Unlike most other tea, Pu-erh is made from mao cha and not directly from fresh leaf.
So what is mao cha? Mao cha is a simple ‘rough’ manufacture of leaf materials that consists of:
withering (indoors and or outdoors)
rolling & shaping
Mao cha is considered both finished tea and half-made tea. It is essentially young sheng Pu-erh and is drunk by villagers in Yunnan as well as being the leaf that all forms of Pu-erh are made from. Mao cha is simple to manufacture but is complex in its diversity.
Mao cha can be made from the fresh leaf of one tea garden or be a blend of leaf from an entire tea village or from several tea producing villages within one county. Mao cha can be stored and aged after it is made, or it can be a new blend that is comprised of aged mao cha from different years. It is found in a variety of leaf sizes, too, depending on the location of the tea trees and on the type of local cultivars (size of the leaf) the mao cha was made from. Mao cha is a great example of the effects of terroir.
As you can see, the possibilities and resulting flavors of mao cha are almost endless. All of these variables result in a staggering choice of available mao cha for Pu-erh producers to work with.