When we talk about pu’er, the first thing we think of is Yunnan province. From past to present, the tea leaves used for producing pu’er are from Yunnan.
However, original experimentation with shu pu’er started in Guangdong province in southern China. For many years, the city of Guangzhou was the only gateway where Chinese can trade with the outside world.
Back in those days, transporting the teas produced in Yunnan has to be carried by person or by horse to Guangzhou and then ship to Hong Kong and Southeast Asian countries. By the time it got in the cups of customers, it could take as long as a year and a half.
Pu’er teas compressed in cakes had undergone natural fermentation during shipping. The tea liquor’s color has changed from light yellowish to red and the flavor had also changed. This transformation in the pu’er teas gained popularity.
When there is demand there will be supply. In 1955, the Guangdong Tea Import and Export Company established a three-member team to develop a process to expedite the fermentation process for pu’er tea. The Guangdong Tea Import and Export Company was one of only three companies in China that owns tea export rights. The other two were based in Fujian province and Shanghai, respectively.
As recalled by Mr. Zhang, one of the three members, the critical factors in making shu pu’er are water temperature, moisture level and temperature in the piling process. After several years of development, in 1959 the first generation of ‘shu pu’er’ cake made with the rapid fermentation process was born.
In 1973, the Yunnan Tea Company based in Yunnan sent its subsidiaries including Kunming Tea Factory to Guangdong to study the rapid fermentation process.
1975 marks an important year for shu pu’er as the official piling fermentation process was invented by Kunming Tea Factory, effectively shortening the period of fermentation from years to about 45 days.
How It Is Made
Based on the difference in manufacturing, pu’er is classified into sheng (raw) pu’er or shu (ripe) pu’er.
Steps in making sheng pu’er:
Knead & shape
Grade separation (into as many as 10 grades)
Steps in making shu pu’er:
First go through a similar process as making sheng pu’er, followed by the piling process where crude teas are piled in a warm and humid controlled environment. Clean water is evenly sprayed onto the tea leaves. Then the tea leaves will be covered by a cloth to undergo a slow microbial fermentation process in a damp and warm environment.
The fermentation process usually takes about 40 days. In between, the piles need to be plowed and re-piled for 4-5 times, ensuring the teas are evenly fermented and not burnt due to overheat. When fermentation is complete, the teas are air-dried or dried at a temperature-controlled setting. Then the teas are separated by grades and blended into commercialized products.
If the sheng or shu pu’er teas are ultimately made into compressed cakes, then these steps are followed:
Measure the weight of the pu’er cake
Put into a steamer in the shape of the cake
Steam to soften the leaves
Compress the leaves into a cake
Final drying (a combination of air-dry and bake-dry)
AKA: Ripe Pu’er
Cultivar: Large Leaf
Region: Menghai County, Yunnan Province, China
Harvest: Spring 2012
Aroma: Herbal and earthy
Flavor: Smooth, rich with herbal and woody undertone
Recommended Brewing Instructions
Tea leaves: 3 teaspoons (2.5g/0.1oz)
Water: 1 cup (230mL/8oz)
Brewing Temperature: 100C/212F
Brewing Time: 3.5 minutes
Tea notes - this smooth dark tea can be re-steeped for about 3 times depending on your taste buds. For each re-steeping, add another 30 seconds to the previous steep time.
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