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The ripe Pu-erh tea is often classified into various grades. The highest grade of the ripe Pu-erh tea is called the Imperial Grade (宮廷普洱), followed by the Special Grade, the Gift Tea Grade, 1st Grade, 3rd Grade, 5th Grade, 7th Grade, 8th Grade and till 10th Grade. However, the grading of ripe Pu-erh tea does not accurately reflect the quality of the tea. Thus, I would like to share more about the details as follow.

Ripe Pu-erh tea is processed from the leaves that contain one bud and two to three leaves

The raw material for the ripe Pu-erh tea is the raw Pu-erh tea which composes of 1 bud and 2-3 leaves. Therefore, the production of ripe Pu-erh tea involves the fermentation of raw Pu-erh tea with some micro-organisms. Basically, both the raw and ripe Pu-erh tea leaves are of roughly the same appearance, except for the ripe Pu-erh, the tea leaves are slightly more fragmented into smaller sizes due to the mixing and other handling during the production. After the fermentation, the leaves are then called mao-cha in Chinese.
The mao cha of ripe pu-erh tea

The mao-cha of ripe pu-erh tea

The mao-cha of ripe pu-erh tea

The grading of ripe Pu-erh tea is carried out with sieving

The mao-cha of ripe Pu-erh tea is occasionally compressed as it is. However, in most cases, the mao-cha is classified into various grades where the grading is carried out mainly using a sifter or sometimes, other type of sorting equipment such as a gravity separator. The mao-cha of ripe Pu-erh tea is further classified into groups such as bud, leaf, stem and so on where each fraction of leaves collected during sorting process are classified into different grades. The higher grades of ripe pu-erh tea contain more buds, while the lower grades have more leaves in bigger sizes.

The pu-erh ripe tea mao-cha

The tea on the left is the mao-cha and the one on the right is the special grade collected after sieving.

The grading of the ripe Pu-erh tea does not mean identifying the tea’s quality

As mentioned, out of many grades, the finest grade is called the Imperial Grade that consists of mostly the tea buds where the price is usually higher. The colour of the tea buds are of golden colour and it looks gorgeous. But, on the contrary, the grades of ripe pu-erh tea that consist of many stems are usually considered as a lower quality tea. However, we should not forget that all grades of tea originate from the same material and the grading of ripe Pu-erh tea has nothing to do with the quality but the cup characteristics. In addition, different parts of the leaf produce different intensity of body, after taste and flavour. Somehow, the satisfaction of enjoying a cup of tea does not depend on its proportion to the grading. For example, the imperial Pu-erh tea is the most expensive tea but it does not mean it will produce the best drinking feeling. The imperial Pu-erh produces a very delicate and soft mouth feeling, yet it emits a lighter body and after taste when compared to the rest of the grades.

pu-erh ripe tea

Regardless of which country, there are a number of customers who tend to judge the tea quality based on its appearance since it is an easier way; in other words, where there are ‘more golden tips, the better the quality’, is what they usually presume. As a result, the present grading method has developed due to these trends. In any case, the quality of tea should be judged from the after taste, body and flavour, rather than just the appearance.

Imperial Grade

The imperial grade is called Gong Ting in Chinese. If you are interested in this grade of tea, please try our “Gong Ting Jing Hao”. Jing Hao means “Golden Bud” in Chinese.

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