One of the most traditional types of Chinese tea is the fermented kind. Pu-erh tea is the most commonly found type of this tea, made from tea leaves that are aged over time. With fermented Chinese tea, it can be aged through longer and traditional methods to create sheng cha or the process can be accelerated to make what is called shou cha.
Regardless of traditional or accelerated methods, this fermented Chinese tea comes from the camellia sinensis plant. Pu-erh tea originally hails from China’s Yunnan Province, and the teas brewed from it are deep and dark in color. The flavors are earthy yet mellow, and because they are fermented you have a more rich and smooth tea drinking experience, one that doesn’t have a tannin flavor.
What’s Different About Fermented Tea?
With fermented Chinese tea, it includes microbial activity. The tea leaves break down and decompose. This is different from other methods like oxidation. With oxidation, the tea leaves are exposed to oxygen. This results in drying the leaves which darken in color.
As mentioned, Pu-erh is one of the most common types of fermented Chinese teas. It is called ‘hei cha’ in Chinese, meaning ‘black tea.’ Only the tea that originates in Yunnan is allowed to be sold as Pu-erh tea.
What makes it different is that Pu-erh tea and hei cha are the only truly fermented teas. The tea is harvested, taking care to pick the most prized leaves from the older trees in the wild. The time of harvest matters too, as the best quality comes from the spring.
Once Pu-erh is harvested, it is dry-roasted, then lightly bruised in a process of rolling and rubbing before being dried in the sun. This process keeps most oxidation away, with only a small amount occurring as it dries. It is what gives Pu-erh such a unique and splendid flavor.
From there, it is fermented. With shou cha, this ripened version of Pu-erh undergoes accelerated fermenting that is somewhat similar to composting. The tea is fermented in a humid environment over a few months to years. Sheng cha is the raw version of Pu-erh tea. This type of tea goes with a slow and traditional fermentation process that can take years.
If you’re thinking this sounds a lot like producing wine, you’re right! Pu-erh develops a more complex flavor as it matures and increases in rarity and price the longer it ages. You’ll find it pressed into bricks, cakes, or flat squares, all with an imprint of Chinese characters. While they look beautiful, as decoration, you will certainly want to make good use of it by tasting this tea, not just for its flavors but also for its benefits.
What Are the Benefits of Fermented Chinese Tea?
With Pu-erh, you will be treated to plenty of antioxidants. Plus, it’s such an energizing and uplifting tea. Since it’s fermented, it will help you with digestion. It may also help you boost your mental clarity and concentration. Prized above other teas, trying fermented teas like Pu-erh tea can only bring good things!