Common Misunderstandings about Shou Puerh Tea | white2tea Blog blog

October 16, 2020 4 min read

Common Misunderstandings about Shou Puerh Tea

Shou Puerh is a topic as complex as any in the tea world. This post will dispel a few of the common misconceptions behind the tea. The tea, which can be called either Shou Puerh or Ripe Puerh, has plenty up for debate whether you are a beginner or whether you are a veteran drinker of small batch teas. Here are a few misunderstandings we hear the most around this fermented favorite.

What are some common misconceptions about shu Puer?

•    All Shu Puer tea is created equal and tastes the same
•    Shou Puerh tea is supposed to taste fishy or funky
•    Shou Puerh should be cheaper than Sheng/raw Puer tea
•    There is no need to age to Shu Puer tea


Is all Shou Puerh tea basically the same?

As with any tea, the base material and processing matter! A glut of lower quality shou Puerh flooding the market has created an unfortunate stereotype that the genre is both cheap and lacking depth. For reference, shou Puerh tea is actually more expensive to make than an identical sheng Puer. At a minimum an identical raw Puerh tea will cost roughly 15% more when made into shou Puerh due to processing costs and a loss of leaf (called sun hao in Chinese) during the pile fermentation process. For example, if the base cost of a raw Puer is $100 per kilogram, an identical shou Puerh tea would cost $115.

The current market situation has become a self-fulfilling prophecy, where tea makers refuse to use high quality raw Puer tea to make shou Puer because the market rejects higher price points. This is exacerbated by large factories that churn out low quality piles by the hundreds of metric tons, using base material that we wouldn’t gift to our enemies. Our small batch teas are a counterpoint to this industrially produced shou Puerh.


Shu Puer is supposed to have a dank, swampy taste!

This is totally wrong. While some freshly (or poorly) produced shu Puer does have a dank taste, this taste is not normal or desirable. As referenced above, much of this is due to very low quality material produced in mass quantities or to the tea being far too fresh to be sold. However, it is also important to differentiate that new shu Puer drinkers will often find the shu Puer flavor profile to be a challenge in the same way that a first exposure to a pungent cheese, beer, coffee or other unfamiliar fermented flavors can be challenging. If you’re drinking a reasonably aged shu Puer tea from a reliable source and you are new to shu Puer, fight through the initial battle to get over that hump and you’ll be rewarded. If you’ve bought a tea that is too dank for your taste, set it aside to age and it will likely calm down.


Shu Puer is cheap, why would it cost more than raw Puer?

Shu Puer being cheap is more market perception than reality. As we mentioned above, it costs more to make a shu Puer than a raw Puer when using an identical base material. When 100 kilograms of raw Puer goes into the pile, after ~30 days only ~85 kilograms comes out as shu Puer. If you’ve purchased a very inexpensive shu Puer in the past, you might be doing some quick math in your head and asking, “Well, what tea did they use to make that shu Puer with?!” The answer is inevitably low quality leftovers. What many producers often label with famous village names or list as “spring tea” is anything but. Buyer beware with too good to be true statements regarding what went into the pile. One of the main reasons we pursue our small batch teas is to have control over exactly what tea is in our piles. Buying from another person’s production, there is always a disconnect.


Is there no need to age Shou Puerh?

While it is true that Shou Puerh is more accessible straight away than its raw Puer counterpart, many shou Puerh teas can also be aged. Whether or not a tea has real aging potential has to do with its fermentation level and base material. If you have ever had an extremely dark leaf shou Puerh tea, which on a scale of 1-10 would rate at an 8 or so, these teas have very little room to age further. However, some teas with a lighter (more green) fermentation profile have plenty of room to age and improve over time. This is a complex topic to paint with broad strokes, but generally speaking less fermented shou Puerh tea has aging potential. Regardless of fermentation level, almost any shou Puerh tea benefits from at least 2-5 years of aging, during which time the tea expels excess moisture and the danker aspects of aroma and flavor are shrugged off.
white2tea co.
white2tea co.

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