Quality Check: How To Tell A Good Quality Pu Erh Tea From A Bad Quality Pu Erh

Pu Erh is a particularly distinctive kind of tea. There is frequently no middle ground; you either love it or don't. It is a deep, enormously potent tea that has often undergone decades of ageing and gives birth to a taste that several find odd. Regardless of how many top-notch teas they have tasted, many people are not the Pu Erh type. Experts suggest consuming a high-quality sample while tasting Pu Erh for the first time. Instead, you risk having a spoiled Pu Erh that will discourage you from trying the tea beverage again.


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Pu Erh tea's quality can vary greatly, and there are several causes for such variations. This variation indicates numerous Pu Erh teas available on the market, of differing quality and cost. What precisely separates bad Pu Erh tea from good Pu Erh tea? This article outlines the key differences to ensure you enjoy your next Pu Erh cup fully.

Good Quality vs Bad Quality Pu Erh Tea

  • Origin of The Tea Leaves

    The characteristics of tea vary depending on where it is grown. Good and premium quality Pu Erh tea utilizes the Yunan Large-leaf cultivar. Lincang, Xishuangbanna, Baoshan, and Pu'er (Simao) are China's four major or primary traditional Pu Erh production regions. Additionally, each location has its representative place. For example, in the case of Lingcang, these locations include the Mengku and Fengqing. Six of the ten renowned tea mountains are found in Xishuangbanna. Banzhang, Yiwu, Yibang, Nannuo, and Jingmai are some of China's most well-known tea mountains today, where the Large Leaf-type Camellia sinensis, the plant source to make Pu Erh tea, can be harvested. If your Pu Erh tea comes from this region or any nearby area in China, then most likely, your Pu Erh tea would be of the better quality range.

    If your Pu Erh tea is cultivated and harvested in other parts of the world or other regions aside from the stated places above, then you can expect that your Pu Erh tea can taste different and unpleasant. This difference can be brought about by the other cultivation conditions such as temperature, humidity, and the like. Such situations can alter tea leaves' taste and appearance, resulting in a bad quality Pu Erh tea. 

  • Tea Tree Age

    Even though the Large-leaf tea tree species, to which all Pu Erh tea plants belong, contains several subvarieties. Tea leaves harvesters can identify the tea trees in a variety of ways. The age of the tea trees allows harvesters to assess the grade in an easy-to-understand manner. The deeper the root of an aged tea tree, the further nutrients and minerals it can take. More nutrients and minerals ensure the superior quality of the tea. Generally, a tea tree that is 60 years old is superior to one that is 20 years old. There are also a few tea plants over a century old, which is uncommon.

    Today, not only old tea trees can provide leaves to make Pu Erh tea, but there are also leaves from tea bushes, sustainable farming small trees, and wild tea trees. However, the finest leaf supply comes from old tea trees, followed by wild trees, little trees grown sustainably, and tea bushes.

    Since they are propagated from seeds instead of clones, old tea trees have the largest genetic diversity. In contrast to the clonal type, teas produced from these old tea trees are fuller, more intricate, and provide amazing taste and experience. The ancient tea trees have also thrived entirely by themselves for generations without the assistance of humans, never needing herbicides or fertilizers.

    Old tea plants have a low yield, yet there is a significant demand for tea from them. Tea producers occasionally blend the leaves from ancient tea trees with those from tea bushes to produce more products to meet the increasing demand. To prevent being duped, it is vital to recognize the differences between various leaf sources' traits.

    This idea does not mean that every Pu Erh tea produced from the bushes is subpar. However, teas produced from bushes do not have the richer and fuller taste of Pu Erh tea made from the leaves of old trees, so it should not demand exorbitant prices. Therefore, awareness of the above qualities should help you avoid overpaying for your tea purchases.

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  • Storage Conditions

    Pu Erh tea leaves must be aged at the right temperature and humidity level. Nevertheless, hot and humid storage conditions frequently harm the tea's taste, aroma, and overall quality. Pu Erh tea leaves that have been adequately preserved should have a long-lasting aftertaste that coats the tongue. It should also be aromatic, fresh, and mellow. Teas leaves that have been improperly handled frequently lack flavour, and some may have a strong unpleasant odour.

    Pu Erh tea leaf source evaluation needs expertise, and results are frequently uncertain. As was already said, many teas from old tea trees contain bushes' leaves. Truly old-growth teas are rare, and their manufacturing calls for extremely tight quality assurance from a reputable supplier.

  • Harvesting Time

    Pu Erh tea leaves are often picked in spring, summer, and fall. Right before the first rainfall in China, usually around March, new tea buds open. Ming Qian Tea, which refers to teas produced before the Chinese Qingming Holiday, is the name of the very first spring crop. The most treasured and best-produced harvest of the year is thought to be Ming Qian Tea. Finally, tea leaves are harvested two additional times before the monsoon period. Autumn leaf harvests are often inferior to spring harvests but better than summer harvests in terms of quality. So, if you want to invest in good quality Pu Erh, you must ensure that the tea leaves you to purchase from a seller are harvested in springtime.

  • Pu Erh Tea Grades

    There are ten grades of Pu Erh, ranging between one and ten. The number of buds, the quality of the leaves, and the harvest time all affect the grades. Younger leaves nearer to the bud are represented by the lower numbers, while the higher numbers represent older leaves further along the stem. The ideal arrangement is thought to be a bud plus two leaves. Several Pu Erh tea cakes combine various grades to achieve a certain flavour. The tea manufacturer often discloses this mixing. Occasionally, producers might connect different tea grades for much less benevolent motives.

    Each Pu Erh tea grade has a distinct taste. It is better to know what flavour you like instead of just solely relying on the tea grade. However, as a general rule, higher rates often come with better or superior Pu Erh tea quality. You must know if your manufacturer has mixed different tea grades, for this might affect the taste and aroma of the leaves, which can lead to a bad quality Pu Erh tea.

  • Taste and Aroma

    A foul or fishy odour is the first indication of a poor storage environment. For instance, it might have been a facility with extreme climate variations or one that is very humid. All of this may result in a bad Pu Erh quality. Additionally, the tea shouldn't smell strongly of mould. The Pu Erh tea should rather smell sweet, like dried fruit or honey. A superior quality Pu Erh also smells earthy and somewhat woody. An acceptable rule of thumb is that you should not consume something if the odour is too unpleasant for you to tolerate.


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Final Thoughts: 

Which variety of Pu Erh tea do you appreciate drinking the most? If you select premium-grade and superior-quality tea leaves, you will have the possibility of distinct health advantages in each sip.

The characteristics of high-quality Pu Erh tea leaves stated above should be present in a company that sells your Pu Erh tea leaves. Additionally, look for a Pu Erh tea producer that uses ethical and secure harvesting methods. Chemicals and pesticides should also not be present in any high-quality Pu Erh tea. After all, you do not want to consume a cup of fermented tea laden with chemicals or additions to eliminate every one of its health advantages.

References: 

  1. Born Tea. 2020. Complete Guide to Pu-erh Tea. Retrieved from: https://www.borntea.com/blogs/tea/complete-guide-to-pu-erh-tea. Retrieved on 12 August 2022. 
  2. Luna Cha. 2019. Tips of Buying Good Ripe Pu erh Tea. Retrieved from: https://www.lunacha.com/blogs/news/tips-of-buying-good-ripe-pu-erh-tea. Retrieved on 12 August 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 12 August 2022. 
  4. Pique. 2020. How To Find The Best Pu-erh Tea. Retrieved from: https://blog.piquelife.com/best-pu-erh-tea/. Retrieved on 12 August 2022. 
  5. Tea Adventures. 2022. What is the Difference Between Cheap Pu-erh Tea and Expensive Pu-erh Tea?. Retrieved from: https://tea-adventures.net/tea-education/cheap-pu-erh-and-expensive-pu-erh/. Retrieved on 12 August 2022.

 


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