oceanica said

Will someone explain the pu-erh thing to me?

I have tried several pu-erh teas now, both shu and sheng. I just can’t get myself to like them. To me, the aromas have been all about barnyard, fungus, and compost and not much else, and the flavors are pretty much the same — I can taste the coffee, earth vanilla and other flavors, but they seem to be in the background and I just have had real trouble getting past the funk. Please tell me what I am missing? I am shy of spending much more on these until I know more. maybe they are just not for me, but I would hate to miss out. Thanks.

16 Replies
mrmopar said

This is a hard subject to grasp sometimes. It took me a while to like any puerh at all. Once I got some good stuff and learned how to brew properly it made a big difference. I am just going to toss a few suggestions that I use to get me in my sweet spot.

Shou I get 10 grams off to start with. I give this a rinse with boiling water. I then wait 10 minutes and gongfu brew it in very short steeps starting at 5 seconds. I then continue on and adjust from there. Too strong and cut back steep times and too light increase them. You may want to get something with some age on it as this will have aired some to get the aroma from the process out.

Sheng Basically dried and withered and kill greened and rolled tea leaf. I usually do the same process as with shou except the temperature. I normally start about 200F and see how it brews. I will adjust it on steep times as with shou but I start with flash steepings.

Experiment and see what works for you as these are just some starter points to use. Also I rarely drink a new puerh fresh off the boat. I open them and let them breathe a week or two in order to take on some humidity and wake up for brewing.

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Dxniel said

I’m sure there are people on steepster that know more about puerh than I do, so I’ll stick to my personal experience.

Concerning ripe puerhs… In my personal experience, I have found that ripe puerh only gets so good up to a certain value (just like most teas). Personally I don’t like spending more than $10 per 100g. However, you kind of have to know which ones are decent quality. Some puerh teas that are cheap quality have a very typical scent to them, almost like fish. My very first puerh was very cheap and tasted exactly like the smell of my old rat/rabbit cage when it needed to be cleaned… So for a long time I didn’t try another puerh. These are often lower grade puerhs, and although some might appreciate them, I would avoid these. Perhaps that is what you encountered?
Flavor wise, yes. They are not quite as delicately aromatic as some other types of teas. They can be woody, earthy, damp wood/earth, slightly sweet, but most of all refreshing. But the characteristics seem to vary somewhat not just based on quality, but also between companies. I drink these teas almost exclusively after a dinner meal. Never really during the day. I find that the flavors of ripe puerh are best suited for relaxing after a dinner meal. On top of that, it also noticeably helps digestion a lot if you drink it 40-60 minutes after you had your meal. In fact, the way I found out about how it helps digestion was by experience. I then google’d something like “ripe puerh digestion” and found out that it apparently was widely recognized for its digestion benefiting qualities. I’m in my 20s and healthy, so this isn’t really something care about too much and would still drink ripe puerh if it didn’t aid digestion, but its a nice added benefit.

As for raw puerh… Well, I have tried many samples, some from tea cakes that are way out of my price range (up to $100 for a 200g/357g cake). And I must say that I really don’t get what all the fuss is about. I tried to appreciate the tea as best I could. I enjoyed the tea, but I would much rather drink green tea or some type of oolong.
In my very limited Raw puerh experience, I have noticed that good quality raw puerh tends to be very expensive, while good quality ripe puerh can be much cheaper. And I tried a few expensive raw puerhs that were recommended to me by www.yunnansourcing.com. Some of the ones I liked costed like $90 for a cake, but also reminded me of a great quality YunWu green tea that I bought for maybe $6 or $8 for 100g. So I wondered if I just bought a bunch of that tea, softened it with steam and shaped it into a cake if it could pass for a good raw puerh just as well.
In conclusion… I personally kind of gave up on trying to get into raw puerh. I have the impression that people who really like raw puerh like it for more than just the flavor. I think maybe it is a hobby. It is interesting to them to see how it changes with age, trying methods of aging with dryer or damper environments. Its not like loose leaf teas where people just buy 100g, and when they run out they buy another 100g.

If I could recommend you a ripe puerh, maybe try a 100g “Xiaguan Xiao Fa Tuo” for under $10, and many shops sell this particular tea. Its in a green box with red letters on the top saying “Tuocha” (prices vary depending on year of production, I don’t give it too much consideration and go for the one below $10 no matter the year).
Or maybe another recommendation that I have never tried, but I will order this week to try: http://www.jkteashop.com/2012-menghai-mini-tuo-charipe-5g-per-tuo-p-952.html#review
Its 100g for $8. According to the title its supposed to be “Super High Quality”, and the 2 reviews agree with it. AGAIN, I have never tried this tea, so I can’t promise that it will be absolutely great, but in my experience I’m almost always happy with JK Tea Shop teas, and they seem to select even their cheap teas with care (I bought the YunWu tea I mentioned earlier from this shop, and I truly think that they have some of the best price/quality teas, or at least for loose leaf teas, don’t know about puerh). However, I’m personally quite confident that the quality will be good, so I will order some this week.

I won’t recommend any raw puerhs since I simply don’t drink them. Maybe there’s a higher plain of appreciation to these teas that I am yet to discover…? Meh… We’ll see. I’ll be gulping down much cheaper, yet high quality loose leaf green tea in the meantime.

I always end up writing so much more than I intended…

LuckyMe said

Thanks, this is really an informative post as I’m also new to puerh and learning. I’ve only had sheng but after seeing this post, I’m curious to try shou.

Dxniel said

I’m glad you found my post helpful, luckyme :D.

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Rob said

Raw pu erh is definitely where it’s AT. Honestly I am quite sure it’s the addictive nature of decent raw pu erh. I doubt anyone liked their first taste of whiskey, or a smoker their first taste of tobacco. I consider it to be a similar thing. I’ve been drinking tea for decades and I dabbled in pu erh a few years back. I had raw cakes and samples back then, but I stuck to ripe. Buy decent stuff (and I’d say most offerings from Menghai / Taetea fit the bill) They must be rinsed and maybe rinse a few times if you don’t like the initial flavours, but always rinse at least once.

I can’t really explain the pu erh thing, but for me I saw how this tea seemed to appeal to many and I kept trying the raws. I might prefer fresh raws. Be certain to brew them sympathetically. Watch some episodes on teadb.org to see how they brew and handle the tea.

I crave my weekend sessions now and have set myself up at work to brew gong fu style with some easy drinkers.

WhatCha have a few 100g cakes commissioned by Scott at Yunnan Sourcing, Paul at white2tea and William at Bannacha (or farmer-leaf). I drank two today and for the price they were good. Might be a reasonable place to try? Small but decent.

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I’d love to send you some samples, please let me know if you’d be interested in it!

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Ken said

Ripe puer can be awesome, we did a wu wo tea ceremony at the southwest tea festival and everyone was going wild about how good the pu’erh was. Now this was a middle line pu’erh. First thing for the love of tea, please please please rest the pu’erh before you drink it, preferably in a very dry place. It will take out the stankies and leave you with that smooth, deep earthy flavor everyone who likes Shou raves about.

Also make sure you buy from someone who knows what they are doing, Pu’erh isnt something that you can get from generic vendors.

Yunnan Sourcing
Verdant Tea
Crimson lotus

There are others but I havent tried their tea yet so I can comment. White2tea and Crimson lotus both offer pu’erh introduction kits with both ripe and raw pu’erh to help ease you into it, this is what I did, and I dont regret it one bit. Yunnan sourcing also offers a club for raw/ripe and raw only.

This all being said pu’erh is not for everyone, its a really tricky tea, and super complicated, I just had either the very good or bad luck to stumble on TeaDb’s youtube really early on and started ordering what they were reviewing and jumped in head first. Now I dont regret it the least bit as I love raw, ripe and aged… yup.. im doomed… lol

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nycoma said

maybe youd like it cold brewed to start, then add the heat.

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toby8653 said

Puerh is a big rabbit hole, you are blessed that you don’t enjoy it…your wallet would thank you! ;-)

Personally, I would try lots of different aged samples.
If you want to get samples online from reputable vendors, just go to Yunnan Sourcing (go to the banna/sourthern china section, if you trust my advice), EoT or W2T

Also, get into any groupbuy that Liquid Proust here runs. It is cost price and he doesn’t make any money out of it.

There is also a Hong Kong dude from Australia and an American dude from Taiwan doing some curated box whenever the Hong Kong dude feels like, around every 6 to 8 weeks. It is called Toby’s Curated Puerh Box. ;-)

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A tea friend once said that the worst thing that could happen to someone is finding a pu’er that you like. He wasn’t completely joking. The point wasn’t just that it would be expensive for a tea habit to go in that direction, but rather that you’d be hooked into trying lots of awful and sometimes expensive teas to get back to that experience, and even though eventually you could surely match and then surpass it your tea habit would’ve taken a dark turn.

It’s funny how for no other tea type would you keep hearing people say “I want to like pu’er but it’s taking forever to try any that aren’t awful,” but it might be the most common initial response. If people tried Gaba oolong and hated it they’d stop trying it (although a vendor in Taiwan said it’s just an acquired taste, like coffee, or beer, or pu’er). I must admit I liked shou early on, perhaps related to finding some decent versions, and then sheng later as much related to adjusting to the odd profile as finding better versions. I read an article about a White 2 Tea product tasting in which a participant’s commentary was roughly “I can’t get this down; it tastes like soapy artichoke water” (and that’s essentially the producer / brand regarded most positively and consistently in online comments). So I don’t know what to say; keep trying it if you want to, or don’t. I still like oolong better, then black teas, maybe with white roughly on par with pu’er, depending on the versions.

If you are tasting barnyard, fungus, and compost as primary aspects you might not be trying decent versions yet, never mind getting well into better types, and probably also need to adjust brewing and reconsider airing / resting the teas. You can get better input in places like this if you can communicate what you are drinking (more specifics), some general approach to brewing, and what other teas and aspects you like. People that are into pu’er can be less friendly, in some settings and online group cultures, but this site is generally ok, people aren’t like that.

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LuckyMe said

Puerh noob here. My experience with it is limited, but I agree with others that it’s an acquired taste. I don’t think a newcomer to tea would take a liking to puerh right away. Most devotees are experienced tea drinkers who arrive at puerh through other teas (black, oolong, green, etc).

Personally, I like the effects of puerh (cha qi) more than the taste. Green and oolong teas win out over puerh in the flavor department for me.

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Ubacat said

I totally understand. My first introduction into puerh was a flavoured ripe (Vanilla Mint puerh). I really loved it and started branching out from there. Turns out, even though my first puerh was ripe , I later on did not have a preference for ripe.

My tastes are more for green, white, & light oolong teas so it made sense I loved raw puerh more. I started out with companies I know had good quality puerh. To this day, I usually still prefer a green, white, Or light oolong over a raw puerh. However, there are days when I am in the mood for one. The raw puerh’s I love have notes of apricot and are creamy & sweet. Most times I will go for a young raw puerh instead of an older one. Misty Peak tea, White 2 Tea, Crimson Lotus Tea, & Mandala have had some great ones I’ve loved.

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