Pu-erh, better known in the West as red tea, is one of the most unusual teas in the world due to the way it is made. During this, the tea is allowed to ferment for a while in a controlled environment. This gives it a characteristic earthy flavor and very particular health benefits.
Red tea is a delicate tea. The fermentation process modifies the tea, reducing its astringency and softening its flavor. Now, does this matter when it comes to making a cup of pu-erh? Join us to discover how to prepare red tea the right way.
Red tea basics
Pu-erh is made in China, where specific rules are followed for its harvest and preparation. They are so strict that we could compare them with those followed for the production of a wine with denomination of origin.
In fact, red tea is produced specifically in the Chinese region of Yunnan, where the terrain and climate give it its character. If it is not produced in the area and according to the established rules, it is not pu-erh.
Although pu-erh is also obtained from the leaves of Camellia Sinensis, just like the black and green tea varieties, it totally differs from these kinds of tea in its mode of production. What do we mean?
Apart from the oxidation process, the leaves undergo a fermentation process in which different fungi and bacteria modify the nature of the tea and act on its flavor and health properties.
What does pu-erh taste like?
The taste of pu-erh is unlike anything you’ve ever tasted in the world of teas. Its fermentation process modifies its aroma, color in the cup, properties and, of course, its flavor.
Generally described as earthy, it is interesting to note that there is a huge range of flavors behind red tea depending on its age.
While the younger teas are slightly bitter and more floral on the palate, the older ones take on more complex and smooth flavors, with notes of mold due to their fermentation process.
How to prepare red tea so that it comes out perfect
The first step, of course, is to choose a quality tea. High-quality red tea is available in two forms: loose leaf or so-called biscuits or cakes, blocks of tea pressed into shapes that are usually cylindrical.
Cakes are usually made with aged tea, although it is possible to find them made with young tea as well.
The format of the tea will make it necessary to follow a few different steps if it is a cake. We offer you the instructions to obtain the full range of flavors expected from this delicious drink.
How to prepare red tea (biscuit/cake)
If we have achieved pu-erh in cake, the ideal is to soften the leaves that we are going to use before starting.
To do this, we must separate the desired amount of tea (about 4 or 5 grams per cup) trying not to spoil the block too much. You can use an awl or a pointed knife to poke and pry up a part. It is not convenient to cut.
Next, place the portion of tea in an infuser. Put it in a cup and add hot water (not boiling) until the leaves are covered. Allow the piece of cake to soak and remove the infuser for a few seconds. This will allow the leaves to soften slightly and better release the flavors when infusing. Remove and discard the used water. Remember that this process should be brief.
Now it’s time to infuse: heat the water to 90ºC and pour it into the cup. Insert the infuser inside and let it rest. The time will vary in relation to your tastes, it is generally considered that it should be infused between 2 and 4 minutes, depending on whether a milder or more intense flavor is desired. You can infuse two minutes and taste the tea. If you prefer it more intense, let it infuse another 30 seconds and try again. This process can be carried out until the 4 minutes of infusion are completed. Don’t leave the pu-erh in the water for longer to prevent it from turning bitter.
In the case of having young pu-erh cake, the water should be a few degrees cooler (ideally at 85ºC) and the infusion time should be lowered to a maximum of 3 minutes, to prevent the tea from becoming bitter.
In any case, whatever kind you use, never prepare your red tea with boiling water since, as with green tea, excessive heat acts on the leaves causing them to release more tannins that cause bitter flavors.
How to Brew Red Tea (Loose Leaf)
Preparing red tea in the form of loose leaves ( loose leaf ) does not need any special treatment before infusing. In fact, the infusion is prepared in a similar way to that explained above with just a few differences:
- We use about 1 teaspoon (about 3 grams) of loose leaves for every cup of tea.
- Let infuse for 5 minutes.
- We strain and enjoy!
What to accompany your pu-erh with?
Now that you know how to prepare a perfect cup of pu-erh, we want to advise you how to accompany it properly so that you can enjoy all the nuances of its flavor in the best possible way.
Its earthy flavor combines very well with meats, fatty or very spicy foods, which is why you could enjoy this drink during or after a meal and even use it to marinate some meat or obtain a sauce with a totally new flavor.
Red tea goes well with mushrooms and strong cheeses (such as goat cheese). In general, it is usually taken with savory dishes, although you can also drink it together with a piece of dark chocolate.
Pu-erh is a different tea, with nuances capable of conquering the most demanding palates. Do you dare to prepare it at home?