Tea Foodie [by Zanitea]

a journal of tea-inspired foods and recipes

Pu-erh Kimchi (Say what?)

Say what?

Many people have no idea what I’m talking about when I say “Pu-erh” or “kimchi”. So it’s really confusing when I put them together in one dish.

As most tea connoisseurs know, Pu-erh (pronounced “poo-air”) is its own category of tea in which the tea leaves are allowed to age and undergo a natural fermentation process. So, kind of like wine, its flavor develops and changes over time. It depends on the Pu-erh, but the flavor profile can be anywhere from fruity and floral to musky and peaty.

pu-erh tea

And fans of Korean food know kimchi (or kimchee) as that spicy, tangy side dish of fermented cabbage, radish and other veg.

I wanted to see what would happen if these two fermented delicacies spent a little time fermenting together.

pu-erh kimchi close up

“That tasty place between fresh and rotten”

I heard the above line quoted in a recent episode of NPR’s Fresh Air about the art of fermentation. I think it’s so true!

Fermentation is a centuries-old food preserving process that’s going through a bit of a revival at the moment. Here are a couple of recent features about the fermentation food trend:

pu-erh kimchi

What a crock

It just so happens that a culinary buddy of mine, Danny, gave me a fermenting crock for my birthday this year. It’s a ceramic container designed for home fermenting projects, like sauerkraut, pickles or kimchi. (Thank you, Danny, for making sure I stay on top of the latest food trends.)

I broke in my fermenting crock with a batch of homemade sauerkraut, which turned out perfectly. Crunchy, sour, not too tart, and so much fresher than anything packaged you’d buy at the store.

Next up in the crock, I tried a batch of kimchi.

jarring pu-erh kimchi

I searched a bunch of food blogs for a base recipe for the kimchi and found dozens of possibilities. I ended up combining a couple of recipes and adding some ingredients of my own, including the fermented Pu-erh tea. It turned out really nice. It’s tangy, but not too sharp, and only mildly spicy.

And the Pu-erh tea? It’s hard to tell how much flavor it added to the kimchi, but it maybe added a depth that wouldn’t have otherwise been there. And the tea leaves look pretty cool speckled throughout the jar. Although, the tea leaves steeping in the fermenting mixture did make the kimchi a little murky. I think adding more ground chile pepper next time would help the color and visual appeal.

This recipe is definitely worth exploring again and again, as it will likely never come out the same twice.

Happy cooking and sipping!

Pu-erh Kimchi

(Adapted mostly from the How to make Kimchee recipe on the Novel Eats blog, but inspired by several kimchi recipes found on other food blogs. See the recipe inspiration links at the end of this post.)

Makes about 6 cups, enough for 6 small jars


8 cups water

4 tablespoons of course sea salt, plus another 2 tablespoons set aside

2 large heads of Napa cabbage (about 4 pounds), with 3 or 4 leaves kept whole, and the rest roughly chopped

6 medium carrots, peeled and grated

2 medium daikon radishes, peeled, quartered lengthwise, and thinly sliced

1 medium red bell pepper, cut into ½-inch dice

1 large bunch of scallions, cut into ½-inch pieces (use all the white and green bits)

2-inch size fresh ginger root, peeled and minced

1 fresh jalapeño pepper, small dice (seeded if desired, or leave seeds in for extra heat)

4 small dried Thai chile peppers

1 tablespoon dried red chile flakes

2 tablespoons loose leaf Pu-erh tea

4 tablespoons fish sauce


1. Bring the water and 4 tablespoons of salt to a boil in a large pot, then remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature.

2. Place the chopped cabbage in layers in a large ceramic or glass bowl, sprinkling each layer with about a teaspoon of sea salt from the 2 to 3 tablespoons you set aside. Place the 3 or 4 whole cabbage leaves on the very top layer. Fill the bowl with fresh room temperature water (not the brine you just made), until the cabbage is covered by water. Place a plate on top of the bowl, if necessary, to keep all the cabbage pushed down below the water. Allow the cabbage to soak for about 2 hours, and then drain the water, and rinse the soaked cabbage thoroughly with fresh water.

3. Stir the rinsed, chopped cabbage and the rest of the ingredients together in a fermenting crock, if using, or other glass or ceramic container(s). Mash the mixed vegetables with a large wooden spoon or dowel for a few minutes, so that some of the vegetable juices start to release. Place the rinsed, whole cabbage leaves on top of the vegetable mixture. If using a crock, place the crock’s weight on top of the cabbage, and fill the crock with the cooled salt-water brine, until the weight is covered with the brine. Place the lid on the crock, and fill the crock’s reservoir with water to seal. If using a glass or ceramic container, cover with plastic and an airtight lid.

4. Allow the kimchi sit out at room temperature to ferment for at least 3 days and up to 2 weeks. If using a crock, make sure to keep the water reservoir full. Fermented kimchi can be kept in the fridge in a sealed container for several months.


  • You do not need a fermenting crock to make kimchi. You can make it in a ceramic or glass container, covered with a plastic lined lid that is airtight.
  • Make sure everything you’re using is very clean! Bowls, spoons, hands, crock, jars, etc. Use glass, ceramic and wooden kitchen tools, and not plastic or metal.
  • It’s more interesting to have different sizes and textures of vegetables in this dish, so do a mix of chopped, grated and minced.
  • I did not take other bloggers’ advice and get the Korean red chile pepper from the Asian market. I think this would help boost the chile flavor and color. I will get it for the next batch.
  • Experiment with how long you let the kimchi ferment. Some people let it go a few days, others a few weeks. As soon as you put it in the refrigerator, you will halt the fermentation, but it will still continue to flavor itself.


  • Serve as a side or topping with meats, rice dishes, salads, eggs, burgers, brats, or cheese plates. The possibilities are endless.


  • Cabbage, carrot and daikon radish are traditional kimchi ingredients, but you can really use any veggie combination you like here.

Kimchi Recipe Inspiration:


9 comments on “Pu-erh Kimchi (Say what?)

  1. Laurie
    July 22, 2012

    Sounds like a fun and tasty project!

    • Tea Foodie [by Zanitea]
      July 23, 2012

      Yes, surprisingly tasty, and definitely a project, but an easy one if you have the time.

  2. Janet Rosen
    July 23, 2012

    Boiling water to make brine then letting it cool is a waste of energy (gas or electric) and time. I use exactly the same proportions, stir the salt well into room temperature water, and let it sit an hour to clarify.

    • Tea Foodie [by Zanitea]
      July 23, 2012

      Thanks for this tip, Janet! I wondered about this, it did seem like a waste of time and energy as you point out. But so many of the other recipes I read followed this boiling method. I will try your method next time. Love your kimchi pics.

  3. Daniel
    July 23, 2012

    you know – it’s purely self-serving, suz.
    (if only the crock had robotic tongs to drop it into my mouth).

  4. Adele
    August 2, 2012

    This looks awesome. Somehow I haven’t done kimchi yet, but maybe very soon….

    • Tea Foodie [by Zanitea]
      August 2, 2012

      Thanks, Adele. I’m so glad you commented on my blog so that I could discover yours. I want to try your root beer and kombucha, both have been on my list for awhile.

  5. Pu-erh Tea
    December 5, 2012

    what is kimchi? I know pu-erh tea which is really good for weight loss

    • Tea Foodie [by Zanitea]
      December 6, 2012

      Kimchi is a Korean condiment or side dish made of fermented vegetables and seasonings.

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About Zanitea

Combining a love of tea and food through hand blended teas and cooking with tea inspiration.

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