Sheng vs. Shou Pu’erh

Out of all the types of tea that exist out there, pu’erh is generally one that I discuss the least on One More Steep with yellow tea being, by far, the most rarely discussed if only because of the rarity of the tea itself. But pu’erh is also a tea that I grew up drinking a lot. It’s a staple at dimsum restaurants and a fantastic tea for long tea drinking sessions because a good pu’erh typically resteeps incredibly well.

Pu’erh is one of those teas that seems mysterious to a lot of tea drinker that don’t dabble into more Chinese teas. If your tea cabinet consists primarily of Earl Grey, chamomile, and peppermint, pu’erh probably isn’t one of those teas that is lurking in the cabinet if only because it’s not your jam. In Chinese, pu’erh tea is also called hei cha (literal translation: dark or black tea), which is very different from what western culture calls black tea (which, in Chinese, is called hong cha; with the literal translation of “red tea”).

Pu’erh is a fermented tea – either through time or through a sped-up process – that uses micro-organisms to contribute to the process and the flavour. There’s two primary categories that I will discuss: sheng pu’erh and shou pu’erh. Please keep in mind that I am not an expert on pu’erh tea, and nor do I pretend to be one, and I will be discussing the basics of both sheng and shou pu’erh, as well as similarities of both.

You will also find pu’erh being written as pu’er, pu-erh, pu-er, puerh and puer on the internet. Just to add to any confusion you might have had about this category of tea. For consistency’s sake, you will see that I use pu’erh on One More Steep.

Sheng pu’erh has many other names, as does shou pu’erh.

Sheng pu’erh is also referred to as raw or unripe pu’erh/tea, aged or young pu’erh (depending on the age). Sheng pu’erh is  allowed to age naturally, and ferment. Sheng pu’erh can be harvested, lightly steamed, pressed into shape (discs, balls, bricks) or left loose – and then left to age intentionally. Typically sheng pu’erh is allowed to age for, at minimum, 10-plus years before they are steeped. The process of producing sheng pu’erh (primarily the time), makes it the more expensive of the two types of pu’erh.

There are a lot of factors that go into producing a good sheng pu’erh and I’m not able to educate you on it (because it’s simply not in my wheelhouse), but intentionally allowing a tea to age also means keeping an eye on things like moisture/humidity that the tea is exposed to – because you want to age the tea… and not grow a pile of mold.

Shou pu’erh on the other hand is a ripe or cooked pu’erh/tea. The production method of shou pu’erh involves creating a large pile of leaves, and intentionally keeping the leaves moist and warm to encourage beneficial bacteria and molds to grow, and then turning the leaves to encourage even fermentation (much like you would turn a compost bin). Once properly ‘cooked’, the leaves can be pressed into shape like sheng pu’erh, but the tea itself is ready-to-drink and no further aging is required.

Shou pu’erh is the “young” version of pu’erh, with the development of the processing method coming into play in the 1970’s with the growing popularity and demand for pu’erh tea. After all, it’s a long time to get a sheng pu’erh to a drinkable state if you’re patiently waiting for the tea to age and ferment. Shou pu’erh fills in that demand by making pu’erh more accessible (less expensive!) in comparison to a slowly aged sheng pu’erh.

As a whole, pu’erh is less accessible in North American markets, but the typical North American tea drinker is also not the primary demographic that consumes pu’erh tea. I find that shopping in person for pu’erh tea is limited to Chinese/Asian grocery stores, and specialty tea shops. If you’re lucky to live in an area with a Chinatown, finding a tea shop that features pu’erh might be within your grasp. If you’re not, then online shopping is always an option! Try to look for online stores that offer samplers or smaller amounts of pu’erh – you don’t want to be venturing into purchasing a whole 500g brick for your first pu’erh adventure.

Pu’erh is fantastic tea to steep – typically a pu’erh is unadulterated, so you don’t have added ingredients or flavourings, making it a great tea to resteep. A pu’erh is a great way to practice gongfu steeping and also grandpa steeping. If you have the option of pu’erh tea at a dimsum restaurant, I’d highly recommend it (that would be usually a grandpa style of steeping tea).

As a whole, pu’erh is often a very rich, dark colour when you steep the leaves. The flavour is honestly very difficult to describe unless you have the tea available to you because there are so many factors that influence the flavour. How long the tea has been aged, how well it was kept (was there too much moisture or humidty, or not enough?). I typically find that pu’erh has a very earthy aroma and flavour to it though, which is likely due to the fermentation process with the microbes.

Two bricks of sheng pu’erh are unlikely to be identical because there’s just so many factors that go into the flavour of the tea during the fermentation process. Shou pu’erh, on the other hand, is more likely to have a consistent flavour because of the process in which it’s made (quicker, not relying on decades of time and changes in conditions). That said, I personally find that sheng pu’erh can be much more complex in flavour because of the time allowance to grow that depth of flavour.

Both sheng and shou pu’erh can be a great tea to enjoy if you’re looking to expand your tea-drinking horizons. Have you tried it before? Do you enjoy pu’erh regularly?

Teakan’s Sheng (raw) Pu’er

Sheng (raw) Pu’er by Teakan
Pu’erh Tea / Straight
$30.00 for 66g

Sheng (raw) Pu’er is part of Teakan’s Volume 3 Exploration Kit, a collection of five single origin teas. Sheng (raw) Pu’er makes up 16g of the 66g kit.

First Impressions

Sheng (raw) Pu’er comes in a sealed, resealable kraft paper pouch. There is that familiar labelling from Teakan, and I’m sad that this is the last of the teas from Volume 3 for me to review. I saved the pu’erh for last because I find pu’erh teas to be the most intimidating. I know a lot of people either really love or really dislike pu’erh and I’m one of those people who sort of falls in the middle. I love some pu’erh, and think others are kind of awful and lead to a terrible taste in my mouth.

Sheng Pu’er comes in a flat square puck. The colouring of the leaves is quite pretty  – there’s a huge variation in colour from pale cream to greens and browns. It’s honestly really quite nice to look at. Sheng Pu’er is from Yongde, Yunnan, China and was harvested in spring 2020 – so it hasn’t had a very long time to age. The tea itself has a very strong aroma to it – it reminds me a lot of dark green leafy vegetables (think gailan, broccoli, brussel sprouts).


Teakan recommends using 2.5g for western style steeping, using 90°C (194°F) water for 3 minutes or 4g for gongfu style steeping, using 90°C (194°F) water for a rinse, followed by a 10-15 second steep.

If you don’t have a scale, it’s pretty easy. As each puck is 8g, you’ll either use approximately ¼ for western style steeping or ½ for gongfu style steeping. I opted to do western style steeping and did an initial steep for 3 minutes.

First Taste

Sheng Pu’er initially steeps to a nice yellow colour. It has a strong aroma that is earthy, floral, and still reminding me of dark green leafy vegetables. The flavour is surprisingly floral, with an earthy/mushroom-y flavour to it. There is an interesting mouthfeel to it, it’s full-bodied, with an almost drying texture in my mouth. The tea itself has a bit of an astringency that lasts from mid sip to the aftertaste. The mild umami notes from the mushroom notes really give it a savoury kick.

A Second Cup?

I resteeped Sheng Pu’er five times, adding an additional 30 seconds for each subsequent steep. The colouring of the tea itself got darker, becoming a deep, almost brownish orange. The flavour of Sheng Pu’er gets more earthy and vegetal, and less floral. That astringency I found in the initial steep continues throughout and doesn’t put me off (surprisingly).

My Overall Impression

I liked Teakan’s Sheng Pu’er. I’m not a huge pu’erh tea drinker – and this is something that I completely own up to. That said, I did enjoy drinking Sheng Pu’er and the ability to resteep it and taste it as it subtly shifts in flavour was a real treat. I don’t think it’s one that I’ll have stocked in the tea stash, if only because pu’erh isn’t something that I routinely reach for (maybe that’ll change one day, and then I’ll be kicking myself for not having more of it).

Curious about the cup rating system? Click here to learn more.

DavidsTea’s Golden Dragon Pu’erh

Golden Dragon Pu’erh by DavidsTea
Pu’erh Tea / Straight
$12.98 for 50g

First Impressions

Golden Dragon Pu’erh is a pu’erh that I picked up on a whim when I was throwing together an online order. I’m not sure what I’ve done with myself, but apparently I buy pu’erh teas now. What can I say? Pandemic isolation has resulted in me behaving very strangely.

Golden Dragon Pu’erh comes in regular silver pouch from DavidsTea. The ‘golden’ part is reflected by the golden paper wrappers around each individual ball of tea. 50g gets you 8 balls in a pouch, so each one is 6.25g (and makes it $1.62 per serving as each ball = 1 serving). DavidsTea describes this as being a shou pu’erh (‘cooked’ pu’erh) from Yunnan province, China. On the online product page, there’s further information from this tea being grown in Menghai and is described as one of the first regions of China to pu’erh tea (all the way back in 1500BC!).

The leaves themselves are tightly balled up – with varying shades of brown ranging from light caramel to deep chocolate browns. The aroma really reminds me of cooked down mushrooms – just very earthy, the smell of dirt after a good rainfall. It really isn’t the most appealing, but I’ve played this game with pu’erh before so… onto the tasting we go.


DavidsTea recommends steeping Golden Dragon Pu’erh in 95°C (200°F) water for 4-5 minutes. I followed the steeping instructions and did an initial steep for 5 minutes.

First Taste

Golden Dragon Pu’erh steeps to a very deep brown with slight reddish tones. The aroma is very earthy and that is also reflected in the taste. It’s earthy, with just a hint of sweetness, and a really nice balanced flavour overall. There’s just something about Golden Dragon Pu’erh that makes me think of mushrooms, earthiness, post-rainfall freshness. There’s plenty of smooth umami qualities and it has a quality about it that reminds me a lot of the type of pu’erh that you might find served to you when you go out to eat at an authentic Chinese restaurant (especially during dimsum hours).

A Second Cup?

I resteeped Golden Dragon Pu’erh a total of seven times (eight steeps total) and it honestly got better with each steep until about the third resteep, then started to decrease in flavour (but was still worth drinking by the end). The tea takes on a more thickened liquor feel to it, lending itself to a pleasant mouthfeel experience. The flavour remains well-balanced and continued to remind me of a pu’erh that I might have been served at my favourite dimsum restaurant.

My Overall Impression

I loved DavidsTea’s Golden Dragon Pu’erh. There’s just something about this tea that gives me very strong nostalgia for memories of eating out with my family, which is honestly probably why I like it more than I feel like I should. It has a great flavour profile, is well-balanced, and resteeps incredibly well, so I wouldn’t mind recommending this (and continuing to drink it over and over again). Definitely worth the time to resteep it and have throughout the day (and night!).

Curious about the cup rating system? Click here to learn more.