Fermented food is currently all the rage. From kimchi to kombucha, the shelves of health food stores are chalk-full of drinks that contain living cultures.
It seems like there is new science emerging every day about the incredible health benefits of eating fermented food. It is therefore no surprise that we are seeing the emergence of novel fermented drinks, including everything from coconut kefirs to living chocolate milk.
But there is a drink containing living bacteria that far predates these new-fangled creations: Pu’erh tea. What is pu’erh tea? It is a fermented tea made from the Assamica cultivar of Camellia senensis that is grown in China’s Yunnan province.
Pu’erh has a complex, rich taste and varies based on localized processing styles. Its general flavor is more pungent than other teas.
It is subtly bitter, with a sun-dried vegetal taste. Younger teas are more fragrant and smokier, while aged pu’erh is smoother and sweeter, with dark, fruity notes.
How to make pu’erh tea taste better
To make the best tasting pu’erh tea, purchase a high-quality tea that is compatible with your preferred flavor profile. Brew your pu’erh tea variety correctly. You can also add milk, honey, fruit juice, flowers, or even coffee to your pu’erh tea to improve its flavor.
How to choose the best tasting pu’erh tea
All kinds of tea vary in taste and quality depending on where and how they were made. However, no tea varies quite so much as pu’erh.
To make pu’erh, freshly picked tea leaves are tossed in large woks for just long enough to halt oxidation, but not long enough to kill natural bacteria.
The leaves are then dried in the sun, before being pressed into round tea-leaf cakes.
The bacteria in pu’erh remain alive for decades and continue to change the character of the tea every day. No two cups of any batch of pu’erh are exactly alike.
There is a wide divergence of flavors of pu’erh. If you want your pu’erh tea to taste as good as possible, it is important to buy a high quality pu’erh with a flavor profile you like.
here are three main varieties, each with its own unique taste.
The first variety is young “raw” pu’erh. This young tea has floral notes and a grassy, vegetal taste. It is known for being slightly more bitter than other pu’erh varieties.
The second variety is aged “raw” pu’erh. Aged pu’erh teas have had the rough edges smoothed out of them and make a woodier brew than young pu’erh. They often feature notes of cherry and blackberry. Aged pu’erh is a dark, full-bodied tea.
The third variety is “ripe” pu’erh. Ripe pu’erh takes decades to reach maturity. It is a thick, luscious drink. It is a sweeter, heavier drink than “raw” pu’erh, and often has notes of mushroom.
You should choose a pu’erh whose flavor sounds most appealing to you.
Because of how valuable pu’erh tea can be, make sure that you are buying your tea from a trustworthy source. There are plenty of vendors who engage in food fraud, mixing in other, cheaper teas into a block of so-called “pu’erh,” in order to be able to charge more for it.
These cheaper fakes will of course taste less good than real pu’erh.
How to brew the perfect cup of pu’erh tea
To make your pu’erh tea taste as good as possible, you will need to brew it correctly.
How you should brew your pu’erh will change depending on what kind of pu’erh you are making.
To brew ripe cakes of pu’erh tea, bring fresh, cold water to a boil. Pour the boiling water over a teaspoon of your teacake and allow it to steep for five minutes. After this, strain out your tea leaves. Pour and enjoy.
To brew raw cakes of pu’erh tea, use water that is not yet boiling. Heat your water to approximately 190 degrees Fahrenheit before pouring it over a teaspoon of your teacake.
If you are using a kettle to make your tea, stop it before it reaches a rolling boil. If you are making tea without a kettle, use a thermometer to test the temperature of the water before you pour it over your teaspoon of teacake.
Allow raw pu’erh to steep for three minutes. Strain, pour and sip away!
To brew pu’erh tea bags, bring cold water to a boil. Pour the hot water into your mug over your tea bag and allow your tea to steep for five minutes. Remove the teabag and enjoy.
8 ways to make your pu’erh tea taste better
It may happen that you have chosen a tea with a profile suited to your taste and have brewed it correctly, but still feel like your pu’erh tea is missing something. If this happens, you might want to try to improve its taste by adding in extra ingredients or by serving it cold.
Here are eight things you can do to your pu’erh tea to make it taste better.
1. Add milk to your pu’erh tea
Like black tea, ripe pu’erh makes a deep, dark brew that tastes great with a smooth, rich milk or milk alternative.
Add a teaspoon of sweetener to smooth out the subtle bitterness of the pu’erh.
You can even make a pu’erh latte by brewing a small amount of strong, ripe pu’erh and adding this to foamed milk as though it were espresso.
2. Add honey to your pu’erh tea
The vegetal flavors of pu’erh, both raw and ripe, are beautifully balanced by the rich sweetness of a full-bodied honey.
3. Serve your pu’erh tea iced
Pu’erh makes a great iced tea. Brew raw pu’erh in a heatproof jug according to the normal practice. Strain out your tea leaves or remove your tea bag. Add in a sweetener and then place your jug in the fridge to cool.
Pour over ice and serve with a slice of lemon or orange.
4. Infuse ripe pu’erh tea with chrysanthemum
Infusing ripe pu’erh with chrysanthemum has long been a remedy used by Chinese medicine practitioners to treat fevers and inflammation.
It doesn’t hurt that it has a pleasant, aromatic taste. The lightness of the chrysanthemum pairs beautifully with the richness of ripe pu’erh tea.
5. Infuse ripe pu’erh tea with orange peel
Ripe pu’erh has tones of dark fruit that pair perfectly with the tangy flavors of orange.
You can create a citrusy orange-pu’erh blend by adding some dried orange peel to your loose-leaf pu’erh. Alternatively, you can add it to your infuser with a teaspoon of a pu’erh teacake.
Or, if you want to get crafty, check out the best places to buy empty tea bags and make your own tea bags by combining loose leaf pu’erh tea and dried peel.
6. Add a squeeze of lemon to your pu’erh tea
There is almost no tea or herbal infusion around that doesn’t taste great with a dash of lemon. Pu’erh is no different. Give that lemon wedge a generous squeeze and finish your tea off with a teaspoon of honey.
7. Add coffee to your pu’erh tea
You may think this suggestion sounds like it is coming out of left field, but there is a rich tradition in Hong Kong of mixing tea and coffee.
Yuangyang is the perfect drink for the caffeine enthusiast. It is traditionally made by combining coffee and black tea. However, a ripe pu’erh also mixes delectably with coffee, and a pu’erh yuangyang has a uniquely smooth and earthy flavor.
8. Add dried flowers to your pu’erh tea
Who doesn’t love the aromatic flavor of floral tea? The lightness of dried flowers, such as rose and lavender, is grounded by the subtle, lightly bitter flavors of a young, raw pu’erh tea.