Green Puerh

Puerh, in general, is made from tea leaves that are then processed into a variety of shapes and sizes. This is the only tea in the world that actually increases in value with age, much like a fine wine. However, it does not obtain it's true depth of flavor until it has had the opportunity to age and mellow for a minimum of several years.

Varieties

Puerh is available is many different varieties. Not only do you have different shapes and sizes but you also have different levels of oxidation and leaf quality. There are a variety of different strains of "base" teas, however many connoisseurs only consider puerh to be authentic if it is made from one of the Yunnan Big Leaf varieties of the tea plant.

There are basically 2 broad categories of Puerh although there are several different naming conventions in use for these 2 types.
Type Names Description
Green Puerh
Green Puerh
Uncooked
Raw
Green
Sheng (Raw)

This is puerh that is processed with little or no oxidation before being compressed into various forms.
Black Puerh
Black Puerh
Cooked
Ripe
Red
Black
Shu (Cooked)
This is puerh that is oxidized, to varying levels, before being compressed or stored as loose leaf puerh.

Production

Green Puerh is processed as follows;
  1. The leaves are picked by hand, often from very old trees.
  2. The leaves are then sorted and any inferior leaves are removed. For example leaves that are broken, started to whither, or have signs of excessive oxidation.
  3. Heat is now used to stop the natural oxidation, this is usually done on a hot metal surface
  4. The leaves are now rolled to break them up a little bit, although this step is sometimes omitted
  5. The leaves are now withered either by sun or heat until roughly 90% of the moisture has been removed. Sun dried leaves are considered the best.
  6. The tea is now sorted into 10 different grades, sometimes there a few special grades in addition to the basic 10.
  7. The leaves are now steamed and compressed into a variety of shapes
    Pressing  A hydraulic Press
  8. The cakes are then stored in a dry environment to encourage slow oxidation .This is called "Dry Storage" and the puerh that is stored this way is referred to as Dry Storage Puerh.
      Aging
The result is a young tea that can be very astringent. While it is immediately drinkable if properly brewed it will greatly improve with age, it will also become more forgiving of various brewing methods.

Microbes

One of the main reasons that Puer is so unique is that Puer tea is a living thing! Many different microbes are active during the manufacturing process of the puer cakes. Some of these microbes have very short lives and are only present during certain phases of the manufacturing process, while others are predominate throughout the entire manufacturing process. It is these microbes that are believed to be responsible for the many health claims associated with Puer.
  • Aspergillus Niger - This is the main microbe that has been identified in Puer. It is a yeast-like fungus that is often used in Industrial food processing. Think of yogurt, buttermilk, and sour dough bread and you get the idea. For more information see The Aspergillus Website (very technical)
  • Saccharomyces - This little puppy is where that hauntingly elusive sweetness comes from. It is the second most prevalent microbe in Puer. It is a single-celled yeast that has no mycelium, reproduces asexually, and ferments sugar.
  • Penicillium - Penicillium retards the growth of undesirable fungi and bacterium. It is a bluish green fungus that grows on stale or ripening food. Some forms of penicillium are used to make cheese and others are a source of the antibiotic penicillin.
  • Rhizopus - Rhizopus is one of the microbes that has a short life. It is present during the fermentation process and contributes to the softening of the leaf. It is actually a mold that causes decay very similar to the common bread mold. To maintain the proper amount of Rhizopus the Tea Master must tightly control temperature and humidity.
  • Aspergillus Glaucus - This one is undesirable and can actually cause excessive decay and poor quality, it can be minimized by maintaining proper temperature during the fermentation phase. Apparently this microbe is sometimes utilized to make lower grades of Puer but I am not sure what the advantage is. It is a pale blue/green fungus or mold often found on leather and cheese.
  • Others - It is believed that other microbes exist, even if just for a short period of time, during the fermentation phase. Unfortunately the constantly changing, often unrepeatable, and continually evolving microscopic environment has proven extremely difficult to analyze.

Quality

The quality of any given piece of Puerh is a culmination of several factors
  • Leaf Variety - There are several different varieties of the Yunnan Large Leaf Tea Plant that used for making Puerh. Each variety brings certain characteristics to the table. Often more than one type is blended to make a given cake. The skill of the blender will affect the ultimate quality of the cake.
  • Grade - What grade of leaves went into the cake, how consistent was the sorting etc
  • Processing skill - This greatly depends on the factory that produced the tea. As with any product some factories do a better job than others
  • Age/Oxidation Level - This oxidation can occur naturally or it can be accelerated through processing. Oxidation through natural aging is by far the best.
  • Microbe Activity - Microbe activity greatly affects the quality of a given puer. In order to encourage the proper balance of microbes very tight control over the production process must be maintained. Microbe activity is only intended to be active during the manufacturing process.
  • Storage Conditions - If Puerh is stored well it will improve with age, poor storage will adversely affect it's quality.

Aging/Storage

Since Green Puerh greatly improves with age due to continued oxidation you want to encourage this process.
  • Humidity - You want a relatively low humidity environment to prevent undesirable molds, anything that might encourage mildew is disaster.
  • Air - The oxidation process requires oxygen so you want free air flow but not a breeze.
  • Odor Free - It is absolutely imperative to keep the storage space free from odors. A shelf in a nice dry, odor free, closet will do nicely.
  • Breathable - You want breathable packaging, do NOT wrap the tea in plastic unless you want to stop the aging (oxidation) process.
  • Wet Storage - Some cakes have been artificially aged AFTER they were compressed. This process is called "Wet Storage". There is a legitimate market for Wet Storage Puerh but beware of this because this process is often used to forge the look of an antique cake. The compressed cakes are repeatedly sprayed with water and allowed to dry out in a humid environment. This process encourages mold and oxidation. A skilled forger can make cakes that easily look 30-40 years old right down to the wrapping. However the taste of these forgeries is nothing like the real antique puerh!
  • 40 year old + - BEWARE of any puerh that is advertised as being more than 40 years old. During the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) most puerh that was aging in storage was lost or destroyed. Very little of pre-revolution puerh remains and those who do have any are not likely to part with it.
As a rule of thumb if the climate is comfortable for humans (not too humid, hot, or cold) it is good for aging/storing puerh.
The content above was last modified on: 05/07/2006

Relevant Links

LinkA Basic Guide to Pu’er Tea
An interesting primer on what puerh is all about.

Link was added on:11/24/2006 and was last edited on: 12/30/2006

LinkChinese Tea Export & Cooperation
"Global tea purchase and cooperation" Appears to be a "Co-Op" type forum for Tea Import/Exporters. Note that various Puerhs sell for as little as 15 cents a pound!

"China Tea Net is the only global professional tea-developing base for the foreigners who want to buy Chinese tea and also Chinese tea co. to sell tea abroad or publish products information."

Link was added on:12/23/2005 and was last edited on: 11/04/2006

LinkClouds Tea Collection
Mr Chan Kam Pong (aka Mr Cloud (Fu Yun = Cloud)) is the author of the first ENGLISH book on puerh that recently released in Kuala Lampur. Mr Cloud is a big time Puerh Collector who lives in Hong Kong. He shares a a lot of photos and good information in English. While he does have some Chinese text as well, I cant read it on my PC, I must not have the right codeset.

Book title: First Step to Chinese Puerh Tea
Author: Chan Kam Pong
Publisher: Wu-Shing Books (same publishing house as Puerh Teapot magazine)
ISBN: 9789789578962
Price: US$29.99

Link was added on:11/26/2006 and was last edited on: 12/30/2006

LinkDistinguish between Discus Tea Cake and Seven-son Tea Cake
A video from Mr Cloud that shows the difference between an iron pressed tea cake and a traditional bingcha.

Link was added on:01/15/2007 and was last edited on: 03/23/2007

LinkExploring Specialty Teas in Southwest China
Article by Lydia Kung about tea production in Southwest China which includes a few paragraphs about pu-erh factories

Link was added on:04/09/2006 and was last edited on: 11/04/2006

LinkHow to break up a Puerh tea cake
A video by Mr Cloud showing one method of how to break up a Bingcha

Link was added on:01/15/2007 and was last edited on: 03/23/2007

LinkIPOT Breaking Puerh cake.
Another video showing yet another method of breaking up a Bingcha

Link was added on:01/15/2007 and was last edited on: 03/23/2007

Puerh Aficionados
A site that is aimed at collectors that discusses the major factories.

Link was added on:12/23/2005 and was last edited on: 11/04/2006

Linkrec.food.drink.tea
This is a newsgroup that is entirely centered on the consumption of tea. People from all over the world contribute freely. If you have a specific question this is a good place to start. If you are unfamiliar with reading newsgroups just talk to your favorite PC Guru, it really is easy. My favorite newsgroup reader is called "Forte Agent", a free version is available. Outlook Express (NOT regular Outlook) will also work. The link above takes you to Google with a search of Puerh, or Pu-Erh, or Puer, in the RFDT Tea newsgroup. Google can be used to read the newsgroups but the latency can be high.

Link was added on:01/28/2006 and was last edited on: 11/04/2006

LinkSelecting Pu’er Tea
An interesting article on selecting your puerh cakes. He introduces a new term “Live Pu’er” which I have never heard in this context before, although I can see how it could be thought of as such. He uses “live”in the same context where I would use the terms “raw” or “sheng” or “green puerh”. While the article is a very interesting and well written background about puerh, it does little to help you know what to look for when you are selecting your tea other than some subjective and generic taste profiles based on age.

Link was added on:11/24/2006 and was last edited on: 12/30/2006

LinkSilk Road Trade
A very polished site with information, history, and teapots for sale. This site has a nice, but low resolution, movie clip of a teapot being made. Has a section explaining the symbolism of the designs. Did you know that a Pear represented the Symbol of justice, longevity and wisdom? 9/12/04 Site seems to be done for an overhaul.

Link was added on:12/23/2005 and was last edited on: 11/04/2006

Tea Files
A very intricate Blog mainly focusing on Yixing Teapots

Link was added on:04/15/2006 and was last edited on: 11/04/2006

LinkTea Trail - Puerh Production
A very good description of what it takes to produce puerh.

Link was added on:03/23/2007 and was last edited on: 06/02/2007

LinkThe Profit in Pu’er Tea
An interesting article showing the inflation in the value of puerh.

Although one reference to a recent charity auction in Beijing is somewhat misleading as he left out some important history behind that particular batch of tea. This auction was for the Tea Horse Road Caravan tea which held very specific historical and cultural significance to the Chinese people and had little to do with the actual tea. It is like owning a brick from the World Trade Center, its not the value of the brick itself but rather the historical significance behind the World Trade Center. This article leaves out that important fact. So dont think that regular young puerh can fetch anywhere near $100 a gram, it just isnt so.

Otherwise, this is a very interesting article. Just dont think that ALL puerh will increase in value like this, the source maocha, the compression, the storage, and many other variables affect the final investment potential.

Link was added on:11/24/2006 and was last edited on: 12/30/2006

LinkThe Secrets of Pu-er Uncovered
An absolutely fantastic account of Puerh processing from a guy who toured the factories and cities involved. A MUST read for anyone who loves puerh!

Link was added on:12/23/2005 and was last edited on: 11/04/2006

The Tao of Tea
Reviewed 03/14/2006 $$$

They have greatly improved their selection of puerh recently. Vintages and grades are now listed but few factories are listed, largely because it appears they have now an OEM type relationship with a particular source. If they had listed the manufacturing source I would have given them 4 stars. The variety offered is decent and the prices are OK to high by US standards. They have one of the best articles about puerh production that I have seen on any Vendor´s site.

Link was added on:04/15/2006 and was last edited on: 11/04/2006

LinkWe Reveal the Mystery of Pu-erh
An interesting overview about Pu-erh.

Link was added on:12/23/2005 and was last edited on: 11/04/2006

LinkWikipedia Puerh Article
This is the free online encyclopedia article on puerh. BearsBearsBears (from the Puerh LJ community) recently enhanced the article greatly and it is now a VERY worthwhile resource.

Link was added on:11/04/2006 and was last edited on: 12/30/2006


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