The Distinction between Pu Er Sheng and Shou

September 20, 2009
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We can see here the contrast between Pu Er sheng (left), and Pu Er shou (right).

The world of Pu Er, the post-oxidised teas exclusively produced in the Chinese province of Yunnan, is complex and captivating.  It can even be a little confusing due to the many facets and variables of this fascinating style of tea.  These teas are well known for their unusual ageing process, their unique flavours and aromas as well as their health benefits.  Another important distinction of Pu Er remains : the différence between Shou and Sheng.

Sheng Pu Er, also called « raw », is a naturally post-fermented.  It is produced by a bacterial fermention that is the trademark of this style of tea that occurs after the teas have been transformed.  Pressed or loose the leaves are still green at the beginning of the ageing process to be « worked » over time by micro-organisms(fermentation), this will gradually change the colour, taste and aroma of the tea.  The colour will become increasingly brown as a result of oxidation.  Provided all the specific conditions are in place years are required before this style of Pu Er will attain maturity (generally between 10 and 60 years).  This is the traditional Pu Er process.

Shou Pu Er, also called « cooked », is a post-fermented tea from more modern methods.  Inspired by black tea manufacturing and  often using artificial introduction of additional bacteria, this style allows green Pu er to mature very rapidly in artificial conditions (usually in a factory).  Thus in just a few weeks the leaves will be fermented and almost 100% oxidised.  The many years of ageing needed for the Sheng Pu ers is reduced to a couple of months !  The result is a very dark, often almost black, tea that may still benefit from a little ageing but will be « mature » a lot sooner.

Infusion of Pu Er sheng (left), and Pu Er shou (right) of the same year of production.

Both Pu Er styles offer similar flavour profiles but are nevertheless different : Each year or harvest of Pu Er Sheng has a different degree of maturity depending on its age.  A younger tea will have « green » characteristics (such as grassy, fruity, bitter or astringent)where an older will have« mature »characteristics (woody, mineral, rounded, sweet).  Where a young « sheng » may cost very little the genuine aged ones can cost a fortune.  This is when the « shou » become more interesting as they have the characteristics of an aged « sheng »(though a little less complexity) but they cost a lot less……perfect to drink while you wait for your Pu Er « sheng »to age gradually in your tea cellar.

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