They can be both considered to be dark teas, they are heavily fermented, sometimes they have very similar physical appearances and they are both generally made using the Wo Dui (damp piling) production method. In a way, they are very similar, but what’s the difference between the two? Let’s take a look at a few the points of differentiation:
1. One came from the other. Hei Cha existed long before Shu Puerh. Shu Puerhs were created around the 1970s. The demand for average quality Shengs was on the rise at the time. Traditional Sheng Puerhs were taking too long to age and, additionally, the aging process made the tea more expensive – what could be done to get Shengs to a satisfying state of flavour faster? A group of tea technicians decided to try the Hei Cha Wo Dui method on Sheng material - the tea was ready in a much shorter period of time (a month or a few months vs. a year or a few years) – but the result was a totally different tea - Shu Puerh. This is one of the versions of how Shu Puerhs came into being.
2. Location matters. Where the tea is collected and made can be an important point of difference. Hei Cha can come from a lot of different places: Hunan, Hubei, Sichuan, Guangxi, Anhui, Shanxi. But a Shu Puerh, strictly speaking, should come from Yunnan. But do we still call a Shu Puerh from Burma or Thailand a Shu Puerh?
3.If the first two points seem dismissible, then this final point is the most indestructible one: the difference in flavour. Though there is a large spectrum of flavours within both the Shu Puerh group and Hei Cha group, if you have enough experience with both it’s very unlikely that you will confuse a Shu and a Hei Cha.
The above points are debatable like many things in the world of tea, and much more could be added to the list of differences. It’s hard to say whether it’s possible to filter out completely objective points of difference. In a way, each tea and what it represents is always changing and evolving as time passes by.