How to Make Pu erh Tea Taste Better
How to Make Pu erh Tea Taste Better

How to Make Pu erh Tea Taste Better

Ok, so you’ve had an awful pu erh tea experience. The question is: “Now what?” You can throw your tea in the garbage can, or try to ‘fix’ it with this guide!

Often times, when people taste an unpleasant pu erh, they blame the quality of the raw material or poor storage. Then they give up on the tea. Yet, even seemingly bad pu erh can turn into a treasure if you deal with it the right way. Now let’s start fixing your tea.

Weird Smell

Pu erh tea can smell weird when you’re dealing with one that either very old (more than 10 years) or when it’s not properly stored (too humid, too hot). There are two things you can do to solve this:

  • If the tea is compressed, pry it into smaller chunks and store it in an tea caddy made from Yixing clay. These jars are excellent, because it protects the tea from humidity, light and temperature fluctuations, while it lets the tea ‘air’. This is a very effective method to remove the bad smell.
  • Once the tea is aired, perform two quick rinses before you steep the tea. Simply at hot water into your tea vessel and discard it in 10 seconds. Two rinses should be enough to remove the ‘bad’ layer of taste and make the tea ready for a good and tasty steep.

Below a video on how you can let tea air in a caddy:

Pu erh Tea Tastes Like Dirt

Most people who drink pu erh the first time, find it too strong. “This pu erh tea tastes like dirt!” is something you often hear from first time drinkers.

It’s important to note that there are two types of pu erh: raw & ripe. Especially with the latter type, people often complain the taste is too strong.

There’s a few things you can do:

  • Rinse once or twice before you start your first real brew. This can remove the storage flavor of ripe pu erh.
  • Reduce the brewing temperature to 90ºC: While ripe needs to be brewed at high temperatures, you can somewhat reduce the temperature to make the tea softer in taste.
  • Shorten the steeping time: Western brewing methods often use steeping times that last multiple minutes. This is fine with most Chinese teas. However, with ripe pu erh, you’ll easily get a very unpleasant, dark brew. To taste the finer notes of ripe pu erh, you should shorten the steeping time to 1 minute in a large teapot or 10-20 seconds in smaller vessels such as a gaiwan. The steeping time can then be slowly increased for subsequent brews.
  • As a last resort you could flavor your ripe pu erh with flowers or herbs. More on this in the last paragraph.
  • If the above advice still doesn’t work for you, then switch to raw pu erh teas. Raw pu erhs are less savory and intense, instead they tend to be more green, flowery and fresh, which might suit you better.

Pu erh Tea Tastes like Fish

While ripe pu erh can taste like dirt, a raw pu erh can sometimes taste fishy. There are a few ways to explain. Some raw pu erh has a vegetal seaweed taste. Some people will describe this as ‘fishy’. If this is the case, there’s nothing wrong with the tea, and you probably don’t like it. What’s also possible is that it has been badly stored. The solutions suggested above for ripe pu erh can also work for raw: prying in chunks and let it air, rinsing and playing around with temperature and steeping time.

Here's a full article on fishy tastes in tea.

You may also don’t like the bitter taste of raw pu erh. In that case, read the next paragraph.

Too Bitter

With ripe pu erh, the bitterness is often smoothened out due to intensive post-fermentation in a warm and humid room. Raw pu erh haven’t undergone this process. Instead they’re stored for slow natural fermentation process that can take many years. Therefore raw pu erhs can taste bitter and here’s what you can do:

  • Store it away: often times, raw pu erhs just aren’t ready for consumption. This is the case when the tea is still very young. Store it away and let it slowly ripen. Over time, the bitterness will be reduced and the tea will become darker and sweeter. Start drinking the tea from when it’s aged for at least 3 years. Then revisit every year to see how it continues to age and transform.
  • With raw pu erh you can play even more with the temperature and steeping time than ripe pu erh. You may try temperatures between 80 to 100ºC to see what works for you. Adjust the steeping time accordingly. If steeping at full temperature results in a too bitter brew, you can try 90ºC and 80ºC. Especially at the lower range, you’ll find that it tastes like a completely different tea. It’s gonna be much softer, and it will be easier to recognize the delicate flowery and fruity notes.
  • Switch to ripe pu erh if the above doesn’t work for you. Ripe pu erhs are very smooth and thick in flavor and have hardly any bitterness. Even when they’re still very young.

Last Resort: Blend Pu Erh with Flowers & Herbs

Ok, so you’ve tried everything above, and you still can’t get accustomed to the taste. Then there’s a last resort: flavor your tea!

With flavoring it’s not like you’re gonna randomly blend it with whatever there’s in the kitchen cabinet. We’ve to find highly compatible ingredients while we still ‘keep it real’. We want the tea to be still very recognizable pu erh, but fix the parts of the flavor that you don’t like.

Don’t feel bad about it. There’s nothing wrong with this, and it’s oftentimes done in China. In fact, it’s an effective way to start learning to drink pu erh. Overtime, you’ll be better able to accept the base flavors and taste the unique notes of each tea. That’s when you should switch back to pure play.

  • Chrysanthemum flowers: by far the most used ingredients to blend with pu erh are chrysanthemum flowers. These flowers make a ripe pu erh taste more soothing and refreshing!
  • Fruits: dried fruits like goji and jujube are also really recommended to brew with both ripe and raw pu erh. Goji is great to give it some extra sweetness. If you like savory sour notes, dried jujube is great.
  • Nuo Mi Xiang herb: this herb has a sticky rice flavors that wonderfully smoothens out and add extra flavor to the taste of both ripe and raw pu erh. This herb isn’t readily available to buy, but you could look into pre-blended nuo mi xiang pu erh.

Below a video about blending pu erh with chrysanthemum:

If you're curious to learn more about pu erh, we recommend you to read this article: Pu erh tea taste explained.

June 12, 2018
June 12, 2018 at 2:14 PM
I recently got a young raw pu erh which I indeed find a bit bitter. You mentioned that I should store it for a while. What's the best way to do this?
June 12, 2018 at 2:24 PM
I would like to recommend our article on this topic: /
June 12, 2018 at 2:16 PM
Your article made me really curious about pu erh, where can I buy pu erh tea?
June 12, 2018 at 2:23 PM
Real pu erh (not slimming pu erh) isn't always easily to get in your local tea store. You'll have to get it from more artisan shops. A good start is to have a look at our curated selection of pu erh tea here:
June 12, 2018 at 6:51 PM
Thanks! I'm gonna order a few of these smaller 100g teas!
June 12, 2018 at 2:17 PM
I'm currently drinking green tea. I'm willing to try pu erh, but I'm worried about caffeine. Do you have more information about this?
June 12, 2018 at 2:22 PM
Pu erh tea is in fact made from the same tea plant as other tea types. While it's generally assumed that pu erh contains more caffeine than green tea, it's not always the case. Tea type is just one factor that determines the caffeine in tea. To avoid consuming too much caffeine, try to steep the tea for less long and enjoy a lighter brew.
June 12, 2018 at 6:50 PM
Thank you, one more question. Are there any other side effects that one should consider?
June 12, 2018 at 6:56 PM
You should perhaps avoid drinking tea on an empty stomach. This can cause stomach aches (especially with raw pu erh). Besides this and potential sensitivity to caffeine, there's aren't really other known side effects as long as the pu erh tea is stored well. However, in case you don't feel well, you should stop drinking pu erh and ask a doctor for advise.
George Mas
December 5, 2018 at 1:31 AM
Actually it's a misconception that caffeine levels in green tea are lower than other types. Caffeine levels fluctuate around many parameters (season of harvest, water temperature when brewed, amount of tea leaves used etc.) . If you want 0 caffeine tea you could get decaffeinated tea (though I do not recommend that because with the caffeine are striped several useful ingredients and taste) or try Rooibos, a tea alternative with 0 caffeine.
December 5, 2018 at 9:23 AM
Whether or not you should be worried depend on how sensitive you are. Tea in general contains much less caffeine than coffee. To reduce caffeine content in pu erh tea, I can recommend you to discard the first steep. This is actually done a lot by tea lovers, as the first brew is often less tasty. By performing a first quick 'rinse' of lets say 20 seconds, the second brew will be much better. The other benefit is that you'll have removed about 30% of the caffeine content from the pu erh tea. If that's still too much caffeine for you, you can serve the second brew to someone else first and then drink the third brew. The benefit of pu erh is that it can be resteeped many times without losing much flavour.
jim do
January 11, 2019 at 9:02 PM
My pu erh tastes and smells like chewing tobacco spit.
January 12, 2019 at 12:09 AM
Most likely when the pu erh was steamed (for pressing into cakes), the temperature of the steam was set too high. This will make the tea taste somewhat 'burned'. It's a mistake often made by factories who want to achieve higher productivity at the loss of quality.
January 25, 2019 at 9:43 AM
Once I have brewed three times, how do I keep the leaves to steep them other times and how many times can I steep them?
January 25, 2019 at 10:01 AM
The amount of steeps depends a lot on the amount of leaves you use and the size of the teaware. Generally, with 5 grams of leaves, you should be able to steep about 4 mugs of tea or 12 steeps using a gaiwan. Also keep in mind that ripe pu erh can last longer than raw pu erh. Also longer aged pu erh should last longer than younger pu erh. To keep the tea, you can simply leave the leaves in the vessel and put on the lid. We do not recommend keeping the leaves overnight, but if you do so, then store the vessel in the fridge.
George Wendell
August 2, 2019 at 1:19 AM
Thanks for this article, very informative. I'm new to drinking Pu'er Tea and have experienced all of those flavours from the aged tea I have bought. Almost like a compost flavoured earthiness in the first cup, mine also has a bit of a smokey flavour like smoked teas I remember drinking years ago. I've noted it can be brewed many times using the same leaves and about the third time a sweet flavour starts to appear that is very pleasant. It's a little like the sweetness you get when you drink liquorice root tea.
August 2, 2019 at 8:53 AM
We're glad you find this guide useful. There are many people who've tried pu erh and didn't like it. Many though didn't brew further, so they don't discover the flavors that are yet to come!
July 21, 2020 at 4:45 PM
I recently bought a big bag of puerh from a company whose puerh i really like in the small package. the big bag seems a lot less rich, and brews kinda yellow, not so black, and it only brews once or twice. is there some way of restoring this by aging it etc.? or just brew more of it?
July 21, 2020 at 4:46 PM
This will depend on several factors include age and type of pu erh. If it's a ripe kind of pu erh, the flavor will not change much over time. A young raw pu erh will however evolve a lot in the first 5 years of aging. If you want a stronger flavor, you may try 'wet storage', to allow the fermentation process to go faster. See our article here: