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Knowledge About Pu'er Tea

Release date:2014-10-09


  1. What is Pu’er tea? Why is it called “Pu’er”?

  In order to unify the understanding about Pu’er tea, an international seminar about Chinese Pu’er tea was held in Jinghong City, Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture in June 2002. More than 20 tea experts from home and abroad, including Japan, Korea, Malaysia, formed an experts committee and identify the concept of Pu’er tea. It is agreed that Pu’er tea was originally grown in Lancangjiang River valley in western and southern Yuannan province. Pu’er is created from the fresh leaves of broad-leaf tea trees. There are loose tea and pressed tea with various shapes. Some Pu’er tea is made after natural storage for a certain period and some is produced after artificial Wodui (wet piling) fermentation. Pu’er was originally the name of a county in Simao area. In fact, in the Yuan dynasty, that place was named “Buri Bu”. At the beginning of the Yuan dynasty, because Pu’er tea was often served in the royal palace, Genghis khan asked a minister where the tea came from. Because of the similar Chinese pronunciations of the two words, “Buri Bu” was called “Pu’er Fu” later. In 1736, the Qing government set up a tea bureau to manage the tea production and transaction in Pu’er and Pu’er became the distribution center for Pu’er tea. Ever since then, the small town of Yunnan was world-renowned because of its Pu’er tea.

  2. Is Pu’er tea a kind of green tea or red tea?

  Pu’er tea cannot be classified as green tea or red tea. Judging from the color of the tea liquor, “raw Pu’er” looks like a green tea while “ripened Pu’er” looks like a red tea. However, the nature of Pu’er tea (natural transformation; the older, the better; long storage period; collectable and useful) and its unique processing techniques are quite different from the other six tea categories. Therefore, Pu’er tea should be regarded as a unique category.

  3. Is Pu’er tea one of the top ten Chinese tea?

  Yes. As the ancestor of tea, Pu’er tea has a very long history. It has not only become a famous tea in China, but also won recognition of tea lovers from Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, south-east Asian countries, Europe and America. In this sense, Pu’er is also an internationally famous tea.

  4. Why is Pu’er tea collectable?

  Nowadays, the aged Pu’er has become not only the pursuit of tea lovers, but also the new favorite of collectors. There are four reasons for that. First, the natural environment created the unique quality of aged Pu’er. Pu’er tea trees are grown in Xishuangbanna where there are lush forests with rich plant resources. There are more than 7000 kinds of plants there. Pu’er tea trees grow together with these plants in the forests, constituting a complete ecological system and absorbing the useful ingredients of those plants. Second, Pu’er tea has an extremely long history. It is said that the history of Pu’er is the history of China. Now Pu’er tea has a history of more than 1700 years. Xishuangbanna of Yunnan province is situated in the southwest of China where there are steep mountains and swift torrents. In ancient times, because of the poor traffic conditions, the transportation of tea was totally depended on horses and cattle, creating the famous “Tea-horse Ancient Road”. Pu’er tea is full of historic and cultural value. Third, the processing techniques of Pu’er tea determine its characteristic, “the more aged, the more fragrant”. The longer the tea is kept, the better the quality and the higher the price. Fourth, its output is limited. It is medically proved that Pu’er tea can nourish the stomach, clear heat, decrease blood lipid and resist arteriosclerosis. Drinking Pu’er tea can lose weight. All these features of Pu’er tea fit in quite well with the requirements of modern people who always pursue good health and cultural taste. The consumption of Pu’er tea will increase definitely and the output of good Pu’er tea can hardly satisfy the market demand. The good aged Pu’er is consumed every year, which reduces the amount of aged tea. Therefore, the longer the tea is kept, the higher the value.

  6. What is “raw Pu’er” and what is “ripened Pu’er”?

  The classification of raw and ripened Pu’er depends on its fermentation method. Raw Pu’er refers to Pu’er made from green rough tea. The rough tea is dried and pressed, then stored in a dry place with good ventilation to inhibit the enzyme activity. Examples of raw Pu’er include the ancient cake tea of Mengwang Tea Factory, Gushan Youle Arbor cake tea, Jingmaiqing cake tea, Yiwuzhengshan tea, Bulangshan ecological tea etc. “Ripened Pu’er” generally refers to tea made from green rough tea after wet piling fermentation. The fermentation reduces the transformation period artificially and changes the bitter and astringent flavor of raw Pu’er into sweet and mellow flavor. The color of the tea is changed from golden yellow into maroon red or brown maroon etc. We usually called this kind of tea “ripened Pu’er tea”. Examples of ripened Pu’er include the cake tea No. 75726, 72626 from Mengwang Tea Factory, Guifeigong cake tea, Gongtingyuan cake tea and various loose teas etc. Raw tea can also be transformed into ripened tea naturally. Actually, whether the tea is raw or ripened is determined by whether it has been transformed.

  7. How to differentiate raw and ripened Pu’er tea?

  The difference between raw and ripened Pu’er tea can be told from the following aspects, i.e. color, flavor, tea liquor color and leaf bottom.

  Name Raw Pu’er (usually less than 10 years old) Ripened Pu’er

  Outlook tea leaves symmetrically arranged; dark green color with delicate fragrance tea leaves tightly pressed; dark brown color with ripened fragrance

  Flavor bitter but sweet later; thirst-quenching with fragrance sweet, smooth and tender taste; good ripen tea also has the flavor of ginseng or jujube etc.

  Tea Liquor Color orange, light red, brilliant and transparent red, dark maroon, transparent

  Leaf Bottom light green or maroon, full of vitality dark maroon or black without vitality

  8. What is spring tea, summer tea and Guhua (flower of cereal) tea?

  The classification of spring, summer and Guhua teas depends on the time of picking. From February to April, spring tea is picked. After hibernation, the tea trees store a lot of nutrition inside. The best spring tea is picked within 15 days after the Qingming Festival (Tomb-sweeping Day). Usually one leaf and shoot are picked together. The shoot is thin and white and the leaf is thick covered with hair. The leaf veins are thin and close. The sawtooth brim of the leaf is not clear. Spring tea is very fragrant with mellow flavor. The tea liquor is orange and transparent. Spring tea is the best raw material for making Pu’er. The period of spring tea picking is also the busiest season of the tea factory. Summer tea is picked from May to July. Xishuangbanna has the biggest rainfall during this period. So summer tea is also called “Rain Tea”. The flavor and liquor color of summer tea are not as good as those of spring tea. The leaf is bigger and the stalk is thicker. There are more old leaves and the saw tooth brim of the leaf is clear. Summer tea is relatively bitterer than spring tea. In addition, because there are more rainy days than sunny days, it is hard to dry the tea. Most of the summer tea is baked and processed to make green tea. Autumn tea is picked from late September to early November. Because this period is a harvest season and there are golden cereals everywhere with fragrant flowers, autumn tea is also called cereal flower tea. For most of the time, the weather is bright and clear. The shoots on the trees are white with golden color. Autumn tea has a mellow flavor, as light as the fragrance of a lotus. The period for picking autumn tea is short and its output is small. So it is the treasure of Pu’er tea.

  9. Is there any difference in the processing techniques of raw and ripened Pu’er?

  The processing techniques of raw and ripened Pu’er are completely different. To make raw Pu’er, the tea leaves are first dry pan-fried, or “killed green”, then rolled and rubbed. Next the leaves will be dried and pressed into different shapes. The leaves will undergo natural fermentation in storage. As long as the quality of the raw materials is guaranteed, ordinary factories can produce raw Pu’er according to the preferences of consumers. However, this is not true for ripened Pu’er. In short, to make ripened “Pu’er”, the tea leaves are first dry pan-fried, or “killed green”, then rolled and rubbed. Then wet piling technique is used and the tea leaves are then pressed into different shapes before drying. The procedure of making ripened “Pu’er” is complicated. It requires the strict control of not only the temperature, but also producing environment, water quality, ferment etc. The techniques for making ripened “Pu’er” are the core business secrets of a tea factory. At present, there are few factories that can produce good ripened “Pu’er” in large scale.

  10. What is “dry green” and what is “bake green”?

  After the fresh tea leaves are dried, rolled and rubbed, they are spread on a mat for drying naturally under the sun and it is called “dried green tea”. This kind of tea is the raw material for making Pu’er. It can be stored for a long time. Using the dying machine to dehydrate the fresh tea leaves is called “bake green”. Tea made from this kind of materials is more fragrant than the first one but it has a limited period for storage. In a strict sense, this kind of raw materials cannot be used to make “Pu’er”.

  11. How to grade Pu’er tea?

  Pu’er tea can be divided into high, medium and low grades. Examples of high grade tea include Jinguagong tea, Jipin brick (cake) tea, Guifeigong cake tea, Gongtingyuan cake tea etc; examples of medium grade tea include 72626 ripened cake tea, Yiwuzhengshanqing cake tea, first and third grade brick tea, bowl tea, first to fifth grade loose tea; examples of low grade tea include sixth to tenth grade loose tea. Both the leaf and the shoot should be picked together. Usually, leaves are picked from the top to the third. If there is one leaf and one shoot, pick the shoot; if there are two leaves and one shoot, pick the shoot and one leaf; if there are three leaves and one shoot, pick the shoot and two leaves. Tea leaves with more shoots are graded higher than leaves with more stalks.

  13. What are the different functions of different grades of Pu’er tea?

  If tea leaves come from the same kind of tea trees (for example, arbor tea tree), there is no difference between their ingredients and functions, but their flavors might differ slightly.

  14. What does the number of the cake tea 72626, 75726 mean?

  Because there are many kinds of Pu’er and different formulas were used to make Pu’er in different periods, in order to unify the identity of Pu’er, Yunnan Tuhsu Company numbered all Pu’er tea in early 1970s. The first two digits represent the year when the formula is made; the third digit represents the formula and the last digits represent the tea factory. For example, in the number of the ripened cake tea 72626, “72” means the formula was made in 1972; “6” means the 6th formula was used; “2” represents Menghai tea producing area and “6” represents Mengwang Tea Factory.

  15. What kind of material should be used to pack Pu’er tea?

  The basic principle is that the package material should be clean, tasteless with good ventilation. Pu’er tea should normally be packed with traditional cotton paper and bamboo container during its storage period. Cotton paper facilitates ventilation and the transformation of the tea. During this process, the fragrance of bamboo can be absorbed too. Before and while drinking, tea leaves can be put into Zisha or pottery teapot to prevent the invasion of other tastes and facilitate the transformation of tea leaves. Some people use plastic paper to pack Pu’er for the sake of beautiful outlook and this kind of package is not desirable.

  16. Why is there no production date on the package of Pu’er tea?

  This question is often raised by people who drink Pu’er tea for the first time. It is necessary mark the production date on all kinds of products nowadays because most of them have a limited life or valid period. Pu’er tea is not a modern commodity. It has such a long history that its processing method and unique quality guarantee that it will never expire. This gives us one more interesting topic while drinking Pu’er tea and leaves some space for our imagination.

  17. What is the function of the stamp on the tea package?

  When Pu’er tea was originally produced, there was no package at all. There was only a piece of square paper (known as “inside ticket”) pressed on top of the cake tea, indicating the producer and year of production. Later, with the market development, Menghai, Xiaguan and Mengwang Tea factories used red and blue stamps respectively. Then green and yellow stamps were used by other factories to identify the producer and year of production.

  18. What is the difference between dry storage and wet storage Pu’er tea?

  “Dry storage Pu’er tea” refers to tea leaves that are put in a dry place (humidity lower than 80%) and undergo the natural aging process. Wet storage is to accelerate the conversion of Pu’er tea by putting the tea leaves in a humid place. This method will create mold and other harmful materials in the conversion process. It not only tastes bad, but also does harm to our health.

  19. What is the white frost on the surface of Pu’er tea?

  The frost is the result of oxidization of the tea leaves, also known as “Danning”. It tastes bitter and can diminish inflammation. Academically, this is called natural oxidization.

  20. Why will the fresh green tea leaves turn red after conversion?

  It’s true that the fresh tea leaves are green when picking and after drying. However, after conversion, the leaves and the liquor turn red. This is a chemical change, or oxidation. The enzyme plays a very important role in this process. Experts think that the red leaves are the result of three kinds of activities: oxidation of the tea leaves themselves; enzymes’ activities and the activities of microorganisms.