Raw vs Cooked Pu-erh
Written by William le 20 february 2012
There are two types of Puerh teas.
-Raw Puerh (Sheng Cha 生茶) is similar to green tea, it is processed as detailed in this article and pressed in cakes. A slow fermentation occur and the tea changes over the years.
-Cooked Puerh (Shu Cha 熟茶) is fermented: tons of tea are piled up in a warehouse, they spray water and cover it for several weeks. The slow fermentation process which occur in raw tea is accelerated here, the tea becomes dark and the taste changes dramatically.
Puerh Sheng Cha has a good capacity to age. When young, it looks like green tea, the leaves are intact, the brewed tea is yellow and it tastes fresh and flowery. As raw tea ages, the leaves get darker, the brewed tea becomes orange to brown. The aroma varies a lot according to where it has been stored (wet or dry climate)
Puerh Shu Cha is very dark, during the fermentation process, the tea leaves tend to agglomerate and contract, the buds are reduced and become golden tips. Very young cakes can have a characteristic smell of fermentation, but it is not systematic, those off-flavors leave as the tea ages. The brewed tea is red to black, depending on the degree of fermentation. Puerh Shu Cha has less potential for aging than Puerh Sheng Cha, it just mellows, gets more sweet and loses its early fermentation flavors. We have a good example of Shu Cha from Mengku area on Bannacha
The diversity of tastes in Sheng Cha is due to the different production areas, each tea garden gives a unique profile to raw Puerh: some are bitter and pungent, others are mellow and aromatic or everything in between. As it ages, the taste will transform into something deeper, more woody, fruity, whiskey-like. The storage conditions determine to a large extent the future aroma of the tea.
The material used to make Shu Cha has a limited influence on the taste of tea, this is why only the lower qualities of leaves (young plantation tea, summer tea) are process into Shu Cha. The characteristic of this kind of tea depends on how it has been fermented: the size of the pile, the time of fermentation, the amount of humidity... this is quite a complex process to obtain a decent tea; each tea factory keeps its own method secret. Most Shu Cha are earthy, they can have hints of peat or chocolate and can remind a forest in autumn or an old attic. They go easy on your stomach, they warm you body and make you feel comfortable. You will particularly enjoy them in winter.
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