Fermentation and oxidation are alike but not identical. While oxidation refers to the darkening of tea leaves during the crafting process, the tea only goes through a real fermentation when it experiences microbial activity that can last between a few months to many years.
Most of the fermented teas were adopted amongst the North East Asian countries starting in China and going all the way to Japan and Korea. Chinese Pu-erh is the most talked-about fermented tea using Camellia Sinensis. Read on to unveil some other types of fermented tea you may not know.
1. Chinese Pu-erh Tea
Let’s get Pu-erh on top of the list. Despite the common misbelief, Pu-erh is not the only type of fermented tea that ever existed in China. It is the most notable and widespread fermented dark tea, originating in Yunnan, south of China.
There are two different types of Pu-erh you need to distinguish. You might be wondering, what are the different types of tea?
Sheng or raw Pu-erh is slowly fermented over time without intentional human touch. The fermentation of Sheng Pu-erh happens due to the humidity and tropical heat in the south of China, leaving the microbes on the tea to be broken down and create new substances that eventually change the chemical composition and flavor of the tea.
As time ticked away, the ripened or cooked Shu Pu-erh was born as an innovative method to meet the rising demand for fermented Pu-erh. Instead of leaving the tea to be fermented naturally over time, the tea makers step in to stop oxidation after the leaves are heated.
At that very moment, they transfer all the unfinished leaves into a large pile to generate heat. The heat acts as a catalyst that prevents undesirable microbes from developing and promoting the activity of others. In the meantime, a starter culture from a previous batch is added to the cooking process, allowing the entire fermentation to be more consistent amongst different harvests.
2. Burmese Lahpet Tea
Other than Pu-erh, the world has seen another type of fermented tea that is not only drinkable but also edible. Welcome to Burma, also known as Myanmar, where Lahpet tea is the real deal.
The tea plantations produce a whopping yield of 70,000 tons of fresh tea product over 700 square kilometers across the scenic territory of Burma. Some of this is set aside for making edible pickled tea, known as Lahpet.
Lahpet has become a significant part of the tea-consuming culture of Burma that only the best of the harvest can be used to make pickled tea. After the harvest, the finest leaves are partly steamed for five minutes, packed into bamboo vats, and set in pits before being compressed to extract water and kick start the fermentation process.
The fermentation of Burmese Laphet needs to involve three major stages, including pre-fermentation, fermentation, and modification. During three to four months, lactic acid bacteria encourage anaerobic fermentation to happen naturally.
During the intervals, traditional tea makers closely monitor the process. Some of the pulp even goes through a double-steaming stage if the pulp’s change in color fails to reach a desired golden-green level. Other than that, the leaf texture must develop a certain degree of softness while the acidity develops over time.
The pulps are washed, massaged, and drained at the end of the cycle before blending with other flavors such as minced garlic, ground chili, salt, lemon juice, and peanut oil. The most common way to serve Burmese Lahpet is by offering it as a snack or apres-meal dessert.
3. Japanese Tengu Kurocha
Japanese matcha and sencha are some of the well-known kinds in the worldwide tea ranking chart. But little do you know that Japan has a lesser-known dark tea that is actually fermented and widely used amongst the older generations. This type of tea is only produced in small batches made in small rural villages.
Japanese fermented tea should not be mistaken for Chinese Pu-erh. The difference lies in the how-tos. In Japan, fermented tea is broken down into three types of fermentation; aerobic fermentation, anaerobic fermentation, and mixed fermentation.
The first one, aerobic fermentation, uses fungi such as yeasts and molds. Meanwhile, anaerobic fermentation uses lactic acid bacteria in the making. The last one is a combination of both methods.
Fermenting tea is one of the oldest approaches to preserving tea in Japan, as it allows the tea to age without rotting. The oldest fermented tea is able to develop the most exquisite taste. When steeped with hot water, the dry leaves start to develop a slightly salty and broth smell while the liquor taste is umami-forward, smooth, and leafy.
4. Korean Tteokcha
On the lesser-known side, Korean Tteokcha is a traditional fermented dark tea that goes by the name tea cake as referred to by the locals.
The birth of Korean Tteokcha dates back to the 5th century in Korean tea history. Wild tea bush leaves are widely grown down the slope of the Jiri Mountain in the south of the Korean Peninsula. This notorious mountain is known as the oldest tea plantation in the country, where Korean green tea is also harvested along with dark tea.
There are two types of Korean fermented tea. The local tea makers created the first method, using the art of steaming and pounding the leaves. The second one is a Chinese-influenced method, taking after the production of Sheng Pu-erh and Shu Pu-erh in Yunnan.
Traditionally, Korea Tteokcha is packed into small cubes. When steeped, it gives off a deep amber color, introducing a fruit-leading flavor with hints of spiciness and woodiness. The art of enjoying Korean Tteokcha is much similar to Chinese Pu-erh.