Updated: Nov 8
In our previous Dark Tea blog post, we covered the history of this mysterious tea type. But what are the different varieties of dark tea, what are their benefits, and most importantly, what do they taste like?
“Dark tea” can be a confusing name, as not all the teas of this type feature dark, rich, earthy brews. So what teas fall under this umbrella?
If you’ve ever had pu-erh tea, you’ve probably had ripe pu-erh. It’s the most commonly drunk variety, often served at dim sum restaurants. “Ripe” (shu - 熟) refers to the microbial fermentation of this tea. After picking and processing, tea leaves are piled in large heaps, moisture and warmth are introduced, and nature works its magic to ferment the leaves. The brewed tea ranges from mahogany to near black.
“Raw” (sheng - 生) pu-erh has not had this fermentation induced. Raw pu-erh may still be fermented, depending on how long and in what conditions it has been stored. In fact, raw pu-erh stored for 20 years in humid environs is the tea that ripe pu-erh was created to reproduce. When it comes to raw pu-erh, aging becomes an important factor. The color of the brew ranges from pale yellow with a hint of green, to peach, and darker with advanced age and fermentation.
The general category of dark tea is often used to refer to “ripe pu-erh” style tea that is not from Yunnan. This can result in different types of fermentation, as with Fu Cha (茯磚黑茶, or 茯茶), the tea made famous by Lisa See’s wonderful book, The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane. But there can also be “raw pu-erh” style dark tea, (sometimes called mao cha - 毛茶), like our Heart of Gold.
What does all this mean when you take a sip? Ripe pu-erh has a rich earthy flavor, often with woodsy or forest notes. It is grounding and comforting. Raw pu-erh tends to have more pronounced minerality, often with a stone-fruit character. With longer aging, that peach quality extends to honey or floral notes. Fu Cha, like our Heavenly Sips, has the earthy quality of ripe pu-erh, but with additional fruity or orchid-like layers on top.
Ripe (or certain aged raw) pu-erhs or dark teas may aid digestion, as fermented foods are wont to do. They also contain statins that may help lower cholesterol. They are traditionally drunk after heavy or greasy meals for this reason. The fermentation may also break down the caffeine to some degree, making them a good option for later in the day.
Raw pu-erhs, especially those made from ancient tea trees (like our Snow Mountain), may have more esoteric benefits. They are the most likely to make you feel a cha qi effect, the energetic effects that come from drinking quality teas. But aged ripe teas made from similar grade materials (like our Tribute Ripe) can also convey this.
Curious to try some Dark Tea? Consider our Dark Tea & Pu-erh Flight gift box, featuring 4 different dark tea samples. Or book a custom tea tasting with us, including any 4 teas of your choosing. One of our in-house tea experts will sit with you, brew the teas, and discuss their origins, histories, and benefits.