​With Regard for Raw Puer

“Hey Josh, I saw your video on Puer tea cakes. That stuff looks interesting! Does it taste good?”



So what is it about this category of tea, that has me sipping it almost every single day? I can drink any tea I want, but often, I reach for puer.

Puer tea is not for everyone. Whether cooked or raw, sheng or shou, you might just not be a fan of puer… or maybe you are the kind of person who likes one or the other, maybe you are a strictly raw puer drinker. On the other hand, maybe you are strictly a devotee to the cooked. I am lucky because I’m like the folks at Bob’s Country Bunker in the movie The Blues Brothers. I like both kinds… country and western.

What do these amazing teas taste like? Well it depends who you ask. Cooked is often as dark as coffee, but the flavor is much different. The flavors tend to be very earthy. They taste similar to the smell of the rich loamy forest floor of the Pacific Northwest. Sometimes fungal, smooth, rich, and stimulating. Sometimes cooked puers will have a leathery or fishy flavor and aroma. I can deal with the leathery (as long as it is not too much) more than the fishy. I believe that these “off” flavors are a result of not curing properly after the cooking process. I tend to get really into cooked puer in the Winter.

Raw, on the other hand, gets darker as it gets older, depending on the storage conditions. Generally, a thirty year old raw will be as dark as a young cooked. In the beginning, when they are young, the finish of these teas tend to have a high astringency and are more bitter than sweet. As time goes on, the flavor and the finish of these teas mellow to a very earthy, fungal, and smooth flavor. Aged raw tend to be pretty spendy. With raw, I tend to focus on teas that are 10 to 20 years old and preferably Taiwan (or similar climate) stored. At this age, the tea has developed nicely and it is still in the affordable range. As of this year, I drink raw puer year round. I’ve been drinking puer since 2004, and this is the first year I can say that. When I was first getting into it, I would usually really focus on it in the heat of the summer. Raw puer is cooling, more so than other teas. I seemed to have more tolerance for raw toward the end of August. Now I drink it almost every day, and I love the way it tastes. To me it tastes wild. Sometimes with hints of smoke, menthol, camphor, earth, hay, and wide open outdoor spaces.

Preference evolves over time. A friend of mine developed a taste for puer from a relatively young age. When he went to visit an elder tea master who had just completed a book on puer, the master, while signing my friend's copy, remarked, “If you drink puer now, what will you drink when you are older?”

Takeaway: the flavors in puer, especially raw puer, are strong. Raw puer might not be enjoyable to a person who has a preference for flavors that are balanced and smooth. There is, admittedly, something unpleasant about this category of tea, but if you grow to like it… watch out, you are likely to become obsessed. I've noticed a correlation: people that like scotch often like raw puer. Whatever your preference, there is no right or wrong. I would just encourage you to periodically try new teas. In the category of puer, there are so many to try. It can be overwhelming. The good news is that there is no need to rush. Take your time. Like a good aged puer, there is no rushing the process. Cheers!