Exploring the basics and some of the mysteries around fermented teas.
The esteemed John Wetzel, creator and founder of Stone Leaf Teahouse, pronounces Pu’er 普洱 as something that sounds to me like pour. Though with an open and elongated “ou” and a soft shortened “r“. John is the most expert in our shop so I defer to his pronunciation but my natural and goofy inclination is to pronounce it with a long drawling Tennessee accent, like “Pew-aire.” As you read through this post be sure to check out our great selection of Pu-er on the Stone Leaf website. The shop isn’t open but we are shipping our teas!
Pu’er is special tea. Partly because it has such a unique taste (some might call it a “funk”) and partly because it connects us modern people to the ancient traditions of fermentation. Some of the oldest written records and archeological evidence shows that originally people around the Himalayan Mountains cooked tea leaves and buried them in the ground before consuming later. Though I wasn’t alive thousands of years ago to enjoy this aged tea, I imagine that the leaves fermented like our modern varieties of Pu’er because the microbes in the earth were attracted to the wet, warm, and cozy environment.
These days the standard-for-sale-Pu’er is not made in a hole in the earth. Instead most modern factories make it in two distinct ways. I see these ways like a set of twins who are of the same family but whose characters are unique. One of the twins is named Shou (or Shu), which translates as “ripe” or “cooked.” The tea brewed from this Shu Pu’er is dark, rich in color, and often tastes smooth and robust. After the tea leaves go through all the preliminary stages of picking, shaping, and drying, they are heaped into piles, sprayed with water, and left to get very hot. The microbes then come in and very quickly ferment the leaves. Check out our great selection of dark puer tea.
The other twin sibling is called Sheng 生 and this translates as “raw” or “alive.” This one looks like it could be a green tea when it brews, and often tastes floral, dry, and bright (but not always). The tea process starts similarly to Shou Puer but it is also often dry roasted to stop the oxidation process so it stays green in color and flavor. Afterwards it is typically pressed into cakes then packed up and stacked into a tube wrapped with bamboo. This is called a tong. Historically these tongs were then loaded up and schlepped on the backs of people and horses. They were carried on foot across hundreds of miles through mountains, over rivers, and to the markets where over the course of that time and from the onslaught of the weather, they had fermented. Now-a-days these tongs travel more often on boats, trains, and trucks, and then they are left to age further in our homes in yixing canisters or in any other breathable vessel. We like to keep ours cool and out of direct sunlight at the Teahouse! Check out our Sheng Pu’er here!
So, I don’t know about you but this coming week I am going to be drinking lots Pu’er. Something about the yellow trout lilies coming up through the leaf litter of the forest gets me in the mood to drink these dynamically delectable teas. I’ll tell you all about it on Facebook, join me for a week of fermented bliss!