Shou puerh is a popular yet misunderstood type of tea. Contrary to popular belief, this tea is actually a relatively new invention, dating back to the 1970s.
The color is extremely dark, and for that reason it is referred to as “black tea” in China, while the teas that we know as black teas are called red teas.
In this article, we are going to take a deep dive into the world of shou puerh, to see what this tea is, where it comes from and how it's made.
Let’s get started ☕
What is Shou Puerh?
There are two different types of puerh, shou puerh and sheng puerh. Before we can understand the two, we first need to take a brief look into what puerh tea is.
There are 6 main categories of tea, white tea, yellow tea, green tea, oolong tea, red tea and dark tea or post fermented tea.
Post fermented tea is made from leaves that have undergone a fermentation process, which alters their flavor.
The most famous type of post fermented tea is puerh, but this refers to fermented teas that comes from Yunnan province and it needs to be made from the Da Ye or big leafed tea plants.
This puerh tea was discovered by accident, as it was being transported around the rural areas of China.
If you're interested in learning the difference between the different types of teas and their colors, you can read our complete guide 👉 Your Guide to Tea Colors Explained by Experts
The teas were packed into cakes in order to conserve space, and as they passed through the different climates on their way from Southern China to Tibet, the tea cakes began to ferment, changing their color and flavor.
This unique taste profile soon became famous, and the demand for these puerh teas increased all around the world.
Some time in the late 20th century, tea producers wanted to come up with a faster way to create these sheng puerh teas, which often required years of aging to reach their desired taste profile. They eventually discovered the Wo Dui method of fermentation.
The tea produced using the Wo Dui method indeed took less time to produce, but it was very different in both taste and in overall appearance. The color of the shou puerh is much darker and the flavor can be much earthier, with notes of dark rum, licorice and earth.
How Shou Puerh is Made
First, the maocha or unfinished tea is gathered up into a pile. This is typically done in a moist and warm environment, as this is the ideal condition for fermentation.
Then the leaves are sprayed with water and then seeded with a microorganism. The most common cultures to use are Aspergillus niger, penicillum and yeast.
The leaves are then turned to make sure the moisture is spread evenly and then they are covered up. This pile of leaves needs to be turned a few times over the course of the next few weeks and months until the fermentation is complete.
After the fermentation process is over, the tea leaves are dried, pressed into a cake and sold as finished shou puerh.
The production of shou puerh is very different from the production of other types of tea. If you want to learn more about tea production, you can read our article 👉 How is tea made? Complete explanation by Tea Experts
Shou Puerh Compared to Japanese Fermented Tea
There is a type of Japanese fermented tea that is actually quite similar to shou puerh. It is not produced exactly using the Wo Dui method, but it is a fermented tea produced in a very controlled setting. The tea is known as Nadeshiko Rose Japanese Fermented Tea and it has a very meticulous production process.
First, the tea leaves are laid out on a tarp and then they are seeded with koji, a microbe that is commonly used to make other types of Japanese cuisine like miso, soy sauce and sake.
Next, the leaves are placed into a pressurized container where they are allowed to ferment, without being exposed to the outside air. The reason this is done in a pressurized environment is to make sure that no other microorganisms ferment the tea other than the koji.
What does the Nadeshiko Taste Like?
The end result is a Japanese tea that produces an extremely unique flavor. It is known as the “rosé of tea” for its pink color and its tasting notes of strawberry.
This tea has a flavor similar to a puerh, but with more of this acidity and freshness that really rounds out the flavor.
Speaking of rosé, this is not the only tea that has similarities to wine. There are many parallels and you can learn all about them in our article 👉 10 Reasons Tea and Wine are Similar
What Does Shou Puerh Taste Like?
Shou puerh has perhaps one of the most controversial flavors in the world of tea. Some tea drinkers love this tea, while others say it tastes like dirt or a basement. Some of this has to do with how the tea is produced, and some of it has to do with the perception of the person drinking it.
Lower quality shou puerh teas can taste fishy or like a basement, while higher quality ones taste like barrel aged dark alcohol, vanilla, cola or molasses. These flavors can all be delicious and something hard to find elsewhere in the world of tea.
Shou puerh isn't the only tea that has vast discrepencies between high quality and low quality. If you want to learn about how quality makes a difference in tea, you can read all about it in our article 👉 8 Differences Between Cheap Tea & Expensive Tea