The Tea Detective
Uncovering and Exploring the Facts About Tea
Faster Aging Shou Pu-erh
Answering the Cry For More Pu-erh Tea
For centuries traditional pu-erh teas were exclusive to China, where the tea
gets its name from Puerh County, located in
Yunnan Province. This area in south-
west China is the original birthplace of this variety of large-leaf ed teas.  Along
with the right soil and climate, this particular tea bush produces teas with a rich,
earthy character.  

And when the leaf is aged us-
ing a specific process unique only to
pu-erh
tea and left to mature under special condi-
tions, it produces a complex tea with the
taste of earth and slight hint of mold, along
with a complicated complex of
flavors, includ-
ing fruits and spice that unfold with each
steeping.

It's a tea that you must experience in person
to understand why millions of people
worldwide swear by it.

While
sheng pu-erhs (raw or green pu-erh)
are left to age for up to 50 years or more,
and can sell for thousands of dollars, shou
pu-erh (cooked or black pu-erh) is designed to age much faster.

Developed in the 1970s, shou puerh, also known as black or cooked pu-erh, was developed to
replicate the mature, earthy flavor of raw pu-erh, using a faster
method of aging.  The beginning steps are basically the same as for
sheng pu-erh, the leaf is picked, withered, and then mixed with a
precise measure of water and a bacterial culture taken from ancient
pu-erh.

The next step in the process of shou pu-erh is to pile and cover the
tea for up to 40 days in a hot and very humid room.  The water in
the tea and the oxygen in the air begins the fermentation process.  (This is true fermentation,
and isn't the same as the oxidation process used when manufacturing
black and oolong teas).

In order to regulate the amount of heat and
moisture that builds up in the piles of tea,
the cover is periodically removed, and the
piles of tea and mixture are turned.  This
step distributes the heat, moisture, and
bacteria evenly through the leaf piles.

The leaf will eventually change from a yellow-
green color, to a reddish brown. After the
process of piling and fermentation are done,
the leaf is left to mature a bit, allowing the
sharp flavor of fermentation to even out and
dissipate.

          When finished the leaf is formed into
          disks or cakes of puerh and wrapped
          individually in tissue paper, then plac-
          ed singly into presentation boxes, or stacked in sevens (known as a tong, which
          translates to "seven sons") and wrapped in bamboo leaves
          or grasses to protect quality and flavor.  Each stack of disks
          or tong weigh about five pounds or 2.5 kilometers.

          Shou pu-erh may not have all of the more refined, complex of
          sheng pu-erh, but it still offers a good cup of tea reminiscent
          of the strong earth flavors pu-erhs are known for.  
Enjoy.
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