There are types of tea in this world that are simply breathtaking. One such variety is definitely the tea known as Pu-Erh; a type of fermented tea produced in the famous Chinese Yunnan Province. Pu-Erh has a long history of use among the Chinese emperors, and it was certainly permeating throughout the Chinese dynasties. But, apart from its fame in Asia, Pu-Erh is reaching the western side of the society as well, as many people are recognizing how amazing this tea really is. It is utterly unique, in taste, aroma, flavor and most definitely appearance. It is unlike anything you’ve ever tried. But, unfortunately, many people haven’t even heard of Pu-Erh, let alone tried it.
That is why we are going to tackle this wonderful tea in the following paragraphs; we’ll take a look at what this tea is, how it is produced, classified and what makes it so unique. Moreover, we are also going to take a look at what the best Pu-Erh tea brands are, so you can make a great holiday Pu-Erh purchase, or simply buy the tea for your own joy. Either way, let’s get introduced to Pu-Erh – Erh and see what this tea is all about.
Pu-Erh – Overview
Pu-Erh was the dominant variety of tea in China for hundreds of years. Historical records show that the production of this tea exceeded hundreds of tons in ancient China and other Asian countries; Pu-Erh was one of China’s main exports and other countries’ main imports. Nowadays, Pu-Erh is produced not only in China but also in Taiwan, Vietnam, Burma, and other surrounding countries. This area seems to have exceptional soil quality and temperature, which enables Pu-Erh tea to reach its quality and outstanding flavor. Even today, Pu-Erh still enjoys the same status in Asia but has definitely become famous globally as well.
The reason for its fame lies in the fact that Pu-Erh is probably the most complex tea in the world. With this tea, everything requires more time and special attention. For example, this tea is not usually processed as other, loose-leaf teas are. Pu-Erh is processed by being packed into so-called cakes or bricks, which are left to age before being approved for consumption and further transportation. Moreover, it is consumed by being crumbled and then brewed, for each cup separately.
Pu-Erh is often referred to as the ‘whiskey’ of teas, because of its overall complexity, as well as because of the flavor and aroma. If you’ve never tried Pu-Erh before, its taste and aroma can be described as reminiscent of dark chocolate, freshly roasted coffee or malt. Its brew can be light and rather refreshing, but also darker in color. Sometimes it can be reminiscent of green tea, other times of black tea. It is important to point out that this tea is really expensive; sometimes Pu-Erh bricks or cakes can cost hundreds of dollars. Luckily, there are also ways you can buy Pu-Erh tea for a lot less; more on that later.
In order to know how to choose the best Pu-Erh tea, it is important to know a little bit about this tea’s classification. Broadly speaking, Pu-Erh can be classified into two main categories.;
- Raw or Sheng Pu-Erh tea – raw Pu-Erh is often compared to green tea. That is because this raw variety is made directly from the sun-dried green tea through a compression process. Raw Pu-Erh is fermented naturally over a longer period of time. Sometimes it can take more than 10 years for the tea to ferment and mature, but the Pu-Erh intended for commercial use matures for a shorter time. Either way, raw Pu-Erh has a light, delicate yet earthy, and overall has a complex flavor and aroma. The brew is incredibly rich and it can vary in the color; sometimes it can be lighter, and if brewed a bit longer, it can turn darker in color. Overall, the brew is full-bodied and a true festival of flavor and aroma.
- Ripened/cooked or Shou Pu-Erh tea – ripen or cooked Pu-Erh is also made from sun-dried green tea, however, it undergoes the so-called microbial post-fermentation. The fermentation is executed at higher temperatures, often around 50 degrees, and also in higher humidity conditions. The higher temperature often accelerates the fermentation process; that is why Shou Pu-Erh is stored in dense piles which create additional heat and humidity.
Ripened Pu-Erh is usually stored for a long time, where it has to undergo aging and maturing, sometimes even up to 20 years. The longer it is stored, the higher the price; just like with outstanding alcoholic beverages. Unlike raw Pu-Erh, its ripened counterpart has an earthy and mushroomy flavor and aroma. The flavor is also rather deep, full-bodied and very much lingering. Shou Pu-Erh is also the most expensive tea, but we’ll make sure to link you up with low-cost brands in the following paragraphs.
When it comes to Pu-Erh classification, these were the two main categories. It is important, however, to mention that Pu-Erh can also be classified as follows;
- Loose-leaf Pu-Erh tea – of course, in the previous paragraphs we’ve mentioned how Pu-Erh comes in the so-called brick or cake form. However, Pu-Erh can also be in the form of loose-leaf tea. It is surely unusual, but the mainstream, commercial brands promote the loose-leaf counterpart, as it is oftentimes cheaper, while retaining the quality, flavor, and aroma. Loose-leaf Pu-Erh simply contains the sun-dried leaves that have not been compressed, further processed or aged.
- Compressed Pu-Erh tea – now, compressed Pu-Erh is the standard form of this tea. The compression happens as follows; after sun-drying, loose-leaf tea is compressed into different molds to achieve the shape of brick or cake. Other shapes are famous as well, like mushroom or melon-shaped Pu-Erh. This strategy often applies to the ripen Pu-Erh, which undergoes additional fermentation. It has been shown that further microbial fermentation is easier when the tea is compressed.
Pu-Erh Chemical Composition
Pu-Erh is not only popular for its incredible flavor, aroma and unique appearance, but also because it is exceptionally healthy. Pu-Erh is great when it comes to fighting off bacteria, virus infections, inflammation, blood pressure issues, and cardiovascular issues. Moreover, it is great when it comes to aiding weight loss, digestion, improving sleep quality and reducing stress. The reason for all these health benefits lies in the amazing chemical composition of Pu-Erh tea, which contains;
- Free polyphenols – these micronutrients, also known as polyphenols, are packed with antioxidants. Pu-Erh is rich in free polyphenols which are known to alter and improve gut bacteria. That is why Pu-Erh is exceptional when it comes to digestion issues, as well as cholesterol and cardiovascular diseases. Both, raw and ripened Pu-Erh have a similar number of polyphenols as numerous studies have shown.
- Flavonoids – these are chemical compounds found in Pu-Erh which are responsible for its aid when it comes to weight loss. Flavonoids are able to affect and inhibit fat accumulation in the body and promote loss of weight. They also block the accumulation of lipids in the liver and decrease cholesterol levels.
- Free amino acids – studies have shown that Pu-Erh is rich in amino acids due to the fermentation process it undergoes. Some of the major amino acids in Pu-Erh include glutamic acids, arginine, theanine, and tyrosine. These amino acids play an important role when it comes to the anti-inflammatory properties of the tea. Moreover, theanine is also known to be responsible for the savory notes in the tea, as well as for being a reason Pu-Erh tea is such a relaxant.
- Caffeine – Pu-Erh is a great alternative to coffee as it contains caffeine which affects your body in a healthier way. Sure enough, the levels of caffeine in ripened Pu-Erh are lower when compared to other tea, but are nevertheless effective. Pu-Erh teas can contain anywhere from 30 to 70 mg of caffeine per serving cup, which is more than enough to keep you focused, concentrated and at the top of every task. Not to mention that caffeine in Pu-Erh promotes weight loss as well.
How to Make Pu-Erh Tea?
For the Pu-Erh beginners, it is important to know that the traditional preparation and brewing of this exceptional beverage can be rather complex. The traditional Chinese method of brewing is recommended to those who are true Pu-Erh enthusiasts;
What you will need to make your Pu-Erh is the following;
- 3-4 grams of Pu-Erh (raw/ripened, loose-leaf/compressed),
- Brewing vessel or brewing cup with a tea filter (you can use a Yixing clay filtering mug that is slow to conduct heat, or filtering cups with ball infusers, collapsible basket infusers or clip-on infusers),
- Serving pitcher/kettle
- Tea cups
How to make it?
- The first thing you’ll need to do is to warm your tea set; you’ll do that by pouring hot water into the kettle, pot and tea cups. Swirl around for a moment and then discard the water. This will help the tea retain its temperature, and the tea set won’t break under the heat and temperature change.
- Into the brewing vessel, make sure to add the tea and pour it over with a small amount of hot water. The amount of water you use should be able to cover the leaves. Make sure the swirl the water around for a few seconds and then discard. However, do not remove the wet tea leaves. In case you’re using ripened Pu-Erh, make sure to repeat this step once more.
- Now, make sure to heat water at 195 degrees (Fahrenheit) or 90 degrees Celsius. Use the water to fill in the brewing vessel. Cover the vessel with a lid (make sure the lid is warmed up as well by pouring some water over it).
- After 20 seconds, the lid should be dry; once it is dry you can remove it, as the tea is done and ready for consumption.
- Pour the tea into serving cups and enjoy. It usually doesn’t need any additional ingredients, but feel free to add, for example, sweeteners according to personal taste.
- Make sure not to discard the tea leaves after you’re done drinking. The leaves can be re-steeped several times. For each new brew, make sure to add 5 to 10 seconds to the brewing time, in order to get satisfying results and an equally good brew.
6 Best Pu-Erh tea 2020
1. BornTea Raw Sheng Pu-Erh Tea – best raw loose-leaf Pu-Erh
Since Pu-Erh tea can be really expensive, we’ve decided to open the list a Pu-Erh tea that comes at reasonable pricing. BornTea is a tea company known for its high-quality products that are usually affordable for everyone. Their raw Pu-Erh is no exception; the tea is simply amazing. Their tea comes from the Chinese Yunnan Province and is a signature tea of this company, belonging to some of their best-selling teas.
When it comes to the Pu-Erh itself, the tea is biologically very similar to the green tea. Since it is a raw Pu-Erh, it is very light, delicate, but has a profound, full-bodied liquor, flavor and aroma. The BornTea Pu-erh is rather vegetal, quite fruity with a hint of leafy, earthy and floral in the aroma. Unlike ripen Pu-Erh, this one doesn’t have the grassy, earthy or even roasted flavor and aroma. There are also no signs of bitterness or astringency. Even if there is a hint of bitterness, due to overstepping for example, the sweet aftertaste quickly takes over. The tea is also rather high in caffeine, and it is fairly aged, as it was picked in 2017. Now, BornTea offers the tea as follows; regular packs (5g x 20 packs) of raw loose-leaf Pu-Erh will cost you $33.00 USD. You can also buy a gift box, with the same amount of tea, which is packed in a box that is excellent for storing the tea; this will cost you $36.00 USD.
2. Yunnan Sourcing ‘Gong Ting’ – best mid-range ripened Pu-Erh from Yunnan Sourcing
Now, if any company knows their teas, it’s Yunnan Sourcing; their focus is always on quality, but also providing a range or both, affordable and expensive teas. The same applies to their certified, organic ripened Pu-Erh. The tea originates from the Simao area in the Chinese Yunnan Province. It has been harvested in April 2018, and pilled for fermentation and maturing in summer the same year. The Gong Ting ripe Pu-Erh is the smallest leaf grade, and unlike the previous Pu-erh, it has a dark color and a bit of bitterness and astringency to the flavor. However, the tea is also full-bodied, very potent in flavor and aroma, tasting like dark chocolate with a hint of fruity sweetness.
Another thing that guarantees high quality of this Pu-Erh is the fact that the tea was cultivated organically on the summit of Ma Wei Mountain near the so-called Pu’Er City. After being carefully cultivated, the tea was picked and sun-dried, piled for 45 days and turned into Gong Ting, ripe Pu-Erh tea. It is formed into cakes and easily turned into a wonderful brew. For one, 100g cake of Gong Ting Pu-Erh, you’ll have to pay only $15.00 USD, which is definitely a great deal.
3. Yunnan Sourcing Old Arbor – best high-quality aged Pu-Erh
We are including another Yunnan Sourcing Pu-Erh on the list; we wanted you to be able to make a choice between an affordable and expensive Pu-Erh, and the Old Arbor Pu-Erh seems to be just right. This Pu-Erh is cultivated and picked in the Yi Wu mountain area. The area is filled with remote, natural tea gardens where the tea bushes and trees are hundreds of years old. This particular Pu-Erh was picked in early October, so it is relatively young, fresh and green. That is why the brew is reminiscent of green tea. However, the taste is something else; the Old Arbor Pu-Erh has a rather distinctive flavor and aroma, which could be described as thick with a hint of bitterness.
Overall, the Old Arbor Pu-Erh is probably a little advanced for people who are just discovering this tea variety. That is why we recommend you take things slow and start with the cheaper Pu-Erh teas as to develop a sense of the taste and what to expect from other Pu-Erh varieties. However, if you want to start your adventure with teas like this raw Pu-Erh, then surely go for it. This tea is absolutely amazing and the flavor and the aroma are unique to this variety. For a cake of the Old Arbor raw Pu-Erh, you will have to pay $72.00 USD. Compared to other teas, this is definitely pricey but bear in mind that there are Pu-Erh teas costing hundreds of dollars.
4. Harney & Sons Ancient Tree Pu-Erh – best oldest ancient Pu-Erh
If there is the best way to discover Pu-Erh tea, then it is with Harney & Sons. This tea company is all about quality and affordability, and the same applies to their Pu-Erh tea selection. For this list, we’ve decided to recommend the Ancient Tree Pu-Erh, which is tea that has been compressed into a cake in 2003. This makes it rather aged, mature and fermented, meaning there is a ton of flavor and aroma waiting to be discovered.
It is important to point out that aged Pu-Erh is not always high in quality. Sometimes it can be dirty or musty tasting. However, with the Ancient Tree Pu-Erh, you won’t have any problems. This is a vintage tea that has been preserved in the best possible ways. It has a wonderful earthy and roasted aroma with hints of wood flavors and fruity sweetness. The liquor is medium-bodied, and the flavor is mellow, earthy and a bit dry, reminiscent of peanut or walnut. It is also important to mention that this is loose Pu-Erh tea; it does not come in cakes but some leaves tended to be pressed. It is also currently sold out, but Harney & Sons will be putting it back to stock soon, so make sure not to miss it.
5. Mandala Tea Old Tea Nugget – best affordable, high-quality Pu-Erh
Mandala Tea is an American tea company that imports the best Chinese tea. It is focused on making exceptional tea available to people around the world. Their Old Tea Nugget Pu-Erh is just one of the few best-selling teas. This particular Pu-Erh has been picked in 2008 and processed into a ripened tea in 2011. It is an exceptional variety of tea, consisting of nuggets that make this Pu-Erh brick a complete joy to drink. Depending on the length of the infusion, this tea can develop several types of flavors and aroma. However, it is rather delicate and gentle on the palate.
Overall, this Pu-Erh has a purple-brown brew, and it is considered to be a vintage tea. It has an earthy flavor, that is reminiscent of autumn, leaves and forest soil. It is rather evoking of wonderful memories and is very cozy. The tea is also very smooth, has a full-bodied liquor and a powdery texture. The finish is minty and very fresh; however, the minty hints disappear after several further brews. The tea is very light, not overpowering and very forgiving, which is great for those who are discovering Pu-Erh tea. When it comes to buying, Mandala Tea is currently having a sale, so you can get 250g of this wonderful tea for only $5.00 USD. This is an excellent deal, so make sure not to miss it.
6. Teavivre Menghai Buds Palace – best unique, aromatic Pu-Erh tea brew
Teavivre is a renowned tea company that produces some of the best teas on the market. They have everything aligned, from the quality to the prices; there is something for every tea enthusiast. The same applies to their rich and versatile Pu-Erh selection. We’ve decided to go with this exceptional Menghai ripened Pu-Erh tea. It is one of their best-selling and best-reviewed teas. The origin of this tea is the Bulang Mountain in the Chinese Yunnan Province. The leaves for the Menghai Pu-Erh are selected from the oldest tea trees located at the highest altitude. The tea was picked and harvested in the spring of 2012, left to mature for several years and was produced in 2016. The sun-dried, matured leaves are compressed into a cake shape where it is easy to see the colors of the leaves; from red and brown colors to astonishing golden tips.
Overall, the tea has a unique flavor and aroma; the initial taste is rather sweet and mellow. However, it quickly develops into a soft, smooth flavor that has a hint of lotus and the aroma of roasted fruits. The liquor is full-bodied, and the aroma well-rounded. The more aged this tea is, the complex its flavor becomes, which is rather amazing. Depending on the length of the infusion, it can change in color, flavor, and aroma. Overall, the flavor is simply irresistible, completely lingering and unforgettable. If you want to buy this heaven in a cup, you will have to pay $42.90 USD for 357g of tea.
More Interesting Information about Pu-Erh Tea
To discuss Pu-Erh requires a lot of learning and gathering of information. We’ve presented you with a list of the best Pu-Erh teas you can buy in our opinion. However, in order to make the right choice, there are more things you need to know and take into consideration;
- If you’ve come across loose-leaf Pu-Erh tea make sure to be very careful with such a purchase. These tend to be extremely cheap, however, the quality is equally bad. Loose-leaf Pu-Erh tea usually comes from sketchy places, and often have no labels or factory wrappers. It can be very easy to get tricked and ripped off. That is why we recommend you shop from established tea companies, regardless of whether the tea is loose-leaf or in cakes.
- Before preparing your tea, make sure to smell it when unpacking. The tea should have an earthy, smoky or woody aroma. There shouldn’t be any odd smells and odors, especially not of mold. If the tea smells funny, contact the company you ordered it from, and ask for a product replacement or their return policy.
- Before preparing the tea, even if it smells good, make sure to check the color. Good Pu-Erh should either have yellow/green or reddish color, depending on fermentation and age. However, the tea should not be having any white or yellowish dots, which could imply the development of yeast. There shouldn’t also be any cracks and the cake or brick should be easy to crumble.
- Before buying the luxurious, super expensive Pu-Erh, make sure to familiarize yourself with this tea. Start by tasting it by buying some samples; this way you will get used to the flavor and the aroma, and prepare your palate for more profound and thorough flavors. Moreover, you will figure out which variety of Pu-Erh you like, so you will have an idea of what next to buy. Sampling and evaluation are very important when it comes to any tea, not just Pu-Erh.
Pu-Erh tea can be rather confusing in the beginning; there are several grades, categories, different flavors, and aromas. Therefore, it is important to learn about this tea before you start enjoying it. By learning about Pu-Erh, you will know exactly which one is good, which price is appropriate and where it is safe to buy from. Pu-Erh is, however, worthy of the fuss. This tea is completely unique and a true festival for all of your senses. It is one of the most diverse teas in the world, so you can be sure you’ll find one you like. We hope that our comprehensive observation of Pu-Erh has helped and that you will now make easier tea choices.
- BornTea Raw Sheng Pu-Erh Tea – best raw loose-leaf Pu-Erh tea on the market
- Yunnan Sourcing ‘Gong Ting’ Organic Ripe Pu-Erh Tea Cake 2019 – best mid-range ripened Pu-Erh from Yunnan Sourcing
- Yunnan Sourcing Old Arbor Raw Pu-Erh Tea Cake 2019 – best high-quality aged Pu-Erh
- Harney & Sons Ancient Tree Pu-Erh Loose Tea 2003 – best oldest ancient Pu-Erh
- Mandala Tea Old Tea Nugget Pu-Erh Brick 2011 – best affordable, high-quality Pu-Erh
- Teavivre Menghai Buds Palace Ripened Pu-Erh Cake 2012 – best unique, aromatic Pu-Erh tea brew