Puerh is a fermented tea made in the Yunnan province in southwest China. The two main types of Puerh are Sheng, which is made using a long and traditional fermentation process, and Shou, which is made using a much newer and accelerated fermentation process. This article will focus specifically on Shou Puerh, which was brought to the market in 1970 due to increased demand for fermented tea that Sheng's lengthy aging time couldn't keep up with.
How is Shou Puerh made?
To ferment the raw Puerh tea leaves into ripe Puerh, the base leaves are oxidized (exposed to the air) and then piled on a storeroom floor two feet thick. The temperature and humidity inside the storeroom is strictly controlled. The leaves are then sprayed with water and a bacterial culture from previous batches of Puerh, covered in thermal blankets and turned periodically over the next 45-60 days.
This accelerated fermentation process is called wo dui, or wet-pile fermentation, and the temperature inside the pile can rise to 140 F as the organisms living on the tea leaves work their transformative magic. At the end of the fermentation period, the leaves can be left as loose leaf ripe Puerh tea, or they can be compressed and made into tea cakes.
What is unique about Shou?
The word “shou” means cooked, although there is no external heat added to the fermentation process--just the heat that comes from inside the piled leaves themselves, similar to the way that temperatures increase in the process of composting.
Is Shou Puerh aged?
Not necessarily. Unlike Sheng Puerh, Shou doesn’t need to age. However, it will become more complex and interesting as it ages. Many of our best shou puerh teas have been aged naturally after the initial fermentation process.
What does Shou Puerh taste like?
Shou Puerh is smooth, deep and earthy, and less of an acquired taste than their counterpart Shengs, although Puerh connoisseurs will often claim that shou puerh can't hold a candle to a well-aged sheng. The color of the brewed tea is usually a dark, burnt umber with a reddish hue. Generally, Puerh needs to be brewed with water at a higher temperature than most other tea, just shy of a boil at 205-210 F.
First Step to Chinese Puerh Tea by Chan Kam Pong
Tea: History, Terroirs, Varieties by Kevin Gascoyne, Francois Marchand, Jasmin Desharnais and Hugo Americi
A Shou Puerh Journal, November 2017 issue of Global Tea Hut
Tea Enthusiast’s Handbook, by Mary Lou Heiss and Robert J. Heiss