Pu’erh tea is one of the most polarizing teas in the world, one that is loved and hated in equal measures and one that causes a lot of controversy when it comes to key aspects like health and price. But what is Pu’erh tea, how is it made, where is it produced and what makes this tea so special? Take a look at this guide, complete with our own review of Pu’erh, to find out.
What is Pu’erh Tea?
Pu’erh is a fermented tea that is often pressed into balls or “cakes” and then left to mature. During this process the tea matures as bacteria gets to work on it much like the bacteria that gradually ages fermented yoghurt and cheese products.
There is a process by which Pu’erh can be aged quickly, achieving a similar flavor without needing to spend many months or even years in storage, but this has caused much controversy in the industry and there are many who see this as a lesser product.
How to Drink Pu’erh Tea
Pu’erh tea requires a steeping process that is a little different to what you might be used to with black, green tea and bubble tea, but there is a simplified Western way of doing this that is just as effective and results in the same drink by the end. First, make sure you have some loose leaves to brew. If you purchased your Pu’erh as a compressed cake/ball, then you will need to break some of the tea off.
You need between 3 to 4 grams of Pu’erh tea per cup. To begin with, place the required amount of tea in an infuser and pour over a small amount of hot water. Swish the water around a little and then throw it away, leaving only the wet leaves. From here you can brew as normal, pouring over the water, steeping for between 3 and 5 minutes and then removing the tea and drinking the water.
You can sweeten with honey and add milk if you wish. You can also reuse the tea several times, but you may need to steep for a little longer to get the same strength in future batches.
What Does Pu’erh Tea Taste Like? (Our Honest Review)
We have been drinking tea for decades and are big fans of all types. If we had to pick one that we liked the least, it would be Pu’erh. We have some fairly negative things to say about the supposed health benefits of Pu’erh (which we discussed in this article) and they are going to seem a bit personal after reading that statement, but the truth is that we still like this tea, we still drink the occasional cup and we still enjoy experimenting with different varieties—we just don’t enjoy it as much as other black teas.
That’s because Pu’erh tea has a very unique and somewhat acquired taste. It doesn’t taste like black tea, as you might expect. It has more of a pungent, earthy taste. It’s not completely terrible and we can understand how some people will like it, especially with a generous serving of honey, but it’s something that only a small number of tea drinkers will enjoy, with non-tea drinkers treating Pu’erh tea like the embodiment of the anti-christ in tea form.
Of course, the better the tea the nicer the taste. Our first experience was with a Pu’erh sold by Whittard’s, after which we sampled a more enjoyable cup from the private collection of a friend of ours. This is one tea that you should give a second and third chance, just don’t expect your opinion to change hugely from cup to cup.
Pu’erh vs Black Tea and Green Tea
There are many claims made about Pu’erh tea and we have covered those in another article (linked above). But when compared to green and black tea it may actually not be as beneficial for your health, regardless of what the aforementioned claims say. That’s because it is fully oxidized, which results in a lower antioxidant content.
As far as taste goes, it’s like a pungent, earthy black tea, albeit one you have never tasted before. It’s hard to compare it to black tea and green tea. In fact, it’s hard to compare it to anything we have tasted before except to say that it smells not unlike manure, has a taste somewhat similar to the way it smells, but at the same time manages to retain that satisfying, pleasing quality that you get with all good teas.
As for price, Pu’erh tea is generally a lot more expensive than black and green tea, but it all depends on the type that you buy. A cake of low to moderately priced Pu’erh can cost anywhere from $30 to $100, while the more expensive versions will set you back hundreds if not thousands of dollars. Some of the bigger tea suppliers in the US and UK have their own versions of Pu’erh for sale and these are often reasonably priced, but they also tend to be a lower quality than what you find in exclusive tea shops.
Caffeine in Pu’erh Tea
There is around twice as much caffeine in Pu’erh than there is in green tea, coming in at around 60mg to 80mg per cup on average. The actual amount of caffeine will depend on several factors, including the quality and age of the tea and the length of time it was steeped. On a gram per gram basis there is more caffeine in tea than in coffee, but because of the brewing process, only a small portion of this is leeched out into the actual drink. The longer you steep it, the more of it ends up in the actual tea but the bitterer it will be.
Where to Buy Pu’erh Tea?
You can buy quality Pu’erh tea from many independent suppliers. There are also bigger commercial tea brands that sell it, but because they tend to focus on price above all else and because cheaper Pu’erh teas can be of a very low quality, these are not recommended. Look for aged cakes sold by reputable suppliers as opposed to bags of Pu’erh tea being sold on eBay or Amazon.
Pu’erh tea is sometimes known as Yunnan, which is the region in China where it is produced. There is a town nearby to where is is produced known as “Pu’er”, but this town was actually named after the tea and not the other way around as is usually the case.