Exploring Pu-Erh

Last year I posted about starting to learn more about Pu-erh. I posted several reviews but kept putting off my summary article until I just gave up. I saw my old post the other day and thought I should finally write it up!

What is Pu-Erh?

The short answer I used to give was “fermented tea.” That’s mostly true, but that description refers mostly to only one of the two types of Pu-Erh. A more correct answer would probably be “aged tea.”

There actually are lots of different variations of Pu-Erh tea, but they are all aged, and fall into two categories: “Raw” and “Ripe.” Technically, they are both also fermented, but one is actively fermented, and one undergoes a much slower natural fermentation as it ages over many years.

Flavor-wise the two varieties differ quite a bit, but typically provide a full amount of caffeine, similar or more than a cup of black tea. They also both have a lot of complexity due to the aging or fermenting process.

Ripe Pu-Erh

This is what I thought all Pu-erh tea was prior to my research last year. It’s easier to produce and takes less time, so it is usually cheaper. Ripe Pu-Erh was invented in the 1970s and involves manually fermenting or “cooking” the tea. This is done by piling the tea in large piles, wetting it, and covering it. This causes the temperature to rise and microbial activity to increase, which ferments the tea faster. This fermentation adds a lot of complexity to the tea as well as earth flavors. It also can give it quite a pungent smell, which I why I usually describe it as “stinky tea.” If you are familiar with gardening it is essentially a partially composted pile of tea leaves. Once it has reached the proper fermentation, the tea is packaged and often pressed into bricks or rounds.

Last time I checked all the Pu-erh tea at adagio.com was ripe Pu-erh. This also explains why it was all I thought Pu-erh was for a long time as that was where I first started ordering it.

My Ripe Pu-Erh Reviews:
Fengqing Golden Buds Ripened Pu-erh Cake Tea 2013
Ripened Cube Toucha Pu-erh Mini Brick (2006)
Fuding Shou Mei White – 2011
Ripened Aged Pu-Erh Mini Tuocha
Pu Erh Spice
Pu Erh Dante
Pu Erh Chorange

Raw Pu-Erh

“Raw” Pu-erh is a tea that is picked and processed, but then packaged into round bricks of tea and left to dry and age naturally. It does undergo some fermentation, but not the harsh and rapid transformation or Ripe Pu-erh. It is often aged for many years, from what I saw shopping around is at least 5 years before it is sold. That is certainly the minimum though, with some tea not being sold until it has aged 10, 15 even 25 years! This tea had less of the pungent aroma and typically doesn’t have the dark earthy tones of ripe Pu-erh.

My Raw Pu-Erh Reviews:
10-year aged Raw Pu Erh Brick
Fengqing Ancient Tree Raw Pu-erh

A Complication?
One thing to note is that Pu-erh is also a region, located in the southern Yunnan province. Like French champaign and Kentucky bourbon, the region claims that only Pu-erh coming from that region is Pu-erh tea. I don’t really have an opinion on that, but it did make learning about the tea a little tricky sometimes, so I thought I would mention it.

Tai Ping Hou Kui

3 / 5

I’ve been drinking tea for long enough that I don’t often run into something that I haven’t seen before. The shape of these leaves was new to me though. They were like a larger version of dragon well leaves that stuck together, very interesting. The tea is pleasant, a light flavor with more sweetness than grassiness. Delicate for a green tea, but very enjoyable.

Tea Leaves: Large flat leaves stuck together
Region: Huangshan, Anhui Province, China
Brewing: 185 degrees for 1-3 minutes
Purchased: Teavivre–  $2.50 for 10 grams

Xin Yang Mao Jian

1.5 / 5

I brewed this tea twice to make sure I didn’t just mess something up, but it came out the same both times. Very strong for a green tea, grassy to the point of being a little astringent. It is advertised as “Robust flavour, stronger and thicker green tea.” That is an understatement in my opinion. It reminds me of back when I first started trying teas with bad green tea bags. It lacks all of the subtlety and sweetness of a good green tea to me. Everyones tastes are different, so maybe someone would like it, but it is far too heavy for me to enjoy.

Tea Leaves: Thin, needle like leaves
Region: Xinyang City, Henan Province, China
Brewing: 185 degrees for 3-5 minutes
Purchased: Teavivre–  $2.00 for 10 grams

Dragon Well Long Jing Green Tea

4 / 5

Something about this tea makes it great on a mellow afternoon. Smooth, but still earthier than most green teas. It lacks the grassy flavor of the other greens I’ve been sampling. Not bitter at all, it is almost a little nutty. There is a sweetness to it, but there is something unique about it. It’s more of a background or undertone than something you taste up front.

Tea Leaves: Flat, remind me of seaweed
Region: Xihu District, Hangzhou City, Zhejiang Province, China
Brewing: 185 degrees for 2-5 minutes
Purchased: Teavivre–  $2.00 for 10 grams

Liu An Gua Pian

3.5 / 5

I’ve been drinking a lot of black tea lately so time to mix it up and go back from some greens. I forgot how much I like green tea for the afternoon. It’s a great pick-me-up but won’t keep you up all night either.

For a green tea, this had a lot of flavor. It was a good transition from all of the puerh I’ve been drinking. It is grassy and sweet with a woody backbone that makes it stand out to me. It had a lot of deep, almost vegetable-like flavor.

Not bitter, a good aftertaste, I really enjoyed this tea a lot.

Tea Leaves: long, twisted, light grassy smell
Region: Liu’an City, Anhui province, China
Brewing: 185 degrees for 3-5 minutes
Purchased: Teavivre–  $2.50 for 10 grams

Al Reef Ceylon Premium Cardamom


Last week I reviewed my last sample of Pu-erh, so switching it up again starting this week. I received this tea as a Christmas present and am really enjoying it. I’ve never had cardamom outside of chai tea before so I was excited to try this. This is a really high-quality Ceylan tea with a large amount of cardamom flavor. The cardamom is citrusy with a spicy hint, reminds me a little bit of bergamot maybe, but definitely, it’s own unique flavor. It smells amazing both as leaves and when brewed, it’s almost worth making just to smell it. The Ceylon tea is extremely balanced, sweet and earthy in a way that plays very nicely with the spice.

Side Note: I tried to find somewhere online you could purchase this from but didn’t have any luck, I found it at a local specialty grocery store, that’s probably your best bet.

Tea Leaves: Very strong cardamom scent
Region: Sri Lanka
Brewing: 212 degrees for 2-5 minutes
Purchased: Locally at Super green market–  $15 for 14oz*

Fengqing Golden Buds Ripened Pu-erh Cake Tea 2013

3 / 5

Another ripened puerh, this one with some lighter “golden bud” tea. Very strong aroma – I smelled it as soon as the water hit the dry leaves. Dark, but not quite as dark as last weeks. Taste is earthy, very peaty. It also lacks the sweet scent and undertone that I liked last week. Overall a fairly dark but surprisingly mild puerh, puts it in a weird “not bad but nothing special” category for me.

Tea Leaves: Dry cake piece with lighter yellow leaves
Region: Fengqing, Yunnan, China
Brewing: 212 degrees for 5-8 minutes
Purchased: Teavivre–  $2.50 for 20 grams*

Ripened Cube Toucha Pu-erh Mini Brick (2006)

3.5 / 5

Another fun little mini-cake of ripened Pu-erh. I’ve been having so much of the raw pu-erh that it’s been a while since I had fermented pu-erh, and this is definitely what I think of when I think of Pu-erh. It has a pretty pungent smell, though not too overpowering and almost a little sweet smelling. (More likely, I’ve just gotten used to it.) It has a strong dark full-bodied earthy flavor. The aging definitely gives it a more mellowness and pleasant aftertaste.

It is a lot darker and stronger than the other toucha I tried last month, which was much lighter than I expected. This one could give coffee a run for its money in terms of robust flavor, but without the bitterness. I think this is probably now taking the top spot for me for an unflavored ripened puerh.

Tea Leaves: Very hard, dry little brick
Region: Yunnan, China
Brewing: 212 degrees for 5-8 minutes
Purchased: Teavivre–  $10.90 for 3.5oz*

10-year aged Raw Pu Erh Brick

3 / 5

I was excited to see what tea that has been aged 10 years tasted like. I mean, I’ve had some tea that’s sat around for a long time in my cupboard before, but nothing even close to this old. This is a “raw” Pu-erh, so it was picked, packed into a cake and left to sit in a special warehouse. If I had to pick one thing that the aging process adds I think it would be a subtle complexity. It’s not like most tea I try where I can pin down exactly what I am tasting right away. There was not the smell I associate with Pu-erh tea, it smelled almost sweet. It has a mildly sweet flavor, but with a hint of a woody aftertaste. Its a really pleasant cup to drink, very light and delicate.

Tea Leaves: Very dry little tea cake, crumbly
Region: Fengqing, Lincang, China
Brewing: 212 degrees for 3-5 minutes
Purchased: Teavivre–  $2.00 for 16g*