Puerh tea is a world unto itself. It is esoteric and mysterious. The flavors entice and repulse. Within the tea world Puerh is perhaps the most enigmatic of teas. The health benefits are outstanding yet poorly understood. The Processing style is shrouded in mystery and lore as well as deception. To dive into Puerh is to run head long into vast wall of humility as one quickly realizes how little one knows, how little we know about this mysterious and cherished plant we call tea and the thousands of years of rich heritage behind it.
The categories of Puerh immediately fall into a myriad of forms and methods of development. Shen and Shu. Raw or cooked. Raw must be aged although many drink it not aged. Therefore it must not be aged. But is it just a tea cake then, if not aged? Puerh tea is fermented, Shen is fermented by time and location, Shu by adding microbes and cooking it under large covers. Shu is commonly referred to as being composted. But composting is a crude term, which brings no beauty to this tea. The beauty and flavor of this tea comes from the fermentation process. The process itself takes up to 2 months. The microbial formula varies from factory to factory but there are eight famous factories. The quality of the microbes and processing can vary widely. There are factories that are clean, with good ventilation, and well drained. They use filtered and pure water. Then there are factories that are not so clean, the water is unfiltered from polluted rivers and ponds. (You can tell these Puerhs by their fish smell. Avoid these Puerhs.)
Of the Shu Puerh, or cooked Puerh, there is a special category called Gong Ting Puerh. Gong Ting means “Emperor’s Court”. So this is the Puerh worthy to be served in the emperor’s court. What makes this Puerh considered the Emperors Puerh? Gong Ting tea is made from golden tips or buds of Yunnan tea. Because the leaves are delicate, the tea does not undergo the Wo Shi (moistening process which we earlier called composting) for the full two months. Instead the time is halved. The result is a delicate Puerh with thin long needles and produces a very refreshing flavor. The flavor notes can be of cedar, elmwood, ginseng, Juju dates, and barley. This Puerh is an easier way for American drinkers to come to enjoy the Puerh. It is an access point to the incredibly rich world of Puerh that is healthy, vital, vast and mysterious.