About Pu-erh Tea. Discovering China’s Greatest Miracle
Carmen Rotaru | On 07, Feb 2013
Chinese have appreciated pu-erh tea for a very long time, being considered one of the great wonders of China. Discover all there is to know about pu-erh tea and what makes it truly special.
Pu-erh tea, also spelled “Pu’er” represents a variety of fermented dark tea which is being produced only in the Yunnan province of China. This tea undergoes a long process of fermentation which is believed to be one of China’s unique styles in tea production. Pu-erh tea has the same name as Pu-erh city in Yunnan Province of China, which used to be a trading post for dark tea during imperial China.
Pu-erh is actually moderate in taste, not as strong as black tea, for instance. It is a dark tea, featuring brown to black color. It gets better with time and aged pu-erh tea is actually really sweet. It is a tea variety really appreciated in China and recently discovered in Western countries. Pu-erh is known to have a role in reducing cholesterol level and to help digestion, refreshes the mind and it is actually good after heavy partying with lots of alcohol because pu-erh tea dispels the effects of drinking.
About Pu-erh Tea’s Fermentation and Processing
Pu-erh is indeed a great luxury because the production of this kind of tea is highly regulated to ensure the greatest quality and its authenticity. Resembling to that sparkling wine we all drink for New Year’s Eve, sparkling wine which is called “champagne” only if it comes from the region with the same name in France, pu-erh tea is produced with tea leaves that only originate in Chinese province of Yunnan.
These luxury tea leaves are grown in several counties in the Yunnan province, mainly along the Lancand River’s shores. Each plantation produces its own special type of leaves, maintaining its secret for generations. The older the tea plant, the better the tea, which is why some tea trees in those areas are said to be over 1 000 years old. After the tea leaves have been harvested, they are sent to Pu-erh city where the production process begins.
The production of pu-erh tea is a highly complex and demanding process and it is different from a pu-erh tea variety to another. Depending on the way it is processed, pu-erh tea comes in two big varieties: green pu-erh tea known under the name of “sheng” and black pu-erh tea known as “shou”. Both of these varieties pass through a similar process of production up to the third and final step. Unlike the green variety, the black variety is also cooked which implies pilling and heaping the leaves in a pile to facilitate fermentation. These piles can also be compressed in a variety of forms and mixed with other plants to enhance flavor.
All in all, the production of pu-erh tea is similar when it comes to the first two steps of the process. The first step includes the green or raw leaves that pass through sun fixation, which means they are left to wither in the light of the sun, after which they are rolled and sun dried. The green pu-erh production stops here with the sun drying. The leaves can be sold loose or can pass through an additional forth step which is compressing the leaves into a certain shape, like the pu-erh cake shape, for instance. Regarding the black variety, it undergoes five steps of production. The first two are sun fixation and rolling, after which the leaves go through pilling, cooking and sun drying. The black variety can also be compressed in different shapes as an additional production step.
There are two main differences between pu-erh tea and other types of tea such as oolong, white, green or black tea. One of them is the authenticity of this type of tea and when we say authenticity we don’t mean that the other varieties are fake, but we mean that real pu-erh tea is only produced in one province of China, in Yunnan. In late 2008, the Chinese government approved a standard, declaring pu-erh tea as a “product with geographical indications”, which would restrict the naming of tea as pu-erh to tea produced within specific regions of the Yunnan province. The second difference is that related to the plant itself. Pu-erh tea is produced only of a special type of Camellia Sinensis, the tea plant, which features old and features broad leaves, while the other tea varieties don’t have these special requirements when it comes to the plant.
About Pu-erh Tea’s Popularity. History of the Most Popular Chinese Tea
The history of pu-erh tea is long and really interesting, dating back to the 7th century in the time of the Chinese Han Dynasty. This tea was born from the practical need of the merchants and consumers of a tea that wouldn’t spoil so easily and would be easy to transport.
Besides the mercantile evolution, there was another health related need which made pu-erh tea important. In Tibet people eat a lot of beef and mutton and they don’t have many vegetables around, so pu-erh tea helped them with the digestion problem and brought to their bodies important nutrients usually found in the vegetables. Pu-erh became popular in this region and it remained popular for centuries to come, up until present days.
The very first historical mention of pu-erh tea was in 862 when Fan Cheuk, an important scholar during Tang Dynasty wrote a book with the title “Meng Shu” which means “Book of Uncivilized Peoples”. There he actually describes the method of preparation of pu-erh tea, parts of this old method also being used today.
Another mention of pu-erh tea comes from the year 1391 when the fist emperor from the Ming Dynasty ordered the abolition of the compressed “moon-tea” (cake shaped pu-erh), because too much time was wasted with its production. Only loose leaves were allowed. A scholar named Zhao Yuan during the reign of the same dynasty wrote that this kind of tea was already extremely popular and everyone drank it with no difference referring to class or social status.
Finally in the Qind Dinasty, between 1644 and 1911, Pu-erh tea became a tribute tea starting with the second emperor of the dynasty. The tribute custom was really old and it meant that a special number of regions were selected to produce tea with the role of a gift for the royal court. Yunnan, the region which produces Pu-erh tea, was chosen among those fortunate regions, becoming highly popular and fashionable.
In 1879, the British and the French, in their quest of finding the best merchandise China had to offer, discovered this miracle tea and started to export it, making it known to the entire world.
Pu-erh Tea’s Varieties. Discover the Wonder World of Pu-erh
Depending on the processing and type of fermentation they are exposed to, pu-erh teas can be integrated into four distinct varieties.
Maocha represents the green pu-erh tea sold in the form of loose leaves. If it’s not processed correctly this type of tea would become an inferior pu-erh.
Green or raw pu-erh tea, also named sheng is in fact pressed maocha which hasn’t passed through all the classic steps of processing. It is a high quality tea, very appreciated and sought by tea collectors.
Ripened or cooked pu-erh tea, also known as black pu-erh tea or shou represents the pressed version of maocha and features a long fermentation process, taking about one year to get to the desired flavor and taste.
Aged raw pu-erh is a secondary-fermented tea which is not cooked as its black sister tea variety, but undergoes naturally aging process, very similar to that of green tea processing.
A significant number of shapes are available on the market: cake also known as disc, nest shape, brick shape, square shape, mushroom shape or melon shape.
Pu-erh is an exquisite variety of tea, really unique and highly appreciated by the ”connaiseurs”. Have you already tried this wonderful tea type? Fell free to share with us your impressions about pu-erh tea!
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