What is this “Pu-erh” You Speak Of?

You may or may not have already heard about “Puerh” tea, an ancient form of Chinese tea that is carefully aged and fermented over time. “Puerh” is the name for the tea in Mandarin, and “Bolay” or “Polay” is it’s name in Cantonese. The tea itself is named after the Pu’er province in Yunnan, China. The best and true Puerh teas come from extremely old, wild tea trees. These teas are highly sought after and valuable, due to the increasing scarcity of these trees as well as an increase of faux puerh production utilizing other types of tea leaves. The tea plant itself, if left to its own devices, will indeed grow into a large tree. However, since plucking tea leaves off of anything that is higher than your own body is extremely difficult, the tea plants are kept pruned to a more managable height.

Puerh has long been considered a healthy tea by the Chinese, and medicinally, is believed to invigorate the spleen, relieve dampness, counteract alcohol toxins (ie, hangover cure), release stomach heat, and descend stomach qi (or chi). Puerh has also been considered a weight loss supplement due to its ability to aid in fat metabolism. So next time you roll through the line at McD’s, do yourself a favor and wash it down with some puerh!
There are two types of processed Puerhs: Raw (aka green), and ripened or (aka cooked). Raw puerh is converted into “maocha,” which means “rough tea.” This is done by spreading the leaves in the sun to remove some of the water content and to wilt the leaves a bit. After that, the leaves are pan-fried in a wok to arrest all enzymatic activity and stop further fermentation. The leaves can then be rolled and shaped, and are given another sun bath. Once it is dry then voilá, you’ve got your green puerh.
Ripened puerhs undergo an additional process that imitates bacterial and fungal fermentation by controlling humidity, temperature, and the aging process. The process itself is very similar to composting. (Think hot, humid foodstuffs churning in the sun. Yum!) This takes 6 months to a year (and up, sort of like wine), and if it isn’t carefully overseen, then you could end up with a not-so-pleasant tasting tea. The older the puerh, generally the more revered it is.
After the fermentation, some puerhs go on to be compressed into small cakes or bricks called “touchas,” typically using a hydraulic or lever press.

Puerh is certainly an adventure for your taste buds if you have never tried it before. The first time I tasted Puerh, I thought it tasted like garden dirt in hot water, and I vowed never to drink it again. However, after continuing to hear about its many health benefits (mostly when I would explain them to customers) I figured I would give it another go. While traditional puerh certainly has an extremely earthy flavor, it is a flavor that grows on you, much like beer and mustard do after the age of 12. ish.

Green puerh, according to TeaSpot founder Maria Uspenski, tastes like “bacon and eggs.”
“Most green puerhs are smoky,” she says, in comparison to black puerhs. And I will have to take her word for it because I am certainly green myself when it comes to tasting these teas.

Whether you are new to puerh or not, the best way to learn what you like most is to get out there and try them. Our downtown store carries two varieties: a black, 7-8 year Aged Puerh that is very lovely and smooth, as well as a Green Puerh Chrysanthemum Toucha, which is, now that I think about it, rather smoky. Another great thing about puerh is you can re-steep it many times and still have a great cuppa. Our Bolder Breakfast Blend also incorporates pu’erh in the mix – inspiring its “Bolder” name!

So get thee out there and drink puerh! Immediately!

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