A friend of mine recently returned from a few months in Asia and brought me a package of Pu-Erh Tea. I commented that the small package looked like a bag of candy and she laughed saying “everything looks like a candy in Taiwan”.
The package contained several small cakes of packed tea leaves wrapped in thin paper. Each one of them makes a pot of tea or you can break off smaller pieces for a cuppa.
I love tea, particularly oolong and certain types of green tea. I especially enjoy the grassy green flavour. That’s why my preference is green tea or the greener type of oolong. I usually stay away from the earthy black teas. I always thought of Pu-Erh tea as a very earthy tea and wasn’t particularly keen on it despite its renowned reputation of an awesomely healthy drink.
But I tried my friend’s gift with an open mind and heart; it was a cool, damp spring day and a warm earthiness seemed like a pleasant flavour to experience. And it was; smooth, rich and warming. I can’t get enough of it. It sweeps through the belly smoothly, warming the body.
I looked up some information on this gift from mother nature and inventive humans who took advantage of the bacteria already living on the leaves of the tea to ferment it into a health promoting tea.
Theoretically, only aged tea grown in the Yunnan region of China can be called Pu-Erh. There are the wild varieties of tea leaves and cultivated ones ranging from tips of the leaves to stems. Different estates grow different varieties similarly to vineyard estates. Pu-Erh is actually the real Black Tea. What we commonly call black tea is actually known as Red Tea in China.
Two Kinds of Pu-Erh
Depending on how Pu-Erh is processed it comes in two varieties: Green (Sheng) and Black (Shou). The Black variety has the additional processing step of heaping the leaves in a pile to facilitate fermentation. Both varieties are then stored for aging. Pu-Erh teas differ from other teas and derive their unique flavor by the technique of sun-drying the leaves
It is the heaping of the leaves into a pile that starts the natural breakdown process of fermentation which creates heat and “cooks” the leaves. This adds a highly-prized complexity, depth and smoothness to the tea different from the green variety.
Pu-Erh tea is said to aid in digestion and fat breakdown, weight loss and like other tea leaves is high in anti-oxidants. The Chinese teas have lower caffeine content than the tea varieties grown in India and the fermented teas tend to be lower in caffeine due to the processing. If you’re interested in reducing the caffeine content of a tea discard the first quick brew and steep the next brew for a very short time.
Do you like Pu-Erh? Where do you get your favourite kind? Share in the comments.