Puer Tea

By David Shaub Stallings

The production and trade of Puer tea has a long, storied, and many faceted history. Produced from a large leaf variety of Camellia Sinensis, Puer is made particularly unique by the fact that it can be aged for decades or longer and (typically) continues to develop a positive depth of flavor and texture with age. Aged Puer teas can fetch jaw-dropping prices in China and, increasingly, around the world as more and more people are taking interest in this unique category of tea.

In its simplest form Puer tea is not too dissimilar to Green tea. Plucked tea leaves are withered, heated to kill enzymes that would cause oxidation, rolled (by hand or mechanically) to break some surface cells thus releasing moisture and volatile aromatics, and then sun-dried. The resulting product from these steps is referred to as Maocha and closely resembles Green tea in many regards. Frequently Maocha is then pressed into cakes or bricks (or various other shapes, such as coins), though it is occasionally sold loose. Initially done to ease the transport of tea when done on the back of an animal, compressed Puers are now appreciated for the positive effects they have when aging the teas, as oxygen and moisture more slowly penetrate the entirety of the tea leaves compressed within.

  • Ripe (also known as Shu) Puer that was left uncompressed.
  • Raw (also known as Sheng) Puer that was pressed into small coins for longterm aging.

Above is a description for Sheng or Raw Puer. There is, however, another family of Puer teas that was developed in the 1970's in attempt to quickly create a tea that had the flavor characteristics of a Raw Puer that had been aged for many years. The result is referred to as Shu or Ripe Puer and, while they do not very accurately mimic the flavor of aged Raw Puers, Ripe Puers can be delicious in their own right. Once the tea is made into Maocha it is put into a wet pilling process during which the leaves are kept moist and warm for a period of roughly 45 days. During this time the leaves are kept in a pile and turned periodically. From there the leaves can be kept loose or pressed into cakes, bricks or any number of other shapes. Ripe Puer was not initially intended to be aged, but many people now are finding flavors can continue to develop in a positive way during the aging process with these teas, as well. At the bare minimum we at Passenger prefer to drink Ripe Puers that have been aged enough for the wu doi, or wet pile, flavor to dissipate. How long that is depends on the particular tea. Ripe Puers are extremely comforting teas and make wonderful daily drinkers.

Our 2012 Menghai Ripe Puer presents brisk cocoa, dried red fruit & aromatic wood qualities.

Our 2004 Bamboo Coin Raw Puer presents a complex dried citrus quality that is underpinned by a nuanced smoke character and hints of stone fruit. The finish is reminiscent of menthol and there is a powerful cooling quality that comes up from your throat long after imbibing.

We trust that you will enjoy these selections showcasing the two primary approaches to Puer production, as we have.