Pu-erh can be a controversial tea: Many tea lovers are confused (at best) about how it is made, fraud in the sale of pu-erh remains a concern, and more than a few people simply don’t care for the stuff. I’m a pu-erh fan going back to my earliest days of tea drinking, but do admit that it is often an acquired taste, sometimes made more difficult by a lot of the intrigue that surrounds it. Pu-erh is made from tea leaves grown in China’s Yunnan Province, and is processed differently from other teas. Raw or “sheng” pu-erh is made from large tea leaves are often packed into cakes, nests and bricks, which are then aged, giving the tea a unique flavor. “Ripe” or “shou” pu-erh (also known as “cooked” pu-erh) undergoes a special process that simulates aging. Both varieties are enjoyed by many people, though pu-erh aficionados and purists have a definite bias toward sheng pu-erh.
Interested in trying this mysterious tea? Here are a few tips:
- Don’t Oversteep Pu-Erh: Many people who dislike pu-erh do so because they oversteeped the stuff. Pu-erh is often strongly flavored and, frankly, doesn’t taste much like “normal” tea. I recommend starting out brewing pu-erh in short steeps, so that you can taste its sweetness and earthy notes without feeling like you steeped into a barnyard.
- Do Try Flavored Pu-Erh: Don’t get me wrong: I am still an advocate of plain, unflavored teas. But pu-erh can be an interesting base for chocolate orcaramel flavors, often resulting in a flavored tea with more depth than those prepared with a standard black tea.
- Be a Skeptic: Ask questions about the pu-erh that you buy, particularly if the vendor makes a lot of claims about its pedigree. There are plenty of tasty, inexpensive pu-erhs on the market, so take your time in selecting a merchant of collection-quality pu-erh.
- Hang on to Pu-Erh: Most teas taste better when fresh, but pu-erh can age over time. If you find a pu-erh that you like, hold on to at least some of it. Then break some of it out every year to see how its flavors have changed.
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