We are always excited to sit down for a new Pu’er tea tasting. Most of the time it’s a raw Pu’er, naturally aged. Today, “day 5” of our tasting series, we’re dipping into a ripe Pu’er.
OK, so what is Pu’er tea again?
In a nutshell, Pu’er tea takes its name from the Pu’er region of Yunnan province. Broad-leaf tea plants (Camellia sinensis assamica) grow wild here. Once picked, the leaves are withered, pan-fried at relatively low temperatures, sun-dried and pressed into cakes, bricks and other shapes, or packed loose.
In China, ripe Pu’er is known as shou Pu’er (熟普洱) or just shou Pu (熟普) for short. Basically, to produce ripe Pu’er, the fermentation process is accelerated. The growers place the leaves on a warm ‘wet pile’ (wodui 渥堆) and regularly turn over the leaves to ensure even fermentation. This process lasts more than a month. The goal is to replicate the characteristics of naturally aged (raw) Pu’er in a fraction of the time.*
As many of you would know, ripe Pu’er nonetheless has a very different flavour profile to naturally aged raw Pu’er.
2014 Ripe Pu’er Tea Tasting
Source: Lincang, southwest Yunnan province, China.
Open up the pack and it’s amazing how much these dry leaves recall umeboshi–those pickled, dried plum-like fruits used in cooking all throughout East Asia (they are considered plums but are actually more closely related to apricots).
This umeboshi aroma is as fascinating as it is pronounced. But once you brew the tea, this aroma virtually disappears.
The brewed leaves develop an earthy, woody aroma. This is followed by an unexpected rush of sweetness of burnt sugar on the tongue. After drinking several infusions, this tea has a lovely calming effect on the nerves and is a good digestive aid.
Still, this tea may not be one for the Pu’er purists, who often insist on drinking only raw Pu’er, and studiously avoid ripe offerings. I must admit, I too usually go for raw Pu’er.
But if you’re still not at a point where you can sit down and enjoy a raw Pu’er (particularly an astringent, young raw Pu’er), this might be your cup of Pu’er tea. It is pretty darn tasty and lasts for 10 or more steepings. (And it’s available here. The best thing? It’s on sale for a limited time!).
As usual, we’d love to hear from you about your own Pu’er tea tasting experiences, so feel free to leave a comment below.
*The wet-pile process is a pretty recent invention. It was developed by two well-known tea factories in Yunnan, the Kunming Tea Factory and the Menghai Tea Factory, in the early 1970s.