Puerh is a fermented tea. There is a little confusion about what fermented tea actually is due to misunderstandings in tea producing nations and in the West. Some tea places call all dark tea fermented tea simply because the leaves look as though they have gone through fermentation. However, we know that Black tea leaves are not processed through fermentation, their processing relies on oxidation. Although, because Puerh is fermented and aged meaning that it sits for long periods of time exposed to moisture and air, the tea leaves naturally oxidize slowly.
Puerh is produced by one of two ways. The first way is to allow the leaves to naturally ferment and oxidize on their own over time. This method is called Sheng (Raw) Puerh. The leaves of Shu (Ripe) Puerh are piled wet and allowed to sit for a controlled amount of time with continuous and controlled amounts of moisture and are turned over the course of the processing. Leaves can be piled wet for a few hours to a few weeks. The tea leaves are then packed into molds and dried in a warm room where they are wrapped in paper or weaved into form fitting bamboo baskets. After unwrapping, the Puerh bricks can be broken apart for brewing.
Puerh is most commonly made with the buds and first four leaves of the tea plant. This tea is made with all types of finished tea leaves of all sizes. The process of tea fermentation relies on the presence of tea indigenous micro-organisms that ferment the compacted leaves. Fermentation occurs when the tea leaves begin to breakdown due to the natural bacteria and other micro-organisms naturally present. These leaves tend not to be as oxidized as ‘fully oxidized’ teas like Black tea. Pu-erh is typically smoother than traditional Black teas, but with deeper, warmer, flavors than Green tea.
When buying Puerh, you will come across Ripe and Raw Puerh. Ripe Puerh tends to be more mellow, earthy, and dark than Raw Puerh. This fermented tea is not wet piled, but allowed to ferment over time with a process of sun drying and rolling. Raw Puerh is light with a light yellow liquor and chestnut, buddy profile.