If you’re a fan of teas, chances are you’re familiar with Pu-Erh, the fermented tea that originated in China. Pu-Erh is processed over time and is meant to encourage microbial fermentation. This gives the tea a more earthy taste that hardcore tea lovers tend to enjoy.
Pu-Erh can be made in two ways: naturally, by allowing the tea leaves to ferment over time, or by a process that involves accelerated fermentation.
Because the process of making and drinking Pu-Erh can be complex, it can mean that sometimes the flavor profiles aren’t ideal. When it isn’t stored properly, it can change the flavor significantly, sometimes to the point where your tea will taste like fish.
Where Does the Fish Taste Come From?
To make decent tasting Pu-Erh, you need high-quality leaves. If you’re using anything less, you will end up with a flavor that won’t be very enjoyable. Not to mention if you aren’t storing it properly while it ages, it could also give it a bad taste.
Pu-Erh tea should be stored in a place with no humidity, and never in a plastic wrapper.
Another reason that your tea could taste fishy could be a result of the conditions in the factory where the tea was made. During the accelerated fermentation process of Pu-Erh, tea makers will introduce a culture from a previous batch of tea as a way to start off this new batch. This is a way of creating the flavor profile of the tea.
But if the wrong culture is added, it could result in a flavor that tastes a lot like fish. The longer the tea has to ferment, the more likely it will taste better.
How to Avoid “Fishy” Pu-Erh
It’s safe to say that no one wants to drink a cup of tea that tastes like fish. The good news is though, that you can easily avoid this by only purchasing tea that has been fermented naturally over the course of 10 years or more.
The only problem with this is that the longer the tea has been fermented, the more expensive it is. But if the alternative is drinking fishy tea, you may want to bite the bullet and pay the extra cash.
Buying Pu-Erh tea in bulk is a surefire way to end up with a hot cup of fish. This is because tea bought in bulk usually doesn’t get enough airflow and is stored incorrectly.
You may also want to switch over to buying loose leaf tea instead of the tea cakes. Loose leaf tea will air out much better and thus is less likely to have a strange flavor. If you simply must have the cakes, however, try to look for ones that aren’t compressed as tightly.
How to Save Your Tea From its Fishy Flavors
Now that you’re stuck with fishy tea, your first instinct may be to throw it into the sink and try to make a cup of a different type of tea. But before you do this, rest assured that there’s a way to salvage your tea.
The first thing you can do is “rinse” your tea before you drink it. This involves dumping out the water you poured into the tea the first time.
This will not only keep your tea from tasting like fish, but it can also wash away any chemicals that may be lurking. You can do this several times until you’ve successfully gotten rid of the fishy taste.
You can also use less tea if you don’t want your tea to taste as strong. If you have a tea cake, simply break it up into smaller pieces. You may also want to store your broken up tea in a well ventilated area so that it has more time to air out.
We do not advise putting your Pu-Erh tea in a container, but if you do, make sure you are airing it out as often as possible. If not, you could end up with a very unpleasant batch of tea.
If you’ve tried all of the above and your tea still tastes like the Atlantic Ocean, you may want to reconsider the type of tea you buy. Sometimes, a particular manufacturer may not have made that batch correctly or simply didn’t have the right conditions in their factory to get their tea to taste the way it should.
At this point, it would be wise to switch up the brand of tea you drink to a more reputable one.
You can always ask for a sample before committing to a new brand of tea. With such complicated flavors, you should know what you’re getting yourself into before you spend too much money on something you don’t like.
Fishy Pu-Erh May Not Taste Good, But It’s Safe
A lot of people may be left wondering whether or not they are going to end up with food poisoning after drinking fishy tea. The good thing is that despite tasting bad, it’s perfectly safe to drink.
Unfortunately, it just won’t be very enjoyable for you.
Different Flavors of Pu-Erh
As mentioned earlier, Pu-Erh can have earthy flavors that may not be loved by everyone. But for those who are tea connoisseurs, Pu-Erh has a flavor unlike any other type of tea in the world.
There are three different versions of this tea—young raw, aged raw, and ripe. And yes, they all have distinct and unique flavors.
The young raw, for example, has been fermented for less than a couple of years and isn’t unlike green tea. It hasn’t had time to properly develop, so the flavor is going to be a little sweeter and much more floral than other teas that have been left to ferment for longer.
The aged raw tea is going to be a bit woodsy and have notes of dark fruit. You will easily be able to tell between a young raw and an aged raw tea because of the body of the tea. Aged raw tea is going to be much smoother and taste a bit more raw.
Ripe Pu-Erh is thick and known to taste a bit like mushrooms. It’s rich and will have you in a state of bliss before you know it.
Pu-Erh may also have other less than ideal flavors such as dirt, compost, hay, and even wet dog.
The Many Forms of Pu-Erh
When you purchase Pu-Erh, you have several options as to how you want to buy it. Many people choose to buy the loose leaf tea on its own, but others prefer to buy it as a cake.
Tea makers will take the Pu-Erh leaves and shape them into a circular and compact shape that you can then take home. You can break off pieces of the cake to make tea.
How to Find Good Quality Pu-Erh
There are many ways to go about making sure you’re getting only the best quality of teas. The best way to determine whether or not the tea you are buying is good is by smelling it.
Obviously, we’ve already established that a fishy smell isn’t normal. However, your tea should also not smell moldy.
In fact, Pu-Erh should smell sweet, along the lines of dried fruit and honey.
If you’ve ordered Pu-Erh online, make sure you check the packaging thoroughly before making it. If there are any holes in the package, you may want to hold off on drinking it. Be wary of potential bugs that may have snuck their way into your package.
While the tea is fermented, it certainly shouldn’t have any mold on it either. If the Pu-Erh smells off, check it for mold.
Perhaps even worst of all – your tea could have extra debris in it. Yes, it’s possible that a factory worker’s hair or fingernail may have gotten stuck in your tea cake by accident.
It’s rare. But it happens, especially if the manufacturer you got it from isn’t very reputable.
Green Tea Can Be Fishy Too
Believe it or not, Pu-Erh isn’t the only type of tea out there that can taste fishy. Green tea is also another one of those teas that can take on these negative flavor profiles.
Green teas may taste more like seaweed than fish, but either way are still not ideal for drinking. Like the Pu-Erh, a green tea that tastes fishy is likely due to the poor quality of the tea leaves.
You may think this sounds crazy, but it is possible to make your tea a little too hot. Seeping your green tea in water that is beyond boiling may also cause it to release fish-like flavors.
Green tea leaves also tend to absorb everything around them, so if you haven’t stored your green tea tight enough, it could catch an unpleasant flavor from whatever is around it. Be sure to seal your tea tightly before putting it away.
What About Black Tea?
If you’re a fan of black tea, you’re in luck. Black tea doesn’t tend to hold onto other aromas that are around it like green tea and Pu-Erh. However, black tea can go “flat” if not packaged properly.
This means it can end up tasting like cardboard, which may be just as bad as the fishy taste.
Other Reasons Your Tea May Be Fishy
Oftentimes, your tea could taste off for other reasons. For one, you could be using water that isn’t filtered and is giving your tea a strange flavor.
The way you store your tea is also telling of what your tea will taste like. Again, you want to make sure it is tightly sealed so as to not mix it up with other surrounding aromas.
Benefits of Pu-Erh
It’s safe to say that most teas offer some type of health benefit to the consumer. Chamomile relieves anxiety, peppermint can get rid of headaches, and ginger tea can get rid of stomach aches. So how does Pu-Erh benefit you?
Like many teas, Pu-Erh has caffeine in it, although not as much as your regular cup would. However, it can still provide you with that extra pep you may need to get through your day.
Drinking Pu-Erh is also a good way to lower your risk for heart disease. Pu-Erh has been known to produce lovastatin, which is used to treat high cholesterol.
Pu-Erh is also a good way of keeping your bones healthy. Antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties in Pu-Erh are helpful in relieving pain caused by arthritis. Pu-Erh can also help develop higher bone mass thanks to the polyphenols found in the tea.
If you’re looking for a way to lose weight, Pu-Erh is a good way to start. It produces the hormones epinephrine and norepinephrine which in turn help to reduce stores of fatty acids.
We recommend drinking a cup of Pu-Erh after your meal to help with digestion. Pu-Erh has also been known to help with constipation.
Finally, Pu-Erh can prevent illness thanks to the many antioxidants and the vitamin C it holds. No surprise there—drinking Pu-Erh can also help relieve any cold or flu-like symptoms you may be experiencing.
Your sick days are over if you drink enough Pu-Erh!
If you’ve found yourself drinking a cup of fishy tea lately, now you know what could be behind it. All of this information can benefit you in the long run and may keep you from ever having to have that experience again.
Keep in mind that Pu-Erh is meant to have a funky and earthy taste, so it is normal for it to taste different from other teas that you may be used to.
It’s important to double check your tea to make sure there isn’t anything unsavory hidden in it, as there have been stories of people who have found cigarette butts in their tea cakes.
Pu-Erh isn’t for everyone, but if you are looking to try something new, give it a shot!
I have a bachelor’s degree in construction engineering. When I’m not constructing or remodeling X-Ray Rooms, Cardiovascular Labs, and Pharmacies…I’m at home with my wife, two daughters and a dog. Outside of family, I love grilling and barbequing on my Big Green Egg and working on projects around the house.