Many of our customers and friends that are new to Puer ask how to distinguish the difference between a good and bad quality tea. To simplify the question, we can assume that either the taste and health benefits (i.e. nutritional value) are the key indicators of higher quality. With these indicators in mind, we can further explore the details clearly without being distracted by issues of price, origins, popularity, etc.
Young Puer teas (dry: less than 5 years, humid: less than 2 years):
The colour should include various dark greens in the leaves and white buds. The taste should be fresh with green notes and mouth feel will have a smooth, lighter body, although should not be so thin as to feel watery. The aroma should be clean and will highlight fruity or flowery notes much more clearly than older teas. The taste may have light grassy notes, especially fresh mao cha, but should not taste overly grassy.
Mature Puer teas (dry: at least 20+years, humid: at least 10+years):
The leaves will become a dark brown to black colour. With this maturity, teas will gain a full body, with even smoother mouth-feel that glides down the throat. The original aroma should remain, although lighter, whilst gaining some some light mushroom, wood or earthy notes. This is the added complexity that aging provides but takes many years to achieve effectively.
Generally, although richer (red to dark brown to black), high-quality Puer teas should have a clear, bright liquid. In addition, there should be clear pleasant, sweet aftertaste within a few sips. Cha qi, or effect from tea consumption should be clear and should include both refreshing and relaxing properties, but may be in different balance depending on person and tea. These properties all come from the chemical makeup of tea and are signs of high nutritional value.
Semi-mature Puers will have a blend of young and mature properties. Further proper storage will enhance the mature flavours of the cakes.
Other general indicators of good tea to look out for:
1. increased salivation,
2. increase in appetite,
3. tea aroma in or rising from the stomach
4. tea 'drunkenness', when drank in large quantities within a short period.
Indicators of low quality:
1. dry tea that crumbles apart, partial or broken tea leaves
2. wet leaves that break down easily upon touching or rolling between fingers
3. cloudy or dull tea soup
4. lack of aroma, flavour, and feeling
5. unpleasant feeling or coating on lips, inside cheeks, tongue, or throat (e.g. lingering bitterness or itchy feeling)
6. scented or artificial aromas
Please note that the descriptions above, when put together, would describe extremely rare Puer. Teas are more likely to have any combination of the above descriptors and in my opinion, that's what makes tea more compelling.
I hope that this helps you in your search for good tea and please leave a comment below to let me know what you think of this article.