If you have been afraid to try pu erh (or puerh, or pu-erh, or pu’erh) tea because you have heard that it has an odd flavor, then this will cure you of that notion. While this tea does have an earthy flavor to it, it’s not “fishy” or some of the other words used to describe some pu-erhs, In fact, it tastes more like a dark oolong than it does like most pu-erh teas.
Part of that is because this is a loose leaf tea, rather than the bricks or tablets, large or small, that more traditional puerh comes in. The leaves resemble an oolong more in appearance as well as in flavor.
Once brewed, the tea is a medium brown – not quite as dark as a black tea, but the color varies by how long you steep the tea. The aroma varies as well – with two minutes of steeping, it is somewhat earthy; with longer steeping (more than 5 minutes), one begins to get a faint hint of the ocean-y note that characterizes many pu-erhs, which is often described as fishy, though to me that part of the pu-erh flavor is more precisely like the chitinous shells that shrimp have, once those shells have been thoroughly rinsed. I know that sounds odd, and I don’t mean it as a bad thing, but it is the sort of thing that puts some people off pu-erhs, and I want to reiterate that this pu-erh doesn’t taste like that at all, unless you steep it for a long time.
The taste is earthy, smooth (though not as smooth as an oolong, at least to my tongue) and very calming. A second steeping remains smooth – again, as long as one doesn’t steep it for too long.
Adagio Teas describes this tea as:
One of the five main types of tea (white, green, oolong and black being the others), pu’erh tea stands apart with its uncommonly soft earthy flavor and woodsy tones. Unlike all other teas, pu’erh (pronounced ‘poo-err’) is actually aged. The tea leaves go through a natural fermentation process before the tea is gently dried. This creates a cup with zero astringency and deep, rich body. Pu’erh is extraordinarily smooth and deeply refreshing. Our Pu’erh Poe (the shou variety of pu’erh) gives a clean, woodsy aroma, warm hay inside a barn, mushrooms and savory vegetables. Wilted flower notes and a faint dark chocolate texture. Mellow and grounding. If the flavor is too strong for you, simply dilute with water (which, interestingly, doesn’t work for many other teas!) Pu’erh is extremely versatile – you can steep it for as little as 30 second or 30 minutes, whatever pleases your palate. It won’t get bitter and is great for multiple infusions.
While on the one hand this is a nice, gentle way to try a pu-erh, on the other hand, it doesn’t taste very much like the dark bricks of pu-erh that the purists insist on, so once you drink one cup of this, you’ll have to go on and brew it longer, to get used to it, before easing on to the more traditional pu-erh aged teas. Some pu-erhs even come with their vintage year stamped on the label; I have one small poker-chip-sized brick (more of a tablet, really) that is a 2002, and that’s by no means the oldest pu-erh running around out there. Some large bricks of pu-erh last for years, with people chipping off a little at a time for each cup! You’ll be glad for the convenience of this tea, with its loose leaves and ease of preparation, not to mention ease of storage in a nice packet. Adagio does carry some older pu-erh, their “pu-erh pearls,” which are traditional solid chunks but in round balls rather than squarish brick, and their pearls are aged 5 years. So you’ll be able to continue your journey of pu-erh discovery!