Pu Erh Tea 101: Guide On Choosing The Best Pu Erh Tea

There are some fantastic varieties of tea. Pu Erh tea, a variety of aged tea made in the renowned Chinese Yunnan Province, is one such kind. Have you tried Pu Erh tea as part of your tea repertoire? Perhaps you are intrigued but still have not made your first buy of this ancient tea.


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Pu-Erh has a long and rich history of use among Chinese rulers, and all Chinese dynasties used it. Besides its popularity in Asia, Pu Erh tea is also gaining popularity in the West, as more people recognize how good ancient tea is. Taste, aroma, flavor, and, most importantly, appearance are all unique in this type of tea. With that, Pu Erh tea is a tea that everyone should experience. Many individuals, however, have never heard of Pu Erh tea, much less tried it.

So if you are one of those with a strong desire to purchase your first Pu Erh tea, it is essential to ensure that you are thoroughly educated about finding the most excellent Pu Erh tea leaves in the market. Through this knowledge, you can make sure that you get to feel the best gustatory experience Pu Erh tea can offer. 

Here are the things you should look for in your Pu Erh tea: 

  1. The Origin of The Pu Erh Tea Leaves

    The sturdy stems and large leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant are used to make Pu Erh tea. The tea comes from the Yunnan region and dates back to the fourth century. The Yunnan large-leaf cultivar of the Camellia sinensis plant should be used to make high-quality Pu Erh tea leaves. Xishuangbanna, Baoshan, Pu'er or Simao, and Lincang are the primary historic Pu Erh tea production locations. There are ten famous tea mountains in Yunnan, six of which are in Xishuangbanna, where the Camellia Sinensis plant thrives.

    Moreover, Banzhang, Nannuo, Jingmai, Yibang, and Yiwu are some of the most well-known tea mountains today. Tea from various regions has distinct qualities. Each location has its representative places; for example, in Lingcang, the usual sites are Fengqing and Mengku. So, if you are planning to buy your first Pu Erh tea, ensure your provider has sourced its Pu Erh tea leaves in these locations.


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  2. The Age of The Pu Erh Tea Tree

    Even though all Pu Erh tea trees are Yunnan Large-leaf tea trees, there are various subgroups within this species. You can distinguish tea trees in a range of methods. One can measure the trees' grades by age to make them easier to grasp. The deeper the root of an elderly tea tree is, the more excellent nutrients and minerals it can take, ensuring the outstanding quality of the tea. Generally, a 60-year-old tea tree, also known as big tea tree in China, is preferable to a 30-year-old tea tree, also known as an arbor tea tree, which is preferable to a 10-year-old or younger tea tree, also known as a tableland tea tree. Some tea trees are over a century old, which is relatively unusual.

    Because they are grown by seeds rather than cloning or artificial growth methods, old tea trees and arbor tea trees have the most extensive genetic diversity. Compared to the clonal type, teas manufactured from these trees are fuller, more varied, and provide excellent taste and flavor. Furthermore, the old arbor trees have thrived without human interference for generations, never needing fertilizers or other chemical interventions. So, look for a provider that claims to have sourced their Pu Erh tea in aged or older Pu Erh tea trees to ensure the tea leaves' quality.

  3. The Pu Erh Tea's Grade

    Each tea type has a grading scale based on its conditions and quality. The same goes with Pu Erh. Pu Erh tea is divided into ten grades based on the primary raw material, mao cha, and the processing differences. Gong Ting Pu Erh or the Imperial Grade, Gift Tea Grade, Special Grade, First Grade, Third Grade, Fifth Grade, Seventh Grade, Eighth Grade, Ninth Grade, and Tenth Grade are the grades from highest to lowest. Higher-grade Pu Erh generally has more buds, while lower-grade Pu Erh has more prominent, less delicate leaves. For imperial quality, the taste and aroma are heavy, rich, and mellow, with more than ten tea steeps, while the 10th grade has mild flavor and aroma, with less than six tea steeps. Broad stems and large leaves do not immediately imply poor quality. However, as a rule, choosing the higher-graded Pu Erh tea leaves is better to ensure their taste, aroma, and flavor.

  4. Harvest Time of Pu Erh Leaves

    Spring, summer, and autumn are the seasons for harvesting Pu Erh tea. Later in March, just before the first rain, fresh buds appear. Ming Qian Tea, which refers to teas collected just before the Chinese Qingming Holiday, is the first spring crop. Ming Qian Tea is regarded as the best and most valuable crop each year. Before the monsoons, the leaves are plucked two more times.

    Autumn and Spring Pu Erh tea leaves have distinct characteristics that are superior to Summer teas for big tea trees. Spring tea is the greatest for tableland tea trees, followed by Autumn tea, and finally, Summer tea. Autumn leaves are often lower in quality to spring leaves but better in quantity than summer leaves. Furthermore, Pu Erh producers like dry weather because it yields better tea leaves and aids the sun-drying phase. Rainfall and cooler temperatures limit drying, resulting in a smoky flavor and aroma.


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  5. Soil Conditions Where Pu Erh Tea Leaves Were Grown

    The nature of the soil where the tea is grown is another essential aspect in determining the quality of Pu Erh tea. Pu Erh tea is similar to how specific regions of the world are renowned for their wines, cocoas, and coffee beans. The mineral concentration in the soil, the water supply used to feed the tea, and the climate in the area all impact the flavor of Pu Erh tea. Pu Erh tea's scent, taste, and flavor vary if it grows in soil contaminated with bugs, fungi, and other competing plants. As a result, make sure you buy Pu Erh tea leaves that have been cultivated in the proper soil conditions.

  6. Storage Conditions of Pu Erh Leaves

    The aging process of Pu-erh tea necessitates a specific humidity and temperature. However, extreme heat and humidity in the storage unit might degrade the flavor of the tea. Pu Erh tea has an aromatic, fresh, and smooth taste, with a long-lasting aftertaste that covers the tongue when adequately maintained. Teas that have been improperly handled frequently lose flavor and have an unpleasant odor.

    Determining the leaf origin of Pu Erh tea takes practice, and the results are not always reliable. Many manufacturers would claim to have sourced their Pu Erh tea from ancient trees containing fresh, large-type leaves. Pu Erh teas made from genuinely old trees are rare and demand a reputable producer to adhere to stringent quality assurance standards. With that, ensure that your provider has the proper certificates that prove their claim that they are handling their Pu Erh leaves in the right environmental conditions.

Final Thoughts:

Pu Erh tea can be complicated at first because there are various grades, classifications, flavors, and aromas to choose from. As a result, educating yourself about this tea is critical before purchasing it. 

Pu-Erh is deserving of the attention. This tea is truly one-of-a-kind and a sensory feast for the senses. It is truly one of the world's most complex teas, so you are bound to discover something you like. Indeed, the well-expounded guide on examining quality Pu Erh tea leaves will help you make more informed tea choices, so you get to experience the best of this ancient tea. 

References: 

  1. Just A Taste. 2022. 6 Best Pu-Erh Tea 2022 (Ultimate Buying Guide). Retrieved from: https://www.just-a-taste.com/best-pu-erh-tea/. Retrieved on 7 June 2022.
  2. Michelin Guide. 2018. Asking The Expert: Choosing Pu’er Tea. Retrieved from: https://guide.michelin.com/en/article/dining-in/ask-the-expert-how-to-select-puerh-tea. Retrieved on 7 June 2022.
  3. Path Of Cha. 2019. Determining A Good Quality Pu-erh. Retrieved from: https://pathofcha.com/blogs/all-about-tea/determining-a-good-quality-pu-erh. Retrieved on 7 June 2022. 
  4. Pique. 2020. How To Find The Best Pu-erh Tea. Retrieved from: https://blog.piquelife.com/best-pu-erh-tea/. Retrieved on 7 June 2022. 
  5. Teavivre. 2020. Key Elements for Puerh Tea Quality. Retrieved from: https://www.teavivre.com/info/decide-the-puerh-quality.html. Retrieved on 7 June 2022. 
  6. Yan Hou Tang. 2019. How To Identify Good Quality Aged Pu-Erh Tea?. Retrieved from: https://blog.yanhoutang.com/how-to-identify-good-quality-aged-pu-erh-tea/. Retrieved on 7 June 2022. 

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