What is Pu Er tea
Pu Er is a post-fermented tea produced in Yunnan province only. Pu Er tea’s definition includes the following basic & must aspects:
- Tea leaves: Tea leaves from Yunnan tea-growing areas.
- Selecting the tea leaves from Yunnan tea-growing areas, followed the traditional way of making tea plus sun-drying the tea leaves can be defined as Pu Er tea.
There are two types of Pu Er tea in terms of fermentation; green(raw) Pu Er tea; another is cooked(ripe) Pu Er tea.
There are mainly two shapes of Pu Er, mainly loose leaves, cakes; but there is also other shapes, like bricks, mushroom shape, Tuo Shape, melon shape, and other unique shapes as well.
So below, it is a brief summary of two different types of Pu Er tea making process.
Below is the detailed illustration of the two Pu Er teas making process by picutres
- Raw Pu Er Maocha tea making process
1. Picking the fresh leaves(采青)
picking standard, one bud with two/three leaves; the best time to pick fresh leaves is between 9AM to 3PM; at this time, the sun has just spread all its light in the whole tea field, and morning dew just disappears.)
2. Indoor Liangqing（凉青, withering in door）
Indoor temperature: best is around 22-24 degree; if too low temperature, the aroma of fresh leaves can go out yet;
The thickness of leaves piling up during Liangqing should not be over 5 or 6 cm. If too thick, the tea leaves can’t breathe and become soft quickly; if in this case, the finished Maocha has some dull taste, and its aroma is not as high as other Pu Er teas.
3. Shaqing(杀青killing the enzyme)
The best one is to kill the enzyme by wok, which is the most traditional way.
Another way is by machine, which is normally for medium-low quality Pu Er tea.
Normally for killing the enzyme, the temperature should be around 120 degree. If too high, and does not control well, the fresh leaves can be over-burnt, which leads to the tea has light burnt aroma or burnt spots on the leaves;
If the temperature is too low, and can’t kill the enzyme completely; in this case, the tea has the light grassy odor.
Pls be noted, the “ killing enzyme process” does not mean to kill the enzyme completely and stop any further oxidation in tea leaves; at this step, it just kills most of the enzymes in Pu Er tea leaves, postpone quick oxidation, increase the softness of leaves to rolling them easily.
4. Rounian & Litiao(揉捻&理条, rolling the tea leaves by hand & shaping the leaves)
This is extremely important step and requires very high skills & years of experience;
The purpose of rolling is to disrupt the leaves cell tissue to a certain degree and cause the tea juice comes out.
If rolling too light, then the tea taste will become very light & mild;
If rolling too heavy, then the tea liquid will be very cloudy; taste will be too bitter & astringency.
Rolling & shaping requires to be done at the same time;
Shaping is greatly related to the appearance of Pu Er Maocha or cakes; Many tea farmers don’t have the shaping step, as they don’t realize the shaping’s importance. Shaping is a further step to disrupt the cell tissue & pectic, which will make tea liquid is more thick & mellow.
When comes to compare the same Pu Er tea from the same tea field, if there is a shaping step, then its liquid will be more dense, thick & mellow than tea without shaping.
The most important & crucial step for Pu Er tea. If tea leaves are not dry by sun, then it can’t be defined / called as Pu Er tea.
If the tea leaves are baked by steam/hot heat to dryness, then it can’t be defined as Pu Er tea, and can only call Yunnan baked green tea(烘青绿茶).
So sun-dryness is the most important step for Pu Er tea, it is a further continuity step for “ killing the enzyme”, stops all the enzymes oxidation, and become the solid foundation for the Pu Er tea concept” the longer it stores, the better & aged it becomes”
The difference between sun-dryness Pu Er tea & Yunnan baked green tea lies in its appearance & taste. The sun-dryness Pu Er tea is dark green color; whereas Yunnan baked green tea is kind of blue green color.
With regards to taste, sun-dryness Pu Er tea has little sun taste(after it is freshly sun-dry), good, profound & deep aroma; whereas Yunnan baked green tea has very high aroma after it is freshly-baked, with burnt bean aroma as well.
6. Raw Pu Er Maocha
After Shaiqing, then it is Pu Er Maocha(raw tea). Now in the market, many people sell the Pu Er Maocha directly; however, there are also many sell the Pu Er raw cakes/bricks, or Pu Er ripe tea.
Below is another detailed process of raw Pu Er cakes making process.(here we just introduce raw Pu Er cakes making process; raw Pu Er tuocha/other shapes are similar)
Pu Er tea cakes making process.
1. Sorting the Maocha
Picking out the old/yellow leaves or old stems in Pu Er Maocha
2. Weighing the Maocha
If press into 357g cakes, then weigh 357g of refined Maocha.
3.Steam the Maocha
Steam the Maocha in a bucket by hot steam for around 5 seconds; then the tea leaves become very soft.
4.Shaping the Maocha in the cloth by hand
This is the initial step to make the cake shape by hand. This also requires high skillful people to make the cakes shape looks beautiful; if not, then the shape will become uneven or ungly.
5. Pressing by stone
The skillful people stands on the stone and shake the stones on a regular direction to make the cakes in a uniform shape and evenly.
6. Unwrap the cloth, take out the cakes gently & put them in the racks in doors for 3-4 hours before putting them inside the baking room.
7. Putting the teas in the baking room
In the baking room, it stops the leaves oxidation completely by hot heat inside room providing by wood fire. Normally, cakes are required to stay inside the baking room for 48-72 hours before taking out.
Wrapping with Pu Er paper, then put 7 cakes into a bamboo leaves to make one tong(seven cakes in one tong, called Qizi bing tea).
Pu Er ripe teas
In Pu Er ripe tea, it is also categories into two parts; One is the Pu Er ripe loose leaves tea ; another is Pu Er ripe cakes/bricks.
- Pu Er ripe loose leaves making process
1. Raw Maocha Wet Piling Fermentation ( Wodui, 渥堆the most important step for ripe Pu Er tea’s quality)
Wodui technique is a national secret recipe and only a few people technicians know this expertise/knowledge through years of working experiences in the state-owned tea factories like Menghai tea factory, Xiaguan tea factory & Kuiming tea factory in the past.
This requires at least 10 tons of Maocha as a pile to conduct the piling fermentation successfully.
The theory of Wodui is with the help of dampness & heat to increase the auto-oxidation of the non-enzyme’s activity in polyphenol substances, catechins, which has transferred the interior substances inside tea leaves, decreases the bitterness & astringency, get rid of the grassy odor aroma and develop unique aroma & taste.
Normally the Wodui time period is around 45 days, which is all controlled by the technician’s knowledge on Wodui and years experience. During the 45 days, piling’s temperature are strictly controlled and requires to be check from time to time. Then it requires at least 4 times of turning the piling over to lower the piling temperature, in case of tea get burnt inside.
2. Dryness of the Wodui Maocha
After Wodui, then the tea requires to be dry before winnowing and grading.
4. Grading by rotary screening & sieving
6. Selecting the old leaves & stems in the loose leaves ripe Pu Er tea
Now it is the finished loose leaves ripe Pu Er
- Ripe Pu Er tea cakes/bricks( the making process of ripe Pu Er tea cakes/bricks are almost the same as raw Pu Er tea; The main difference lies in; almost all ripe Pu Er cakes are pressed by machines; However, high quality raw Pu Er cakes are traditional stone-pressing;
6. Drying in the baking room
8. Finished ripe Pu Er tea cakes