Pu-erh or Pu’er tea is a variety of fermented dark tea produced in Yunnan province, China. Fermentation is a tea production style in which the tea leaves undergo microbial fermentation and oxidation after they are dried and rolled.
Pu-erh traditionally begins as a raw product known as “rough” (Mao Cha) and can be sold in this form or pressed into a number of shapes and sold as “raw” (Sheng Cha) . Both of these forms then undergo the complex process of gradual fermentation and maturation with time. The Wo Dui process developed in the mid-1970s by the Menghai and Kunming Tea Factories created a new type of pu-erh tea, whose legitimacy is disputed by some traditionalists. This process involves an accelerated fermentation into “ripe” (Shou Cha) which is then stored loose or pressed into various shapes. All types of pu-erh can be stored to mature before consumption, which is why it is commonly labeled with year and region of production.
Most Popular Varieties of Pu-erh Tea
According to the production process, four main types of pu-erh are commonly available on the market:
1. Maocha: All types of pu-erh tea are created from Maocha, a mostly unoxidized green tea processed from a “large leaf” variety of Camellia sinensis (C. sinensis assamica) found in the mountains of southern Yunnan.
2. Raw pu-erh: pressed maocha that has not undergone additional processing.
3. Ripened pu-erh: pressed maocha that has undergone fermentation in the ripening process for up to a year. Badly fermented maocha will create a muddy tea with fishy and sour flavors indicative of inferior aged pu-erh.
4. Aged raw pu-erh: A tea that has undergone a slow secondary oxidation and a certain degree of microbial fermentation.
While unaged and unprocessed, Maocha pu-erh is similar to green tea. Ripened and aged pu-erh tea has undergone secondary oxidization and fermentation caused both by organisms growing in the tea and free-radical oxidation, thus making it a unique type of tea. This divergence in production style not only makes the flavor and texture of pu-erh tea different but also results in a rather different chemical makeup of the resulting brewed liquor.
Pu-erh is compressed into a variety of shapes, e.g. round, flat, disc or puck-shaped, convex knob-shaped, thick rectangular block etc.. Sometimes it is also compressed into the hollow centers of bamboo stems or packed and bound into a ball inside the peel of various citrus fruits.
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