The raw Pu’erh tea naturally tastes bitter, strong and sharp. However, after some years of natural aging, the bitter taste can be eliminated, and emerged with noticeable aging aroma. Ripe (cooked) Pu’er tea is a man-made fermented tea that arose only after 1973. As the name suggests, there is a special note in ripe (cooked) tea, which is different from raw tea. The taste and texture of ripe tea are constantly changing by the aging time. The musty note from fermentation is gradually eliminated by the aging time, and converse to soft soothing texture.
The bitterness of Pu'er tea is mainly from the tea itself and chemical changes that occur in the manufacturing process. The bitter substances appearing in the tea itself include polyphenols, catechins, tea tannins, caffeine, etc. About 85% of caffeine contained in the alkaloids will be dissolved in the tea when brewing in hot water. The astringency of tea is from tea tannins. Pu'er tea is made from big leaf tea. The contents of Yunnan big leaf tea are richer than other teas, so the bitter taste of Pu'er tea is relatively heavier. But after years of natural aging, bitterness and astringency will slowly turn into sweet.
In old time, wild arbor tea was extremely bitter that could not be drinkable. After being through the long cultivation by older generations, the "wild type" tea has transformed to "cultivated" tea today.
Good quality raw Pu'er tea often has the feel of “bitter in the mouth and sweet in the throat”. Tea with heavier astringency, bitter and astringent tastes are instantly felt by the taste buds, but disappear quickly, returning into sweet; tea with weak astringency, bitter and astringent taste are subsided slowly or not subsided at all. Good quality Pu'er tea will taste sweeter in the subsequent brewings.
As for the adjustment of the bitter taste of Pu'er tea, it is usually controlled by brewing time to make appropriate taste depending on the acceptance of bitterness to each person. Therefore, when choosing a Pu’er tea, try if the bitter and astringent taste can be subsided and transformed to sweet and pleasant, and taste how it changes after your tongue.
In fact, bitterness and astringency were originally the unique taste of tea. This unique and varied taste is the charm of Pu’erh tea.