the quality. The depth of taste is also called as "after taste" “depth of taste” or “long finishing”in English expression. In Chinese it is called Hou Yun. “Hou” means throat and “Yun” means lingering charm. Hou Yun means the taste that is felt in our throat and lingered.

Hou Yun gives depth to the taste. In other word, it builds up the taste in three-dimensional way. The intensity of Hou Yun is made up with minerals. On the other hand, flavor defines the character or individuality of tea. We cannot compare the superiority of different flavors. Flavor is like the color of a photograph. A different brand of camera or lens gives different color. However color does not define the quality of lens or camera. We usually appreciate depth and blur effect that creates a three dimensional visual impact to the photograph. Similarly, Hou Yun means the depth of taste and the feeling that continuously lingers in our throat. This is what defines the true quality of Pu-erh Tea.

6. What are so called " Six Great Tea Mountains" and what is their history?

Six Great Tea Mountains were the most famous producing area of Pu-erh Tea in historical recordation. The first time they were mentioned was in Qing Dynasty, early 18th. Century, when development of Pu-erh Tea reached an outstanding position in its history, described by Tan Cui in his book as “ Pu-erh Tea is famous through whole country, produced in the region of Six Tea Mountains that belong to Pu’er Prefecture, of which the first mountain is called You Le, the second is called Ge Deng, the third Yi Ban, the forth Mang Zhi, the fifth Man Zhuang and the last is Man Sha, covering total an area of 800 square kilometers. ”

The geographic locations of Six Tea Mountains are all in territory of today’s Xishuangbanna, on the east side of Mekong River, among the rest You Le was located around Ya Nuo Village, Ji Nuo Township of Jing Hong, Ge Deng, Mang Zhi, Yi Ban and Man Zhuang were situated in Xiang Ming Township of Meng La County, Man Sha usded to have its position around Man Sha Village of Man La Township, Meng La County, but Yi Wu, a former part of Man Sha Tea Mountain was marked off to be an independent township when county was regionalized. On the map of today, Six Tea Mountains are actually connected with each other; they form an integral region in the northeast of Xishuangbanna.

The first time Six Tea Mountains were mentioned was in 18th. Century, but it doesn’t mean the history of Six Tea Mountains started so late, early as 1000 years ago, Pu, who were the ancestors of Bulang Nationality living in Xishuangbanna today, began to domesticate wild tea plants for daily consumption, and 800 years ago, started mass plantations, but during that period, ethnic people undertook production mostly for self-sufficiency, not for trade, this situation remained unchanged till the end of Ming Dynasty, approximately 380 years ago, as the central government strengthened exploitation and control on frontier region, intercommunion with inland China got promoted, tea from this region gradually became known by more and more people. During the middle of Qing Dynasty, about 250 years ago, tea production and trade in Six Great Tea Mountains area reached the height, their products gathered and acted as leading role in tea market of Pu-erh, a town which used to be administrative capital of south Yunnan as well the distribution center of tea from this region, then spread around to Tibet, other provinces of China or southeast Asia. Salability of these tea products gained great fame for their producing area; Six Great Tea Mountains became the acknowledged cradle of famous Pu-erh Tea, even had the responsibility of supplying tribute tea to Chinese emperor on shoulders. From 19th. Century, British colonists began to develop tea planting on a large scale in India, intensive farming and efficient management achieved high yield at low cost, big quantity of cheap tea entered Tibet to vie for market, owing to behindhand way of production and primitive way of transportation, Pu-erh Tea couldn’t match against its new competitor from India, gradually lost the most important traditional market it had occupied for hundreds of years; on the other hand, countries around south Yunnan, Laos, Vietnam, Thailand or Myanmar became colonies of European, those countries once offered the shortest courses from origin to harbor, but under control of European, the former exporting routes of Pu-erh Tea were totally blocked; moreover, corrupt government officials of late Qing Dynasty laid exorbitant taxes and levies upon tea trade, farmers and merchants couldn’t bear the increasingly strengthened exploitation, changed professions and moved out one after another. These reasons directly caused the comedown of Six Great Tea Mountains in late 19th. Century, plus pestilence that spread in this region and destruction inflicted by rebellious ethnic tribes, Six Great Tea Mountains became more and more desolate and less populated, by degrees finally passed into silence at the beginning of the 20th. century.

For very long time in history, green tea produced in central China had been absolutely the dominant role on the stage of tea industry development, Pu’er Tea from Six Great Tea Mountains changed this situation, it offered tea drinkers a different option and step by step gained its own place in Chinese tea culture. Besides, prosperous tea trade of Six Tea Mountains attracted numerous Han people to move in, they brought advanced production technology and civilized culture, which greatly improved the productivity of frontier region and effectively helped ethnic people to develop local economy, it’s the first time that Han immigrants took part in construction of Xishuangbanna in great force, in a sense, Six Great Tea Mountains are a monument about intercommunion between Han and border ethnic groups.

As Pu-erh Tea is regaining popularity on the market in recent years, Six Great Tea Mountains are also recatching people’s attention.

7. How to pry Pu-erh Tea cake properly?

You'd better use tea-pin to pry Pu-erh tea cake. Tea-pin is sharp and it can pry Pu-erh tea cakes easily. You'd better pry tea cakes from the back. At first, it is safe and won't hurt your hand. Secondly, it is convenient for you to pry tea cakes next time.

The following photos showed the common three wrong ways to pry tea cakes. You'd better avoid doing so.

8. How to brew Pu-erh Tea?

In preparation for brewing Pu-erh tea in the traditional Chinese way, you need to gather several materials, which include gaiwan, or covered bowl, which is used to hold the tea and brew the tea leaves in. You also need what is called a Gongdao cup (fair cup) which you will pour the brewed Pu-erh tea into before serving it into your teacups, which you will need as well. Finally you will need Pu-erh tea of several grams.

To begin, place your Pu-erh tea into your gaiwan, adding approximately 5 grams of Pu-erh tea leaves or tea flakes to the gaiwan. In brewing Pu-erh tea, the temperature of the water is especially important when brewing Pu-erh tea in the traditional Chinese method. Be sure that water is at or around 212 ℉, and begin by washing or rinsing the tea leaves with that water first to wet the tea and rinse away any impurities gathered from production or storage. It is important to rinse tea leaves first when brewing Pu-erh tea, so that you can “wake up” the true flavor of the Pu-erh. The liquor itself is a bright red-brown or yellowish color which is clear and deeply mellow or earthy. You will notice with each re-brewing of the leaves, the brewed tea will change its character and flavor with each cup, and the Pu-erh leaves can be re-brewed many different times, each resulting in a slightly different cup of tea.

After rinsing your Pu-erh tea, use hot water to warm and rinse your tools for brewing the tea, including your gaiwan, Gongdao cup and small tea cups. By simply rinsing them in hot water, you will wash away any dirt or impurities, and pre-warm the cup for the best brewing of the tea.

After rinsing the Pu-erh tea leaves and pre-warming the utensils, you are ready to brew the Pu-erh tea. Using water that is at about 212 ℉, pour approximately 100 milliliters of water into the gaiwan and wait only 3-10 seconds before the tea is properly brewed. The time is dependent on your taste preference. If you like strong taste, brew for longer time. Otherwise, shorter time. Generally speaking, Pu-erh tea does not require long infusion time like preparing other kinds of teas. For most people, we suggest you brew it in the "touch and go" style. As soon as you pour the Gaiwan full, place the lid on Gaiwan and then immediately pour the brewed Pu-erh tea infusion into the Gongdao cup while straining out the tea leaves and keeping them for re-brewing. No more than 5 second is recommended for most people. By brewing in such "touch and go" style, you can brew up to nearly 20 times.

Here are several tips for you to get the most from your Pu-erh tea:

Using hot water to pre-warm your cup and utensils for brewing not only clears away any dirt or flavors from previous teas brewed, but it also keeps the tea at an ideal temperature.

Washing or rinsing your tea leaves before brewing can remove any impurities so that you can enjoy the pure authentic flavor of the Pu-erh tea.

Since Pu-erh tea only steeps for a very short period of time, you only need to steep the first cup for no more than 5 seconds. Each time you re-brew the leaves, simply add another a few seconds of brewing time for each additional brewing of the leaves.

There are many different types of Pu-erh tea, and each type can be steeped multiple times. The higher grades of Pu-erh tea can be brewed more than 20 times, and each time you will gain the health benefits of the Pu-erh tea.

9. How to store and age Pu-erh Tea?

The main points and tips are:

Both raw and ripe Pu-erh Teas would get better if properly stored but pls store raw Pu-erh and ripe Pu-erh separately;

Keep Pu-erh Tea in an odor-free environment;

Keep away from sunlight;

If Pu-erh Teas were wrapped in the original package, don't change them;

The best environment to store Pu-erh is between 50 and 60% in humidity and between 20-30°C in temperature. If the humidity or temperature exceeds the scope, pls don't worry. Pu-erh Tea woundn 't get worse only if the change isn't big and doesn't keep long;

According to our experience, the most dangerous thing for Pu-erh storage is too high humidity for a long time (Pls be alert if it is beyond 75% for more than 5 days) because Pu-erh would go mouldy and be totally ruined. Under such circumstance, if you have no other better method, the easiest and safest way is to seal Pu-erh teas in the large plastic or aluminum foil bags. You don't need to worry Pu-erh teas woundn 't age if you do so. It would age as well because anaerobes would become active in such environment and in fact, the aging process only needs very small amount of oxygen and you would actually bring fresh air into the bag each time when you open it and take the tea;

We don't suggest you expose Pu-erh to constant fresh air flow as many people told because Pu-erh teas would get thin in taste if stored in such environment for a long time.

10. What are the health benefits of Pu-erh tea?

Pu-erh tea offers you tremendous health benefits. Like the other types of tea, this medicinal tea contains a high amount of antioxidants that protect your mind and body from diseases and environmental threats that surround us.

Here are the health benefits of Pu-erh tea.

Burn Fat

Pu-erh tea has been known as “the king of burning fat”, as it accelerates your metabolism and makes you burn fat faster.

Digestion Aid

This is the perfect tea to drink after a heavy or greasy meal. The antioxidants in Pu-erh Tea will aid digestion, speeding the metabolism and dissolving excess acidity, so if you tend to suffer a bit after meals, have a cup of ripe Pu-erh or aged raw Pu-erh to help digest and feel lighter!

Stronger Heart

Another of the amazing benefits of Pu-erh Tea is the ability to fight free radicals and increase blood circulation, thus reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases.

Minimize the Effects of Alcohol

Pu-erh Tea can help reduce the negative effects of alcohol consumption, so get up and prepare a cup of Pu-erh Tea. You will feel better and that horrible headache will be long gone. The caffeine will deal with your headache while at the same time this tea invigorates the liver and spleen, helping you to recover from alcohol damage.

Cancer Fighter

The presence of antioxidants inhibits the growth of cancer cells and the development of rheumatoid arthritis caused by free radicals. Drinking Pu-erh Tea on a daily basis will boost up your metabolism, making you stronger to prevent tumors and ward off attacks from viruses and bacteria.

Other Benefits of Pu-erh Tea

Pu-erh tea may also help you to improve your eyesight and help to fight tooth decay and bad breath.


Although Pu-erh is so beneficial for our health, we don't suggest you consume too much Pu-erh tea each day, especially less than 5 years aged raw Pu-erh . You'd better drink light Pu-erh tea instead of strong Pu-erh tea for health consideration.


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