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As well as the loose-leaf form, Pu Erh teas may be compressed into discs, bricks, ‘cakes’ or other shapes, which was originally so that they could be transported by horse caravan across the Himalayas. In village workshops these tea cakes are still formed under a series of stone weights, after being pressed flat and lightly steamed.
Each Pu Erh’s character is a result of not only provenance and crafting, but also how long and in what manner it was aged and the environment in which it is stored. This makes it a fascinating exploration, and like us you will follow your own individual journey with it. Our collection includes both minimally aged green ‘sheng’ Pu Erhs and ripened ‘shou’ Pu Erhs that have undergone accelerated fermentation. These are both first processed as a green tea, or ‘mao cha’, plucked, roasted, and left to dry in the sun. ‘Sheng’ leaves are then left alone to age, while ripened ‘shou’ Pu Erh is gathered into large warm piles, where it sits for months fermenting. The tea cultivar is Yunnan Big Leaf (大叶, da ye), which has relatively large leaves growing on trees scattered here and there all over the mountain slopes of the region, rendering the harvest and transportation a difficult and time consuming process.
Pu Erh is known in Chinese as ‘black tea’ owing to the dark sienna hue of its tea liquor. Chinese tea drinkers believe that it lowers blood cholesterol and prevents bad cholesterol (LDL) from forming in the arteries. They drink Pu Erh after a heavy meal to aid with digestion and even stimulate weight loss.
The base green tea leaf is picked and processed in much the same way as if green tea is going to be made, plucked, roasted and left to dry in the sun. But after that the leaves are skillfully encouraged to ferment and then they are made into compressed tea cakes and stored for vintaging. This produces the characteristic earthy, autumnal flavours and aromas.
Green Pu Erhs are herbaceous, smooth, sweet, bright, brisk, clean, soft and slightly woody. There is a hint of roastiness, and they can be frisky if young. They have a lingering finish. The colour of the liquor is bright clear, from pale wheat-yellow to amber depending on the age of the tea.
Ripened Pu Erhs can be loose-leaf or compressed into cakes or bricks or even sometimes into bamboo baskets or citrus peels. They are full bodied, with character and a lingering finish. The flavours are biscuity, fuearthy, woody, herbaceous, smooth, with somethting of the gentlemen’s club! The liquor is amber, burnt sienna/umber or tinged copper.
The Chinese say, ‘Some grandpas make Pu Erhs for their grandsons to enjoy, but others want to drink it straightaway’. That is the dilemma, unfortunately – whether to enjoy the delicious brew right now or save it for further vintaging!