What Young Pu-erh Tea Is All About

Young Pu-erh – great straight or “British style” (Photo by A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)
Young Pu-erh – great straight or “British style” (Photo by A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

A few years ago I received a sample of a tea called “Young Pu-erh.” It started me on an exploration of this rather unique style of tea. It’s not a black tea nor an oolong. And it’s certainly not a green or white tea. So, what is Young Pu-erh all about? To know that, you need to know more about pu-erh.

The Official Description

In 2008 pu-erh was granted a geographical designation by the Chinese government at the request of the tea farmers and factory owners in Yunnan province. Standard Number GB/T 22111-2008 “Product of geographical indication – Puer tea” (pu-erh has several spellings in our alphabet with lots of discussion about which should be the standard). As of 1 December 2008, only tea grown and processed in Yunnan province could be labeled as pu-erh tea, and it must be made from a large leaf variety of the tea plant (Camellia sinensis var. assamica) and processed using a specified methodology. Why bother? Because at that time prices were sky high. Shortly after (or possibly just before) this standard went into full effect, the pu-erh market was experiencing a pricing bubble that popped. Prices fell about 85% but in the past few years have been climbing back up. Fakery abounded before the standard (and the big price drop) and still does. Tea leaves were being gathered from wherever they could be gotten and processed haphazardly into cakes to sell to unsuspecting customers (mostly outside of China). The overall reputation of the tea was being threatened, as it was with Darjeeling teas which were being blended with inferior teas to spread out the supply and meet demand.

What Makes Pu-erh Different

This is a greatly simplified version. The tea leaves undergo the basic processing of tea leaves according to the final style of pu-erh desired. This involves withering, rolling, drying, etc. The result is called máochá (leaves that can be stored awhile under proper conditions before final processing or be processed right away). From here there are two different options: wo dui (wet pile fermentation) that speeds up aging of the tea (actually a form of fermentation but one that does not create alcohol) and is called shu, shou, cooked, or ripe pu-erh; and natural fermentation where the leaves are wetted slightly, pressed into various shapes (discs, mushrooms, tuos, bricks, and mini-tuos), then stored in certain conditions (humidity level, temperature, and monitoring periodically) for at least 5 years, and is called sheng, uncooked, or raw pu-erh.

Description of The English Tea Store’s Young Pu-erh

This is basically a shu (cooked, ripe) pu-erh. It has an aroma described in various ways, depending on whether the describer finds it pleasant or not. To me it’s earthy like a forest with lots of leaves on the ground. Some call it mushroom-like. Others say it’s like rotting vegetation. The steeping instructions said it can be infused using water heated to a rolling boil for 2-10 minutes. So of course, hubby and I had to try it infused using different times. We also tried it straight but also “British style” with milk and sweetener (and probably made a few pu-erh lovers faint – they tend to take this tea quite seriously, while I like to keep a bit of humor and the joy of experimentation in things). Both ways were quite satisfying for us. And you can feel confident that whichever way you prefer it will be fine. There are no rules in tea – only options!

See more of A.C. Cargill’s articles here.

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