Pu-Erh Tea 101: Stems in Pu-Erh Tea? A sign of low-grade tea?

In our traditional impression of tea, quality tea must look and taste “fresh and tender". When distinguishing between good and bad, we always check the infused tea leaves to see whether there are enough tender buds there. If stalks are found, then most likely we will judge it as a low-grade tea. However, people who often drink tea will find that this standard does not apply on Pu-Erh tea. 

What is Tea Stem?

Tea stems refer to the leaf stalks of tea leaves, also called tea branches or tea twigs, which are relatively older than buds and young leaves. In some teas that require relatively high tenderness, such as green tea, only the buds are picked, and no tea stems are left, while in most other teas such as Pu-Erh tea, stems are very common.


Increase the sweetness of Pu-Erh tea liquor 

Tea stalks are rich in cellulose. During the fermentation process, microorganisms multiply and secrete a large amount of water enzymes to decompose cellulose into soluble sugars and increase the sweetness.

 The sugars in the mature stems even outnumber the young shoots. If Pu-erh tea only uses tea buds with high tenderness, the tea leaves will inevitably be bitter and astringent. At this time, some raw materials with more tea stalks are deliberately added to make the tea soup more balanced in taste and high in sweetness, which is more conducive to enriching the flavor of tea liquor.


Enhance the aroma of tea liquor

The vascular bundle in the stem is the main transport organization of nutrients and aroma, and most of the contained substances are water-soluble.

It is recorded in "Zhi Cha Xue" (Tea Making Guide) that the aroma of tea leaves decreases from the first leaf to the third leaf, while the aroma of the stem is the highest. During the processing of tea leaves, the aroma is transferred from the stalk to the leaves with the evaporation of water, and combined with the effective substances of the leaves to form a higher and stronger aroma quality.


Help better on aging and transformation of Pu-Erh tea

In the process of making tea, in order to facilitate transportation and storage, Mao Cha are generally steamed and pressed into various shapes such as tea cakes, tea bricks, and tea lumps when making Pu-erh tea

At this time, tea stems will make larger gaps between the tea leaves, thereby increasing the exposure to oxygen and water to accelerate the aging and transferring of Pu-erh tea, and be conducive to the improvement of quality. In addition, the polysaccharides and amino acids in the tea stems interact with the oxidatively degraded polyphenols in the tea leaves to promote the positive transferring of Pu-erh tea.
(See the differences between aged and young Pu-Erh tea, 
examples of the 2009 Emperor Raw Pu-Erh Tea and 2018 Emperor Raw Pu-Erh Tea of Chen Sheng Hao )


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