What’s this Puer Tea Thing?


Puer tea, or pu-erh tea, is a tea where the tea leaves themselves have been fermented. It’s also the tea category that ties with oolong for my personal favorite type of tea.

History of Puer

Produced exclusively in the Yunnan Province of China and made from the older tea leaves on the bush, puer was first used at the country’s borders as a trade item. It was made into brick shapes and then scored along the top so that pieces could be broken off to make change. The town of Puer gets its name from this lovely tea.

Puer is a type of dark tea. The difference is, dark tea can come from anywhere tea is grown. This fermentation is not to be confused with black tea which is an oxidized tea leaf, or kombucha which is a brewed sweet tea that is then fermented.

The Puer Process

Until the 1970’s puer tea was made in the traditional way, by pressing the leaves into cakes and storing the cakes, often in caves where the climate is perfect for a slow fermentation. Think 10-15 years, and more. An increased demand for the tea spurred tea makers to find a faster way to ferment the leaf, which led to a new type of pu-erh.

Raw puer, or sheng, is the traditional slowly fermented version. Shou puer is the new “cooked” version. You can usually tell the difference by the price. Some sheng puers are aged for 50 or more years and sell for thousands of dollars per gram.

This is a seven-minute video showing you the process of drying the leaves and forming them into cakes. Fascinating stuff.

Drinking Puer Tea

Puer can be an acquired taste for some. For most people, though, it is a love it or hate it tea. The flavor is definitely earthy and musty, which only increases the longer it brews. Through some magic of tea, puer doesn’t become bitter the longer it brews, like other true teas do. It gets stronger in flavor and intensity.

We carry three puers/dark teas. In order of most crowd pleasing to most earthy they are:

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  1. Fireside Chai is a loose leaf version blended with other flavors for a staff favorite.
  2. Dark Rose is simply dark tea pressed into heart-shaped cakes along with rose petals for a slightly sweeter flavor.
  3. Puer Tuo Cha is the most traditional of the puer teas we carry. It is a shou version with a visible indent from the tying process.

Give puer tea a try if you haven’t already. I hope you love it as much as I do, but no offense taken if you don’t. She’s not everyone’s cup of tea, though she’s most certainly mine most days.

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