Dark Teas

Date

A long time ago, when the silk road was linking Europe and Asia, tea was amongst the goods transported from East to West. Travelling from Central China to Italy, for example, took an average of 6 to 9 months. Everything had to be packed tight. The tea leaves were forced into leather bags and compressed in order to carry a maximum quantity. Bags were packed on horses, mules, and camels. This, along with the various climatic conditions along the journey, the sweat of the animals, and the times spent in one bag, altered the product. Since Europeans had no comparison anyways, the tea traders thoughts they would sell this tea anyways. Which they did.

This form of tea never made a big impression on Europeans, but it’s the Chinese themselves, ironically, who became fond of it.

Fast forward a couple of centuries, and this style of tea, compressed and aged, became its own thing. The processes got more controlled, and the results acquired value.

When we talk about Puerh today, we refer to round cakes of leaves, tightly pressed and more or less fermented.

The term Puerh comes from the city of origin of this tea style: Puerh, Yunnan province, China.

A more accurate term for these teas is “Aged Teas”. There are, in fact, many style of aged teas, all having in common an aging process. This terms technically described this familly of tea, that includes Puerhs, Liu Bao, Fu Zhuan, and others less known styles. The Chinese term is “Hei Cha”, or dark teas.

Welcome to the dark side.

Modern Puerhs are divided into two categories. “Sheng”, and “Shou”. Or “Raw”, and “Cooked”. It’s not really that the latter is cooked, but it’s rather heated and provided with water to make the natural fermentation process much quicker. The Raw Puerhs, you have guessed, are simply aged naturally.

When a cake of tea leaves ages, it slowly slowly darkens as the leafs oxidyze, and softens as the molecules breack down. Old teas, Shou or Sheng, will be almost black in color and soft in taste, full of earthy flavours, like a forest soil after rain. Young teas (Sheng in this case, because even young Shous are already dark) will be strong and astringent, full of grassy and pine sap-like flavours. There are amateurs for both, and everything in between.

In China, the origin of the leaves is of great importance when judging the worth of an aged tea. And so is the aging facility. Yunnan mountains such as Yiwu, Nan Hua, Lao Banzhang have a very good reputation. Xiaguan, Menghai, Haiwan and other factories in Yunnan, along with storage facilities in Hong are known to age the most prestigious tea cakes.

Just like wines, prices vary according to terroir and years, going as high as tens of thousands in auctions.

While it’s the Yunannese people who are at the core of this tea family, many Puerhs now come from Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, or other parts of China. They are very often though, still processed in China. It’s the case for most Thai Puerhs. The leafs are harvested in the mountains of Northern Thailand, which has an ideal terroir for this type of leaf material, and sent to China for processing. Some of it comes back to the country, while most is sold by the factories to different parts of China, and the world.

So even if quite a lot of Puerh is made from Thai leaves, not a lot is found for sale in Thailand. Only a couple of farmers and small companies process their own leaves from A to Z, or simply ships them over to Yunnan to be processed, then age them in house.

It’s from these people, located mostly around Doi Wawee, that I sourced the Puerhs offered here.

More
articles