How to Make Pu-Erh Tea: Traditional Chinese and Modern Methods
Pu-erh tea is a delightfully aged tea that boasts rich flavor and an intricate drinking experience. This fermented tea can help improve health and is a great way to learn about traditional brewing methods.
Pu-erh tea can be brewed using the modern western method or the traditional Chinese method. The Chinese brewing method offers a complex brewing experience that emphasizes traditional tools and culture. The modern method enables new tea drinkers to discover the flavor of pu-erh tea without the need for specialty tools.
Whether you want an authentic flavor experience or simply want to try a pu-erh tea, you can brew perfectly every time with this handy guide. Find out how to perfect the two most common brewing techniques right here.
Pu-erh Tea Background
Pu-erh tea is a post-oxidized tea that is mainly sourced from the Yunnan province of China. The tea is commonly aged for several years to develop complex flavor characteristics.
Pu-erh tea is a true tea made from the large leaves of the Camellia sinensis tea plant. Pu-erh tea is most commonly made from the Assamica variety of the tea plant. The leaves are harvested and then separated depending on which type of pu-erh tea they will become.
There are two types of pu-erh teas: raw pu-erh (Sheng) and ripe pu-erh (Shou). Raw pu-erh is made from green tea leaves that are harvested, roasted, sun-dried, and steamed for compression into cakes and balls. The tea cakes are then aged to further develop flavor. Pu-erh tea is unique from oolong tea and black tea as the oxidation occurs because of bacteria rather than due to enzymes in the leaves. The production process of pu-erh tea is known as shai qing mao cha.
Ripe pu-erh leaves are made from black tea leaves. The production process is the same as raw pu-erh until the compression stage. Before the leaves are packed into cakes, the ripe pu-erh undergoes a process called piling. The leaves are placed in piles that are typically 25 to 30 inches high. The leaves are then sprayed with water and covered with a linen cloth. The humidity increases the speed of oxidation and alters the color and flavor of the tea.
Ripe pu-erh tea is generally deep amber in color—typically maroon or dark chestnut—when brewed. Shou pu-erh tea is bold and features an earthy flavor and potent aroma.
Raw pu-erh tea is lighter when brewed and is generally bright yellow. The leaves are also dark green rather than brown when dry. They often have white or brown tips and the occasional stripes. Sheng pu-erh tea boasts a slightly sweet aftertaste and a mild flavor profile.
The aging process also affects the flavor of pu-erh tea. Some of the highest quality pu-erh cakes are aged for more than 50 years. Most experts say that pu-erh develops the best flavor after seven years of aging.
Classification of Pu-erh Tea
Pu-erh tea is classified in China using a four digit number. The first two digits indicate the year the tea was produced. The third digit indicates the grade of the pu-erh leaves while the fourth and final digit refers to the tea factory that produces the tea. Common factories include Kunming Tea Factory, Menghai Tea Factory, and Feng Qing Tea Factory.
The Traditional Chinese Method
This method of pu-erh tea brewing is complex, but also rewards the tea drinker with a cultural experience and deeper understanding of Chinese tea practices. We recommend this brewing method to people who are looking to further their tea knowledge and immerse themselves in tradition. It's a method suited more for tea connoisseurs and experienced brewers. For the best results, you'll need a yixing tea set.
Ingredients and Tools:
- 3-4 grams Pu-erh tea
- Yixing brewing vessel with tea filter
- Serving pitcher
- Tea cups
How to Brew:
1. Rinse and warm the tea set using hot water. Simply pour the hot water into the tea pitcher, yixing pot, and tea cups. Swirl and discard the water.
2. Place tea leaves in the yixing teapot and pour a small amount of hot water on top. Use only enough water to cover the leaves. Swirl for 2 to 3 seconds and discard the water. Do not discard the wet tea leaves.
3. If you are brewing ripe pu-erh tea, repeat the rinse of the tea leaves once more. Raw pu-erh tea only needs to be rinsed once so skip to the next step if you are brewing raw pu-erh tea.
4. Fill the yixing teapot with hot water at 195 degrees Fahrenheit.
5. Cover the yixing pot with the lid. Pour a small amount of hot water on the lid.
6. After 10 to 20 seconds, the water on the lid should be dry. Once the lid is dry, pour out the tea into the tea cups. Enjoy!
Pu-erh tea can be brewed for ten infusions or more using the traditional brewing method. For each additional infusion, add 5 to 10 seconds to the steeping time.
The Western Method
This brewing method is suitable for individuals who are new to pu-erh tea or are looking for the simplest way to brew a cup.
Ingredients and Tools:
- 3-4 grams Pu-erh tea
- Large teapot
- Tea infuser
- Tea scoop
- Tea kettle
How to Brew:
1. Use the tea scoop to portion out the right amount of loose leaf tea. If you are using a pu-erh tea cake, use a small pick or spoon to remove 3 to 4 grams of the pu-erh compressed tea for every 8 ounces of water.
2. Place the pu-erh tea in a tea infuser. You can use a tea kettle with built-in infuser or a tea basket or pincer infuser and a normal kettle.
3. Rinse the pu-erh leaves with a small amount of hot water. Swirl the hot water around the leaves and discard the water.
4. Heat the water in a tea kettle or on the stove until the water temperature reaches 195 degrees Fahrenheit. Pour the hot water into a tea cup and place the tea infuser with pu-erh leaves in the cup. Do not use boiling water as it can result in bitter flavors.
5. The steeping time of pu-erh tea is generally 2 to 4 minutes. Steep for two minutes and taste every 30 seconds to find your preferred flavor.
Perfect Pu-Erh Brewing
These two brewing methods offer an opportunity to discover the earthy or sweet taste or raw and ripened pu-er tea. Brewing pu-erh tea properly not only enhances taste, it also deepens the enjoyment of the tea drinking process.
This dark tea will delight tea drinkers and even boasts health benefits such as accelerated weight loss and improved immune health. Sipping a cup of this fermented tea can help you feel your best while delighting your tastebuds.
Start by deciding whether you want to brew pu-erh tea as a traditional Chinese tea or using the modern method. Select high quality tea leaves and gather the necessary tools. Follow these basic guidelines and you're sure to brew the perfect cup of Sheng pu-erh or Shou pu-erh.
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