The mystery tea of China – Pu’erh


My fondness for Pu-Erh was sparked again recently when seeing rows upon rows of Pu’Erh cakes piled high all over China.

During some tea tasting sessions my husband and I were lucky enough to try some very rare and expensive Pu’Erh, which were infused upwards of 6 times. The Tong Qing Hao Shou Cha Cake from 1992 was a particular treat (see photo below).

Pu’Erh is a black tea due to its rich fermentation (it’s technically classified as dark black tea), which has been produced in the rich lands of Yunnan in China for centuries. Fortunes have been made and lost on Pu’Erh. In fact in 1997 (before the current economic situation), a Malaysian businessman is reported to have paid USD38,400 for 100g of 60 year old Pu’Erh tea in Guangzhou. That made it more expensive than gold at the time!

So what’s all the fuss about? Like fine wines, Pu’Erh is valued for its vintage and garden. Quite simply, there are only two varieties: Sheng (long fermentation) and Shou (short fermentation). Shou is only fermented for about 4-5 months and kept a maximum of 1-2 years before drinking. Sheng, on the other hand, can be kept indefinitely (either in cakes, bricks or disks). Care should be taken to preserve it naturally, not with foil bags or refrigeration. A good Pu’Erh will reach its prime flavour after around 20 years.

The secrets of its manufacture are still as closely guarded as under the Ming Dynasty when you could be sentenced to death just for trespassing in the gardens where it was produced. The Chinese used to transport the tea by horse from the gardens to the town of Pu’Erh (wonder where they got the name from). As these horse caravans travelled through tropical rainforests on the journey, the moisture in the air caused the tea to ferment. The resulting flavour was so popular that they decided to introduce a fermenting process for Pu’Erh.

The ruddy brown liquor has a marvellously rich, complex flavour with hints of osmanthus flower and minerals and a beautiful earthy aroma. Although prized in China for years, it’s now starting to become known in the West for its digestion benefits and evidence has shown that it may also be beneficial for cholesterol levels.

eteaket’s Pu’Erh Mini Tuo Cha is best brewed with freshly boiled water. Unwrap the cake first (you’d be surprised how many people don’t) then put one per person in your infuser. Pour on the boiling water for up to 30 seconds then pour away the liquid. Pour boiling water over the leaves again then remove the leaves after about 1 minute and drink the liquor. The Pu’Erh can be reinfused at least 4 times, each time it’s best to reduce the steeping time slightly. Give it a whirl and let us know what you think at or on Twitter or Facebook.