Shu (Ripe) Pu-Erh Tea
brings us to the topic of Shu or "ripened" Pu-Erh. The process of
making Shu Pu-Erh was developed in the 1970's to satisfy the demand for
aged Pu-Erhs in mainland China and in Taiwan by simulating the flavors
of a naturally aged tea.
Shu Pu-Erh teas do have some of the
characteristics of naturally aged teas, but many of the subtleties of
true aged teas are, unfortunately for us, not really approximated by
the ripening process.
To make Shu Pu-Erh, the same processing as with
Sheng Pu-Erh occurs until after the initial drying, so many of the bullet points in this section are redundant from the Sheng Pu-Erh Section.
- The tea leaves are picked, withered to make them less brittle,
and then heat treated, usually pan fired in a relatively low temperature wok, to neutralize the enzymes
that would cause the tea leaves to oxidize.
- Next, the leaves are
traditionally dried in the sun, one of the characteristics that make Pu-Erh processing unique. If weather conditions are not favorable or a
producer wishes to speed up the drying process at the expense of
quality, however, the tea leaves are sometimes dried in large ovens using low heat.
The drying process continues until roughly 90% of the moisture has been
removed. At this point, the tea leaves are referred to as Mao Cha, or semi-finished tea.
- Next, the
tea factories arrange the tea leaves into evenly distributed piles and
ferment the tea leaves in a process not unlike composting.
- The carefully controlled moisture and temperature levels used along
with the naturally occurring organisms in the tea leaves (i.e. yeast)
actually ferment the tea leaves, turning them a rich
chocolate brown color. The line between fermentation and decomposition,
however, is a fine one. If not carefully controlled, the tea leaves can
actually decompose and lose any desirable characteristics that they
- This fermentation process usually takes about 60 days, but varies based on the taste of the tea masters in charge of fermentation.
- The Mao Cha is then sorted and separated into
grades. Larger factories will use a blower & wind tunnel system to
quickly sort the tea leaves into different sizes/grades, while small
factories or family concerns will either perform this step by hand or
omit it all together.
- A lot of ripened tea is sold as loose tea, but if the finished product is to be a blended & compressed tea, the factory tea masters blend the leaves from different growing
regions, vintages, or fermentation levels together based on specific formulas or recipes.
- Next, the leaves are steamed to make them pliable again and
compressed into shapes using the traditional stone molds or one of any
number of mechanized systems of molds and presses.
- Lastly, the
cakes of ripened tea are sometimes baked in a relatively low heat oven (200-250
F) to drive out any residual moisture and prevent the formation of mold.
The resulting beverage is described as having
little to no astringency and mellow, smooth, "peaty," and subtly sweet
flavors with a nice thick mouth feel. Ripened teas that are not
carefully controlled during the fermentation process will appear
crumbly when steeped and generally have a musty, moldy, or composted
Sheng (Raw) Pu-Erh Tea Production Method
Pu-Erh Tea Terminology Guide