Image (modified): Ignat Gorazd
Pu-erh tea originates out of the Yunnan province of China and comes in both raw and fermented varieties. The latter version is unique in that it undergoes a microbial fermentation process after the leaves have been dried and rolled. This gives the tea a slightly earthy, musky quality that only gets better with age, just like wine.
Pu-erh can be made from either black or green tea leaves and comes in loose leaf and compressed brick forms. Because of the fermentation process, many pu-erh teas can remain fresh for up to 50 years. To ensure you extract the best flavor from this ancient Chinese tea, we wanted to share our favorite tips on how to brew pu-erh tea.
How to make pu-erh tea
Let's start by looking at how to brew pu-erh tea the Western way.
Start by placing the tea in your teapot. As a general rule, you should use two teaspoons to one and one-half tablespoons of tea for every six ounces of water.
The next step is to rinse the leaves with hot water for about 30 seconds. You should use just enough water to cover the leaves. This will remove any impurities that may remain in the tea from processing.
Discard the rinse water, and add more hot water for brewing. Allow your tea to steep for approximately two to five minutes, and serve. Purified or fresh spring water will provide the best flavor. You can control the depth and intensity of the flavor of the tea by adjusting the water temperature. The hotter the water, the stronger the flavor of the tea.
The Chinese method for brewing pu-erh is slightly different and is typically done in a glass teapot, Yixing teapot, or gaiwan:
1. Start by using boiling water to wash and pre-warm your teapot, serving pitcher, tea cups, and tea filter. This removes any residue or impurities from the pot and warms the pot to ensure optimal brewing.
2. Add tea to the teapot along with boiling water until the leaves are just covered. Discard the water after two to three seconds.
3. Repeat the rinsing process if you are using fermented pu-erh to remove the extra impurities of the fermentation process.
4. Fill the teapot with boiling water, and gently brush away the bubbles with the lid of the teapot before covering.
5. Pour some of the hot water over the lid of the teapot to keep it warm.
6. Once the water on the lid is dry, you can serve your tea. This usually takes 10 to 20 seconds.
How many times can you steep pu-erh tea?
Pu-erh leaves can be re-steeped for multiple servings of tea by simply adding five to ten seconds to the steeping time of each subsequent infusion. The number of infusions you can get from your leaves depends on a variety of factors, including:
- The age of the tea
- The quality of the tea
- The brewing method used
- How much water you use
- How long you steep the tea
The Western method of preparing pu-erh may only yield two or three infusions, while the Chinese method may provide up to 10 infusions before the flavor diminishes.
Pu-erh water temperature
The optimal temperature for brewing pu-erh tea is 210°F to 212°F, which is boiling.
The goal is to highlight the best qualities of the tea and to develop just the right amount of tannins to give the tea a complete flavor. If the water is too cool, there will not be enough tannins in the tea, and you will miss important notes in the flavor profile. If the water is too hot, the tannins will dominate and cause the tea to taste bitter.
Now that you know how to brew pu-erh tea using two different methods, we encourage you to experiment with both to determine your favorite.
Both methods will allow you to enjoy the unique flavors and dimensions of the tea but provide distinctly different results. As a general rule, the Chinese brewing method will give you a deeper, fuller flavor.