Puerh Tea: Everything You Need to Know (And How to Make it Properly)

puerh tea leaves

Quick Look:

  • ORIGIN: China
  • TASTING NOTES: rich, smoky, earthy, mushroomy, mossy
  • STEEP TIME: 4 to 5 minutes

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What is Puerh Tea?

Originating in the Yunnan Province, Puerh is a special fermented and aged tea with a distinct earthy flavor and high caffeine content. 

The most oxidized type of tea, known to just get better with time, Puerh is commonly referred to as “dark” or “black” tea in China, thanks to its inky black brewed color. You can find Puerh as loose leaves or compressed tea cakes. 

How do you pronounce Puerh?

The proper way to pronounce Puerh is “poo-air”.

What are the different types of Puerh?

There are two different classifications of Puerh tea, depending on how it is processed.

Raw Puerh (Sheng)

Raw or Sheng Puerh goes through a traditional and slow aging process that can last for years. 

The leaves are pressed into tea cakes and then placed in a temperature and humidity-controlled environment to age.

“Young” raw puerh is aged from a couple of months to a couple of years, while “aged” raw puerh can be aged anywhere from a decade to 50 years or more!

This variety has a lighter, fresher flavor with smokey, floral notes, and can sometimes be bitter.

Ripe/Cooked Puerh (Shou)

Ripe or cooked Puerh, also known as Shou, goes through an accelerated, artificial fermentation process called wet piling.

Its leaves are sprayed with water, piled in a warm humid environment, and left to oxidize and ferment for up to 60 days in order to replicate the  slower aging process of raw puerh.

This variety has an earthy taste but is never bitter. 

What do you need to make Puerh tea?

Tea Scoop

This is the perfect tool to help you get the perfectly measured scoop of tea leaves every single time. You won’t regret adding this to your tea arsenal!

Tea Knife

If you are using a compressed Puerh tea cake or brick, you will need a tea knife to pry a chunk of leaves loose to brew.

Electric Tea Kettle

An electric tea kettle with a temperature setting is a must-have brew gadget for tea drinkers! You can set the temperature to the degree for the perfect brew every time. This kettle is a favorite of ours. Or you can check out our full post on the best electric tea kettles.

Spring Water or Filtered Water

To get the best flavors from your tea, use high-quality water. Don’t use tap water or distilled water!

Tea Pot with Strainer

A teapot with a built-in strainer makes brewing tea so much easier when you’re using loose tea leaves. If you’re an avid tea drinker, you won’t regret buying this tea tool!

Puerh Tea Leaves

You may be using loose puerh tea leaves or taking a bit from a compressed tea cake.

Tea Cup

This one is up to you! Use whatever cup makes you happy! If you need some inspiration, check out some of our favorite drinkware.

How do you make Puerh tea properly?

To make the perfect cup of Puerh tea, you will want to use 1 teaspoon (or 3 grams) of tea leaves for each 8 ounce cup.

Tea tip: if you want a stronger flavor, add more tea leaves rather than steeping them for a longer period of time. Most people don’t realize this, but steeping tea too long doesn’t increase the good flavors, it actually can make it more bitter.

Step 1: Pour your water into the tea kettle.

Use cold bottled spring water or cold filtered water. (Tea Tip: Do not use distilled water – this will negatively impact the taste). Make sure to pour some extra water to warm up your teapot or steeping vessel.

Step 2: Boil your water.

For an optimal flavor experience, bring the water to about 212°F. This is important, as the flavors will not fully develop if the water does not get hot enough, but if it is too hot you risk scorching the tea leaves. If you do not have an electric tea kettle with a temperature setting, just bring your kettle to a full boil, then remove it from the heat and pour.

Step 3: Warm up your teapot (or steeping vessel).

First, pour a bit of your boiled water into your teapot or steeping vessel and swirl it around for a few seconds to allow it to warm the vessel. Then you can discard this water in the sink. 

Step 4: Rinse the tea leaves.

Before steeping, you will want to rinse your tea with the hot water in order to open the leaves. Put your tea in the teapot or steeping vessel, then add a small amount of boiling water. It should be just enough to cover the tea leaves. Once all of the tea leaves are covered, swirl around for about three seconds and then dump out the water, leaving the wet tea leaves in the pot.

Step 5: Add more boiling water and steep the tea leaves.

If you are brewing in a teapot, allow your tea leaves to steep for about 4 minutes. 

Note, if you are brewing with a Gaiwan using the traditional Chinese method, you would steep your leaves for just 10 seconds, and increase each subsequent steep by 10 more seconds.

Step 6: Strain your tea leaves.

This is easiest if you have a teapot with a strainer. 

You can also save your tea leaves for a second steep. Keep in mind that the flavors will likely be less potent on the second steep. We don’t recommend steeping Puerh tea more than 2 to 3 times. 

Note, if you are using the traditional Chinese method, you can continue for up to 10 steeps (adding 10 seconds to the steep time each round). 

Step 7: Decant your infused tea into your teacup, add sweeteners to taste, and enjoy!

Tea Tip:

If you want the most authentic experience, you can use a Gaiwan to prepare your Puerh. The Gaiwan is a small traditional Chinese brewing vessel made of either porcelain or glass. Its use dates back to the Ming Dynasty and its name literally means “lid and bowl”. Brewing Puerh with this method will give you the richest, fullest flavors. 

What does Puerh tea taste like?

Puerh has a smooth yet very distinct earthy taste with notes of mushroom and moss.

Raw puerh has a larger variety of flavors compared to ripe puerh, as many say that its taste improves with age, much like a fine wine. A young raw puerh can have a lighter, floral, and even bitter taste, while a more expensive aged raw puerh becomes fuller in body and less bitter. 

Ripe puerh tends to have a flavor profile closer to an aged raw puerh tea, thanks to its accelerated fermentation process.

How much caffeine is in Puerh tea?

The amount of caffeine in Puerh tea can vary based on how long it was fermented and how long it is steeped. Generally, Puerh has a high caffeine content, typically as much as other black teas and even sometimes as much as a cup of coffee, making it a great morning or early afternoon beverage. 

What are some health benefits of drinking Puerh tea?

Puerh tea has many health benefits including antioxidants, bone health, heart health, cholesterol control, and more!

For a full summary, check out our post on the health benefits and possible side effects of Puerh tea.

Where can you find good quality Puerh tea?

Interestingly, Puerh is one of the most counterfeit teas in the world! When looking to purchase Puerh, you want to make sure you are buying from a reliable tea vendor. We recommend staying away from Amazon for this one. 

Here are some reputable options for Puerh tea: 

What is the best way to store Puerh tea?

When it comes to storing Puerh tea, there are a few important things you will want to avoid. These are air exposure, light exposure, moisture, heat, and strong odors. 

It is best to keep your Puerh tea in a dry and moderate temperature, away from direct sunlight and strong odors, since it can easily absorb any scents nearby, such as onions, spices, or coffee. 

It is also important to keep your Sheng (raw) and Shu (ripe) puerh stored separately, as they have different aromas. 

If you plan to continue aging your Puerh at home, the original packaging, a glazed storage crock, or a pumidor are your best storage options. 

If you plan to consume your Puerh after purchasing it (rather than aging it for a longer period of time), a glazed crock or mylar bag will work great. 

Here are some good options for storing your tea:

Looking for ways to organize your tea bags? Try these:

You want to ensure your tea stays fresh as long as possible. To make sure you’re not making any common mistakes, be sure to check out our post on the best practices in tea storage!

We hope this guide helped you learn everything you need to know about Puerh tea and how to make it at home!

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