Defining the Category Puer Tea
Puer tea is a category of tea signifying tea that has undergone microbial fermentation, although there is reason to believe that microbial ripening is a closer description for what is occurring. There are two types of puer tea. Green puer, also referred to as sheng puer, is considered raw fermented tea. Black puer is considered, by contrast, cooked puer tea, and you may see it also referred to as shu puer.
History and Older Methods of Transporting Puer Cakes
Puer tea has a lengthy history but it’s mainly thought to have come out of Southeast China, particularly Yunnan province. Traditional methods of puer production involve steaming sun dried green tea, compressing it into a cake, and then wrapping it in paper or cloth. Seven cakes of puer cakes were stacked and wrapped in bamboo to make transport of these puer cakes on horse or mule easier. The stacks of cakes are referred to as qi zi bing where twelve tongs are referred to as jian. The compression was adopted to protect the tea during transport in humid areas as they travelled through areas like Tibet, India, east Asia, and regions with a climate similar to a rainforest. There are some new shapes of puer that have come about. Tou cha, for example, is relatively new and is compressed to be shaped more closely to that of a bowl. Bricks are also fairly recent, along with looseleaf puer tea.
The New Era of Puer
In terms of methods of production, it is generally thought that green puer would predate black puer. Essentially, it would take years for green puer to age to become black puer. However, there is some confusion surrounding black puer production as an aged sheng puer cake would taste different than current methods of shu puer production where the fermentation period is dramatically shortened. In 1973, this method of shortened fermentation was adopted. Shu puer has a much milder taste than sheng puer but both are believed to aid digestion and help clean the blood.
*Video correction: Please note that the typical weight of these cakes have traditionally been 357 grams.