The Starter's Guide to Pu-erh Tea
In the latest of series of different tea varieties, we will be exploring a fermented variety, pu-erh tea. Grown exclusively in the country of Pu-erh in the Yunnan province of China, Pu-erh is a partly oxidised tea which undergoes an additional, natural fermentation process to give the tea its smooth flavour and distinct dark colour.
How is Pu-erh tea made?
The Camellia sinensis leaves are plucked carefully, taking care not to cause any bruising to the leaves or cause any unwanted oxidisation. The picked leaves are wilted by spreading them out in the sun to remove water content of the leaves. On overcast or rainy days, the leaves have to be wilted by gently heating. The leaves are dry roasted in a wok in a process known as maocha or “killing the green”. This stops the oxidisation process. Leaves are then rolled and rubbed into strands via various methods and left to dry.
Our Menghai First Grade drying in Menghai County, Yunnan.
Once dried the pu-erh is fermented in a natural process. The tea is stored in a warm and humid place to allow good bacteria, molds and yeast to flourish. The whole fermentation process can last between six and 12 months. The more aged the tea, the mellower the flavour of the tea will be and the sweeter the after-taste will be.
The tea is usually sold in a cake or disc form. The tea leaves are pressed into the shape. Until the introduction of hydraulic presses, this pressing would have been made by hand pressing machines. It is believed that this densely compressing of the tea means that the tea can be stored for much longer.
How to brew Pu-erh tea
The best way to prepare pu-erh tea is to flake off pieces of the cake, either by hand or by using a pu-erh knife (similar to an oyster knife). For lower quality pu-erh, water should be boiled to 95⁰C (203⁰F) or 85-89⁰C (185-192⁰F) for aged pu-erh. If stored correctly, the tea should improve with age. As a result of the fermentation process, pu-erh can be brewed more strongly and repeatedly. Some even claim that they have made 20 or more infusions from the same pot of leaves.
Health benefits of Pu-erh tea
Revered for its many medicinal and health benefits, pu-erh is said to cure hangovers and to help lower cholesterol. According to Chinese folklore, pu-erh activates and optimises the activity of the spleen, which aids the drinker’s body to cleanse and remove toxins.
New studies have made the startling discovery that the microbial aging of pu-erh can produce small amounts of lovastatin, a statin that occurs naturally in the body. High cholesterol can be treated from a synthetic form of lovastatin. Therefore, the prolonged drinking of pu-erh could have the potential to lower cholesterol levels.
If you are interested in sampling pu-erh, you can find the varieties that we have to offer here.