A Few Notes on Buying Pu-Erh

The ideal scenario for buying pu-erh is to go in person to a Chinese tea shop and taste the teas to determine which you like before buying. The proprietors of these tea shops can be a useful resource for information on pu-erh, guiding you towards teas that they think you will like that are within your price range. But many people are not fortunate enough to live close enough to a Chinese tea shop so this is not an option. Fortunately there are some reliable online sources.

The most reputable online retailer that I know of for high quality pu-erh teas is Hou de Asian Art. Their top-shelf aged pu-erh cakes can run into hundreds of dollars, so they’re probably not a good route for initial forays into the world of pu-erh. But for dedicated pu-erh devotees and investors they can be an excellent source. Their online information about pu-erh teas is well worth a visit to their site in any case.

At a more proletarian level, both Tao of Tea and Rishi Tea have perfectly respectable and delicious pu-erh teas available for purchase online. I recommend the mini tuocha or “small bowl” types as a good starting point. They are easy to use and transport and will afford consistency in the amount of leaf used each time. These teas, and most other pu-erh teas, can stand up to five or more infusions. In my experience the second infusion generally exhibits the best flavor.

The video below provides a brief glimpse into a pu-erh factory on Nannuo Mountain in Yunnan, China. The manufacturing process is quite an interesting one.

The article about pu-erh titled A County in China Sees Its Fortunes in Tea Leaves Until a Bubble Bursts published in the New York Times this week is worth a read. I think it’s a little sensationalist and under-researched, but it is interesting. I just don’t think that they have a very good sense of the historical continuity of the tea industry in China.

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7 Comments

  1. thank you very much

  2. ..like you were reading my mind! Since i´ve almost only tried japanese greens, i thought it was about time to put an eye on china. Therefor i purchased a wooden teaboat, a Yi-xing pot, and a gaiwan. Quite some stuff you need for preparing chinese teas. I had a look on the “Hou de” webshop before, but since i´m new to pu-erh i didn´t excactly now what to buy. any suggestions, hints, dos and don´ts?

    Keep it up,

    Stephen

  3. what is the difference between cooked and uncooked?

  4. Hi GFG… Thanks for another cool post. It is full of good advice.

    Hi Tyler. I copied the following from a puer post I did a few months ago:
    Raw, aka Green, aka Sheng, aka 生, aka Green puer is prepared from sun dried green tea leaves and are primarily hand made. The leaves our sometimes sourced from organic or wild grown tea bushes. Old trees, which can be over 100 years old, are sometimes used to make very fine teas. After the leaves are processed and sorted they will be compressed into cakes, bricks or other shapes by heavy concrete molds. Raw puer gets darker, richer and smoother if aged slowly in dry stable conditions. When a raw puer is approximately 1 to 5 years old it will probably still taste like a fresh herbaceous green tea with varying degrees of sweetness, smokiness, and complexity. At this point many puer tea professionals do not drink the tea for pleasure. Instead they drink it only to evaluate its aging potential.

    Ripe, aka Cooked, aka Shou, aka 熟, aka Black puer can be purchased loose leaf, or compressed into cakes and bricks. Ripe puer differs from raw tea because it has a pile fermentation step included in its manufacture. This is a carefully controlled process that results in a dark and earthy brew. Young ripe puer (1 to 5 years old) are often not very smooth and may still have a harsh odor left over from that pile fermentation step in their production. Loose leaf ripe puer tends to taste fuller and smoother sooner, because it has more leaf surface exposed to air. Compressed teas, on the other hand, will mellow slower, depending on how tightly they were compressed and how thick they are.

  5. thank you for theexplanation

  6. I read the Times article, too.

    “I just don’t think that they have a very good sense of the historical continuity of the tea industry in China” – great point.

  7. Tyler – Yes, it looks like that’s a pretty good price for a green pu-erh of that age. Of course it’s impossible to really assess quality and taste reading about the tea online, but Mighty Leaf is a good, trustworthy company.