Norbu Tea
Shu or Ripe Pu-Erh Tea Info
Shu (Ripe) Pu-Erh Tea

This 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 once had.
  • 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 different 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 newly pressed 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 flavor.

Sheng (Raw) Pu-Erh Tea Production Method

Pu-Erh Tea Terminology Guide
Norbu Tea Company, LLC PO Box 800697 Dallas, TX 75380-0697

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