What is pu-erh tea, exactly?
Darjeeling may be considered the Champagne of Teas, but it is pu-erh that has the most in common with wine. Unlike other teas, which are ready (and best) to consume straight after production, the best pu-erh is aged for years before it is used.
Pu-erh tea is fermented. It may or may not be oxidized, depending on the type of pu-erh (see below).
Pu-erh is sold in loose leaf or compressed form. It is compressed into many different shapes, from traditional round cakes to mushrooms, pyramids, coins and other shapes.
In China, pu-erh tea is known as black tea; what we know as black tea is called red tea in China.
Where is pu-erh tea grown?
Pu-erh gets its name from Pu’er county in southern Yunnan Province, China. From this region, pu-erh is made from extra large leaves plucked from long-lived tea bushes, which are plentiful in Yunnan Province.
Check out this website for more about Yunnan tea.
What are the main types of pu-erh tea?
There are two main types of pu-erh:
Sheng pu-erh is not oxidized (it is also known as “raw” or “green” pu-erh). Sheng pu-erh is traditional pu-erh, made to age for years before consumption. Mao Cha is the young sheng pu-erh, which requires proper storage and aging. This is cheaper than naturally aged sheng pu-erh, which can be consumed immediately or allowed to age even longer.
Shou pu-erh, on the other hand, is made to be enjoyed immediately. Invented by enterprising tea artisans in the 1970s who needed a way to satisfy growing demands for ready-to-drink pu-erh, shou pu-erh is oxidized (thus, it is also known as “black” or “cooked” pu-erh) to accelerate the aging process. Shou pu-erh is generally not as complex as sheng pu-erh, but it is much more affordable and can be drink within two or three years.
What’s the best way to brew pu-erh tea?
Pu-erh is best brewed in full rolling boil water around the 93°-100°C (200°-212°F). The same leaves can be infused many times, with each infusion revealing something different. You can steep pu-erh between 2 and 5 minutes, though I’ve seen suggestions around the internet that pu-erh can have a much shorter infusion time. As with any tea, experiment.
What are the health benefits of drinking pu-erh tea?
Scientific studies into the health benefits of pu-erh tea appear to have been conducted primarily on rats, so it is quite impossible to know for sure what the health benefits of drinking pu-erh might be. One study found that rats with pu-erh tea in their diet lost weight and cholesterol. Pu-erh’s ability to lower cholesterol has been examined in other studies, but again, results were not tested on humans. Another experiment on rats suggested that pu-erh tea can protect against bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus (also known as golden staph).
Does pu-erh tea contain caffeine?
As with every other tea made from Camellia sinensis, pu-erh tea contains caffeine.
For related information, see my earlier post about the caffeine content of green tea.
Where can I buy pu-erh tea online?
To begin with, browse the Tea Finely Brewed marketplace to compare pu-erh teas from different tea merchants.
Pu-erh tea is growing in popularity, so you can find it amongst better known teas at shops like Adagio Teas (see their Pu-erh Dante and Pu-erh Poe), >Mighty Leaf and Numi Organic Tea. These shops aren’t specialists, but they can help you get a basic introduction to the world of pu-erh.
Pu-erh tea can get very expensive, so if you’re a beginner, I’d recommend starting with a few cheaper examples from the shops above to get yourself acquainted. Once you’re sufficiently familiar with pu-erh, check out these pu-erh specialists.
Yunnan Sourcing is an eBay store specializing in pu-erh teas. They have a huge range, with over 500 pu-erh varieties. However, they ship from China, so shipping can sometimes take a while.
Finally, I also recommend you check out The Half-Dipper, an excellent blog from one very astute tea aficionado with a particular fondness for pu-erh teas.
Other posts in this series