Pu-erh tea could be considered one of the lesser-known kinds of tea coming from China. While green tea has been produced for a very, very long time, Pu-erh tea was first produced during the Han period, which lasted from 205 B.C.E. to 220 A.D. The processing methods of pu-erh tea began as a slight modification of the green tea production process. This new kind of tea was known as sheng, or raw pu-erh. Raw pu-erh is the traditional form of the tea, while cooked or shu pu-erh being a more recent invention. In fact, shu pu-erh was invented in around 1972 by the Menghai tea factory. According to Mike Petro, webmaster and author of pu-erh.net:
“This step (oxidation) was intended to simulate the taste of an aged green pu-erh, while it does mellow the tea considerably it does not really come close to the taste of a naturally aged green pu-erh, many of the subtleties are lost.”
Sheng pu-erh usually has to sit for a few years before the taste has mellowed enough to be drunk. When a pu-erh is still young, it may have rather strong or bitter flavor attributes, which may be undesirable to some. According to most connoisseurs of pu-erh, the aging of the pu-erh brings out the smoothness and sweetness that is desired, and the shape of the pu-erh itself can affect the speed at which it ages. The most common shape is the disk, or bing. Other shapes include the brick shape, or Fang, the mushroom shape, or Jin, the melon shape, or Tuan, and the bowl shape, or tuo. As a general rule, the more highly compressed shapes, such as a brick or ping (iron cake) will take longer to reach the desired smooth taste that comes with age.
The other shapes generally take a shorter time to age, with the bing, or cake usually taking the least amount of time. The downside to this is that the nuances and rich flavors can be lost when the tea ages very quickly. The Tuo, or bowl shape, is a good candidate for aging, as the tea is not compressed too much or too little.