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Sheng Pu-Erh Vs. Shou Pu-Erh

Have you always wondered what the key differences are between Sheng Pu-erh and Shou Pu-erh? Here at Art of Tea, our tea masters have created this guide to highlight the differences between these two types of Chinese fermented teas; giving you the knowledge and wisdom you need to enjoy them both to the fullest. To begin, it’s best to start with a brief description of what pu-erh teas actually are and where they came from:


Pu-erh teas were originally cultivated in the province of Yunnan in southern China. Yunnan has been home to wild tea trees for hundreds of years and pressed tea cakes were exported from Yunnan to Tibet as early as the Tang Dynasty (618-907). Pu-erh tea is a post-fermented tea, which means that the tea leaves go through a microbial fermentation process after they have been dried and rolled, causing the leaves to darken and change in flavor. This process allows the teas to not only improve with age like wine or cheese, but many pu-erhs are able to retain their freshness for up to five decades. Pu-erh teas can be found in compressed brick form or in loose leaf form and can be made from both green and black tea leaves. Pu-erh tea is made from a larger leaf strain of Camellia Sinensis called Dayeh, which are ancient trees with mature leaves that are said to be between 500 and 1000 years old. These trees are usually grown in temperate regions and although they can be harvested year-round, the best time to harvest is in mid-spring. Various conditions and environmental factors can impact the flavor profile of pu-erh, resulting in a rich experience for the tea drinker’s palate. Pu-erh can be smooth, fruity, peaty, grassy, musky, herbal, and earthy.


Sheng pu-erhs – or raw pu-erhs – are pu-erhs that are naturally fermented over a long aging period. Sheng pu-erhs are typically pressed into discs and are aged for at least 10 years before they are considered “drinkable” by tea masters. Well-aged sheng pu-erhs are generally favored by tea connoisseurs for their complex and subtle flavors, but the time required for proper ripening means they are the most expensive type of pu-erh teas. Ripened sheng pu-erhs as we know them today – pu-erhs aged and brewed without additives – were popularized in Hong Kong by immigrant populations after the Chinese civil war.


During the 1970s, when the demand for pu-erh teas began to skyrocket and outpace the supply of aged sheng pu-erh available, tea makers were forced to come up with a solution. Master tea makers developed a technique to accelerate the fermentation process and imitate the unique flavor of sheng pu-erhs – this technique came to be known as shou pu-erh, or “cooked” pu-erh. To make shou pu-erh, the green maocha (tea that has undergone processing but not ready for retail sale yet) is heaped into a large pile. Tea makers often mix in a small amount of a previous batch of fermented tea to introduce desirable microbes, and then the leaves are left to ferment. This process works similarly to composting, with the dense tea leaf pile producing heat that encourages accelerated fermentation. The leaves are then turned regularly until they are fully fermented, at which point they may be pressed into cakes and are ready to drink.


In China, pu-erh tea has long been consumed to achieve a wide variety of health benefits, such as improvements in heart health and reductions in cholesterol levels. It’s also said that pu-erh tea can help promote weight loss, enhance eyesight, stimulate circulation, and soothe hangovers. Pu-erh tea may also fight oxidative stress, regulate blood sugar levels (a key factor in diabetes control), protect against obesity, and possess anti-cancer activity. Pu-erh tea is said to contain lower levels of caffeine than other types of tea.


If you’re captivated by the unique cultivation process of pu-erh teas but you find yourself wanting to know more, feel free to explore our Tea 101 page dedicated to the history and preparation of both sheng pu-erh and shou pu-erh. If you’re ready to dive right into the world of ancient fermented teas, stop by our tea shop today to discover our wide selection of deliciously crafted pu-erh teas.

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