How to Choose Pu Erh Tea

Many people simply trust tea shops' descriptions and recommendations when it comes to choosing tea. But note that the tea shop makes a profit if you buy from them, so employees might make things seem better than they are. Some inexperienced people might be taken in, and spend a lot of money on something that is not really worthwhile. While there are certain reputable tea shops whose judgement can be trusted, the best thing is being capable personally to judge and choose pu-erh teas instead of relying on opinions from tea shops or merchants.


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    See how the tea is packaged and stored. Pu-erh should generally be stored and aged in a dark, cool, dry area, away from other aromas, where it has access to some airflow. It is usually stored in its original paper wrapping. Tea shops that have elaborate or airtight, sealed packaging for Pu-erh cakes often are not offering the best Pu-erh for the best deals and are often not storing it properly.
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    Smell the tea. Good pu-erh tea should smell clear and distinctly "tea-ish". Depending on the age, you may detect smoky or woody aromas. The tea should not have odd odours, and it should not smell moldy. Tea absorbs smell rather easily; thus, if improperly kept, the tea can pick up funny smells from anything: cooking smells, spices, etc.
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    Notice the tea's appearance. Very ancient green pu-erh tea cakes should look reddish. Newer pu-erhs will be more yellow-to-greenish, but they will never look pure black. The tea cake should not have white/yellow dots which might be mold or yeast forming. When buying expensive tea cakes, it's generally preferred for the cakes to be whole, without large cracks. Sometimes, people might sample expensive tea cakes by using a knife to scrape the centre of the depression behind the tea cake, flaking a few leaves off. This is seldom noticed, but be aware that you've lost a bit of tea if your cake has been sampled.
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    Do a taste test. This can only come with experience and more exposure to pu-erh tea. Purchasing samples from pu-erh tea museums can allow one to taste teas of different ages, enabling people to distinguish what's good.


  • When you're tasting tea, don't listen to what anyone else tells you - even if there are 10 people sitting around you saying how good a tea is, if you don't have the same experience, then stick with your own view. Experiential learning is everything.
  • Familiarize yourself with pricing online before buying, even if you intend to buy in a local store. Pu-erh is made by different factories, in specific batches. Major factories are Menghai, Xiaguan, and Shuangjiang Mengku, and there are many others. Some tea shops that do not specialize in Pu-erh will sell low-quality Pu-erh cakes at high prices.
  • Have a clear idea of what you want. By being able to specify your target or type of Pu-erh tea (e.g. Shou, Sheng, aged, new) you will be able to focus on the teas you are looking for and spend more time sampling and evaluating teas that you are interested in. (Although for beginners this is not necessary and ideally you should be trying as many types of teas as you can to know what you like and want to pursue in the future.)

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Categories: Tea | Food Selection and Storage