Pu-erh tea profile up close

Pu-erh tea is touted as being one of the most unique, oldest and costliest of teas. Popular in China, for over 1,700 years, Pu-erh tea is brand new to the Western world. Before Western civilization began Pu-erh tea bricks were used for commerce as well as consumption. The ancient Chinese anecdotal sources consider Pu-erh to be a wonder drug, purported to have many health benefits. They claim, also, that Pu-erh was one of the first forms of money, called “Tea Money”.

An ancient tea from China, Pu-erh is grown and harvested in Pu-erh, from the Yunnan Province. The Yunnan Province is an area famous for the ancient, prehistoric, large leaf tea trees, from which this wonder tea is produced.

The processes by which Pu-erh tea is created remained a “guarded secret”, and enjoys a romantic history. During the Ming Dynasty it was punishable by death to trespass in the mountain gardens where this unique tea was grown. The secret process by which the tea is created was developed, it is said, when the tea was transported by caravan from those sacred mountain gardens to the region of Pu-erh. The path took the caravans through the tropical rain forests in the area. The moisture from the humid air accelerated the fermentation process, the bacterium on the tea leaves caused the leaves to mold, enriching the bold flavor of the Pu-erh tea.

The modern day processes are similar to that of creating black tea, yet very different. Pu-erh tea leaves are harvested and partially fired, retaining much of the moisture in the leaves. The tea leaves are then stacked and piled allowing the natural bacteria to create a process much like composting. Not very different from the ancient methods, really. This delectable, and sought after, tea is then aged in underground rooms and caves which add to the character of it’s distinct flavor.

Pu-erh tea is grown and harvested throughout the year. It does not require the typical dormant season that other tea trees need. Falling into it’s own category of tea, separate from the customary classifications, Pu-erh is classified by region, age and vintage. Pu-erh is commonly aged forty, sixty and even one hundred years. As Pu-erh’s advertising goes, the older the better. Of course, like a finer vintage of wine, the older or more vintage the tea, the higher the cost.

Considered a “living” tea, Pu-erh is enriched with healthy microbes during its manufacturing and storage process, like yogurt and fine grape wines. After the fermentation process this tea is compressed into “tea cakes” or discs, blocks, bricks, and other various shapes, then aged. The aging process causes specific oxidation and fermentation, again, like fine wines, affecting the tannins. Today one can purchase the tea aged as little as four or six years.

Pu-erh is manufactured differently than other teas. This tea is completely fermented and, as reported, Pu-erh is the only tea that improves with age.

“Raw” or “Green” Pu-erh is fermented naturally, over many years.

“Cooked” or “Black” Pu-erh is artificially fermented by manual processes.

Traditionally consumed during or after meals this deep red tea, with a bold and earthy flavor, has been found by veteran coffee drinkers to be a good substitute for coffee. The heavy, earthy and musty taste of Pu-erh has been favorably compared to the flavor of a strong espresso. It is also preferred for an after dinner beverage because of the lower caffeine content.

This large leaf tea has long been revered for the medicinal value. Pu-erh’s medicinal abilities are only enhanced by the reports of it’s soothing properties.

The Eastern world has believed, for centuries, that this special tea has anti-aging properties. This brew is also known to help prevent heart disease and cancer, as well as helping to control diabetes and weight loss.

Having all of the polyphenols that all teas, coming from the Camellia sinensis plant have, it covers all of the same health benefits of those other teas. Pu-erh, though, seems to have a few interesting and dynamic benefits the others do not mention.

It is reported to be effective in removing toxins from the body, specifically due to dysentery. Essentially cleansing the blood. It helps reduce inflammation, and improves blood circulation.

Pu-erh has been reported as being a cure or tonic to the effects of excessive alcohol consumption. Not just a simple hangover remedy, this tea apparently is able to help the body fight the effects of the alcohol.

Pu-erh is said to improve the eyesight. In studies of long term use, it appears to help reduce high blood pressure and cholesterol. And it plays a part in the prevention of cancer, itself, and carcinogens, cancer causing agents, as well as, heart disease.

This curative wonder tea has historically been used for digestion issues. Pu-erh helps the body, specifically, to digest fatty foods. One would do well to drink this tea in place of coffee after a heavy meal.

Reports glorify the ability of this tea to assist the reduction of cholesterol in the blood. A French controlled study of 500 patients, diagnosed with advanced cholesterol conditions, who had little success with modern medications, has backed up the cholesterol claims. The control group of 250 were given three to four cups of Pu-erh tea to drink, daily. The thirty day study showed significantly lower cholesterol in the group. Further research confirmed the tea was as effective as the advanced cholesterol medications on the market, at the time of the study.

This bold red tea is well known, in the East, for assisting in weight control. Specifically helping in the treatment of obesity. Long term consumption boosts one’s metabolism, studies have shown.

In China and Japan, brewing tea is an art. Balancing the amount of tea, water temperature and steeping time are a matter of the artist’s personal taste and style. Whether one rinses the tea leaves first, seems to be a matter of taste.

The typical brewing method for brewing Pu-reh tea is as follows:

Shave one to two tablespoons of Pu-erh tea leaves into the teapot and cover with the hottest boiling water possible.

Pour the water off immediately, essentially rinsing the leaves.

Pour 16 ounces of very hot boiling water over the rinsed Pu-erh tea leaves and steep 1-5 minutes.

Steeping times are a personal preference. The longer one steeps the tea the deeper and stronger the flavor will be. It is reported that one can adjust the antioxidant and caffeine levels of this healthful tea during the steeping process.

Pu-erh tea holds up well to milk and cream and a bit of honey or raw sugar will sweeten the mix. An added benefit to enjoying this expensive tea is that the tea leaves retain their potency and can be used multiple times.

Used in ancient China to today, Pu-erh appears to be one of the healthiest teas available. While Pu-erh remains virtually unknown by most, tea connoisseurs have begun to research and test this medicinal wonder tea. A bit more difficult to find, purchasing quality Pu-erh tea is best done online.