Most teas are heat treated either through steaming or roasting. These processes are required to make the tea safe to drink without boiling water. With Pu Erh tea the process is more complicated than with some other types of tea.
Tisanes are rarely heated before you actually brew the tea and should always be made with boiling water. How you should brew pu erh tea and if you can drink pu erh tea cold will be answered here.
SHORT ANSWER – Is Cold Pu Erh Tea Safe To Drink?
It depends. Some types of pu erh tea are not safe to drink when brewed with cold water and do always require at least one initial contact with boiling water. Some younger raw pu erh teas can be brewed cold. This depends largely on the quality and cleanness of the tea.
If you want to know what to look out for and how you can enjoy pu erh tea cold, feel welcome to keep reading.
Hazards With Pu Erh Tea
Aged And Cooked Pu Erh Tea
Pu erh tea differs from most other teas in that the growth of microorganisms in the tea is desirable. This is achieved through rapid fermentation with cooked pu erh tea or time with aged pu erh tea.
The consequence of either of these methods is a tea or tea cake that contains live bacteria and fungi. While not all of them are dangerous to humans, it is always better to be safe.
When brewing the pu erh tea with boiling water, most of these microorganisms get killed. When properly discarding the first infusion, the spores and materials produced will be washed off the leaves.
Because of this it is highly recommended you rinse your pu erh teas with boiling water for at least three to five seconds. Otherwise, you unnecessarily risk consuming potentially dangerous live microorganisms.
Young Raw Pu Erh Tea
Pu erh tea that has not actively been fermented or aged will contain fewer microorganisms. I personally always do a quick rinse with young raw pu erh teas to be completely safe, though.
Another reason for rinsing your pu erh tea does not require boiling water but prevents you from cold brewing the tea directly. Every pu erh tea cake contains dust and sand to some extent. This is a result of production facilities and storage often being quite open in rural china.
Reasons For Cold Brewing Pu Erh Tea
Avoiding Unwanted Flavors
Pu erh tea is known to be one of the most intense types of tea. Some people say that pu erh tea is an acquired taste. For your pu erh tea to taste better, you have two choices.
You may use far fewer leaves, which results in a milder brew that is less bitter or musty – depending on the tea. The other option is to reduce the temperature of the water used to brew the tea. This extends the steeping time for your tea.
Extracting More Subtle Notes
If you reduce the leaf material used to make the tea, you will most likely lose most of the more subtle notes. Fruity and floral notes with pu erh tea are often easiest to notice with a high leaf to water ratios.
Choosing a lower water temperature to brew the tea allows you to extract more of these quiet notes from your tea. The solubility of compounds relevant to the taste of your tea hugely varies with temperature.
Because of this, you are often able to taste a completely different tea when brewing with ice-cold to room temperature water instead of boiling water. You just need to make sure your tea still is safe to drink with your method of choice!
How To Safely Brew Cold Pu Erh Tea
The most obvious method to acquire cold pu erh tea is to brew a hot cup of pu erh tea and let it cool. This will not provide the same flavor profile as cold brewing pu erh tea, though.
Since you technically brew your pu erh tea with boiling water, the tea will be completely safe to drink, but taste the same as regular pu erh tea.
If you brew your pu erh tea with a higher leaf to water ratio and afterward fill up your cup with ice-cold or cold water, the resulting tea will quickly be at room temperature or below.
This method will, as does the cooling method, give a tea that is not cold brew. You will not be able to taste enhanced subtle notes and most likely still have intense musty or bitter flavors.
This is the method I use if I want a cold and refreshing Pu Erh tea. First, you pour boiling water over your tea leaves for them to be sanitized. After a few seconds, you decant the hot water.
Hot water extracts compounds that are less or not at all soluble in cold water. To get rid of these compounds, rinse the leaves quickly with cold water afterward.
The leaves are now safe to use with cold brewing techniques the same as most other teas that are roasted or steamed are. Depending on how long you rinse your tea, you can control the intensity of dominant flavors with this method.
Pu erh tea should always be rinsed with boiling water for it to be considered safe to drink. You want to wash out the dirt, sand, and dust between the leaves.
On the leaves, you will have growth of fungi and bacteria, as part of the aging process. With aged and cooked pu erh teas, these are far more prevalent.
If you want to drink pu erh tea cold or even completely cold brew pu erh tea, you still need to initially heat the leaves. If you do not do so, you risk the consumption of microorganisms you should not ingest.
There’s a lot more to learn about tea! If you are looking for a good place to start, I highly recommend the book Tea: History, Terroirs, Varieties. You can check its current price on Amazon here.