Pu'er is a fermented tea. Rather than a fast wet ferment - like a kombucha - pu'er tea undergoes a long, slow microbial fermentation process of dried and oxidised whole-leaf tea.
In China, pu'er tea is sometimes described as dark tea or black tea, but this is different to what in the West is called black tea - which is known in China as red tea. It is also spelled many different ways from puer to puerh with many dashes and hyphens in between (pu-er, pu'erh).
But pu'er, however, you spell it, or categorise it, is a wonderful tea to enjoy.
Chinese pu'er tea originates in Yunnan in South West China, where it is still crafted today. The tea leaves are mostly made into bingcha - tea-cakes, or bricks, and wrapped only in paper to continue to age. It is also for sale as loose leaf tea. The art has been adopted by others beyond China and we are extremely proud to supply some of the rarest fermented tea in the world, from Malawi.
An earthy, yet silky and deliciously umami infusion, pu'er is often drunk alongside food, especially in Hong Kong, but it is becoming ever more popular in the UK and USA. It is traditionally thought that pu'er tea is good for digestion and can help the body break down fats. Some research suggests that the caffeine in pu'er is responsible for this. The earthy, deep, rich and complex flavours certainly pair well with many rich, savoury dishes.
Why Choose Pu'er Tea?
Pu'er tea is a wonderful style of tea to choose if you enjoy more savoury, earthy and umami black loose leaf teas. It is also a category of tea with a rich history. Pu'er cakes or bricks were a good way of preserving Camelia Sinensis leaf and transporting it. Pressed into dense shapes and slowly aging, the tea improves with age, unlike other styles of tea that deteriorate through oxidation over time.
Types of Pu'er Tea
Despite being spelt in myriad different ways - these all describe the same type of tea.
Pu'er tea can come as a loose leaf tea or be pressed into a brick or 'cake'. Bingcha pu'er cakes are a traditional way of crafting and storing tea in China and are typically left to age for many years - growing in value the older they get, even being traded as a currency (for potentially thousands of pounds) as their rarity and history increases. The ageing process of the tea allows it to become more smooth, mellow and less astringent (less bitterness).
There are two main types of pu'er tea - ripe pu'er has first been "wet-pilled" where it undergoes an initial wet fermentation for around 45 days to begin the process. This allows the tea to reach the smoothness and delicacy of a much older raw pu'er much faster. It is also a lot more affordable. Raw pu'er is made from dry leaf, steamed and pressed without any wet fermentation. It takes many decades to reach maturity.
Pu'er tea traditionally comes from Yunnan Province in China but tea growers in other parts of China have adopted the method of fermenting tea to produce their own varieties of pu'er. Our Malawi Leafy Pu'er is a truly rare tea, with very clean, clear flavours. All of our pu'er teas are also lovely and loose leaf.
You can explore other Chinese Teas here including oolong teas.
Pu'er Tea vs Black Tea
Pu'er tea has many characteristics that set it apart from other teas. Whilst closer to black tea than green tea or white tea, pu'er belongs in its own category, having been processed completely differently to black teas. The slow fermentation of the already partially oxidised tea leaves imparts a much less astringent flavour profile to pu'er than is found in black teas, even the best loose leaf black teas. It is also much more earthy; reminiscent of a walk through an autumn forest in the rain.
A pot of pu'er tea has a wonderful savoury note and plenty of umami and woody sweetness, making it a wonderful option to pair with foods - whether sweet or savoury.