Before talking about tasting, we have to go over basic understanding of pu erh tea notes. Notes of pu erh tea are mainly from three different sources;
Musty, earthy, robust, woody, lotus note or sticky rice aroma, these notes are mostly only tasted from pu erh tea. If you are new to pu erh tea, you may feel weird about these tasting notes, and can’t understand how people is crazy about these tastings.
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 converted to soft soothing and heavier 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. Most of 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 smoother and sweeter.
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 is the essentially exclusive taste of tea, yet, this unique and dramatic taste is the charm of Pu’erh tea.
Each of us have own favorite taste, some of us like robust, some like bitter and some like sweet only. Here we are going to describe the characteristics of pu erh tea from each of these old six major mountains. (Currently, Tea from these old six mountains has decreased production gradually. The major core production has already migrated to six new major mountains)
Mainly small to medium-leaf camellia sinensis plants, taste dryer and bitterer, but quick and vigorous sweet return, light fragrance with dark orange tea.
Overall is similar to Ge Deng Mountain, but currently is waned.
Is small-leaf type camellia sinensis, has quick sweet returning, well lasting. Its fragrance gives a hint of vanilla with dark orange color tea. Many tribute tea served to Qing imperial family were from here.
Is large-leaf type camellia sinensis, dark yellow tea taste bitterer but has powerful sweeter lasting with a sense of plum aroma.
Also named Yi Wu mountain, type of big-leaf arbor camellia sinensis. Tea taste slightly dry and bitter but very fragrant note. A vanilla note is lingered between plum and honey aroma. Tea harvested in the season of Guyu taste delicate noted like lotus, and well lasted with amazing sweetness. Tea from prime Yi Wu Mountain is famed by everyone including westerners in the history.
Primarily big-leaf arbor camellia sinensis. Very dry and bitter, but quick sweet return and well lasting. Tea looks light orange with plain aroma.
Following are new six major mountain teas, they are very common currently, these teas can be easily found from most tea stores. It may help you to get your favor tea in short time according to your own taste.
Tea from Nan Nuo Mountain(shan) are big-leaf type camellia sinensis, taste slightly dry and bitter. Tea looks bright orange with sweet lasting, disclosed with both honey and vanilla aroma. Summer tea has special slight lotus note. Nan Nuo mountain is a famous old arbor tea mountain in the history. There is still a cultivated-type thousand-year old tea tree thriving in the prime area.
Big-leaf type camellia sinensis, tea gives quick and strong sweet return but also dry and bitter. Exclusive aroma including plum, floral notes can be found from this bright orange tea. Tea from this region are favored and collected by many pu erh tea enthusiasts.
Big-leaf type tea trees grown in here are mostly cultivated-type and wild type trees. The most famous king of wild arbor, wild-type 1800-year old tree is still growing in the mountain near He Song Village. Tea from this region taste much dryer and bitterer, quick return sweet lasting, aromatic.
Meng Zhe Mountain, medium-leaf camellia sinensis, only scattered bigger trees in this area, more shrubs. Slightly sweet mouthfeel with poor aroma. Tea quality is mediocre.
Meng Hai Region, mid-leaf camellia sinensis, scattered large trees like in Meng Zhe Mountain. Dry and bitter mouthfeel, fairly sweet from unnoticeable return.
Big-leaf camellia sinensis, the largest big-leaf arbors are congested in this area in the 12 famous tea mountains. very dry and bitter, has powerful sweet return and lasting. There is a parasitic plant, natively named “crab leg” lived in these big-leaf trees. These parasitic plants are known as good to help stomachache and diabetes.