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Pu-erh tea has sometimes been described as the marmite of teas. You'll either love it or hate it! However, for those true tea connoisseurs, pu-erh tea is considered the finest of teas available today. All tea is made from varieties of the Camellie Sinensis or tea plant. Pu-erh tea is no exception, though it is one of the oldest types of teas in China. This king of teas takes its name from Pu'er in south west China in the Yunnan province where it was traditionally traded. For a brief time after the Communist Revolution in China, Pu'er was known as Simao, but with rising interest in the tea and the obvious economic and touristic advantages, the name was changed back in 2007. The history of Pu-erh tea is a facinating subject in and of itself, because apart from being used as a refreshing and health giving drink, it was also used as money, so valuable was it seen as. In fact, for many years, so prized was this tea that it was given to the Emperor and high ranking officials as a gift and tribute. As often happens in China, sometimes rare or expensive items (such as extremely fine tea or ginseng) takes on an almost mythical status and pu-erh tea is no exception; somewhere in it's rich history, it was said that drinking the tea would stop aging and promote immortality (one of the reasons it was given as a gift to the Emperor).
Pu-erh; closely guarded
The tea plantations for this unique tea are found high up in the mountains of Yunnan where the land is fertile and the natural landscape is still unspoiled. The recipes and methods of production for Pu-erh tea are guarded closely, and much like Cognac which can only come from a specific region in France, only Pu-erh tea from Yunnan is considered true Pu-erh tea. Pu-erh tea normally comes in tea cakes - compressed patties of tea leaves, rather than loose as many other green teas come.
The great Pu-erh tea poll
Have you ever tried drinking Pu-erh tea?
What makes Pu-erh tea so special?
One of the things that makes Pu-erh so special is the post fermentation process that ages the tea. The aging process, much like aging wine or whiskey, enhances the various flavours and properties of the tea, adding complexity to the taste. Older Pu-erh teas, like older wines can fetch astonishingly high prices. Because of the aging process, Pu-erh tea has a rich variety of appearance, taste and aroma so you are sure to find some Pu-erh tea that suits your pallate. The tea can be bought raw (which would be similar to many other green teas) or ripened (post fermented). Spanning both tea types means that you can't really classify the tea as one or the other, though because the ripened version is so much more prized and so much more expensive, most tea sellers simply ignore the green tea version of it and focuss on the post fermented tea.
The aging process is an art in itself and there are many variables to control which will make the tea age more quickly or more slowely, depending on the recipe and intended outcome of the tea by the tea maker. Obviously the tea leaf quality is the most important factor - the better the leaf the better the eventual tea, but the compression of the tea leaves and air flow, humidity, temperature and exposure to sunlight are all factors which can be controlled to age the tea in specific ways. The teas have optimal life spans and a good tea master or producer will tell you when your tea will be at its optimum age - this could be anything up to 30 years, and sometimes even longer. Luckily, for those of us without a lifetime in tea tasting and appreciation, there are many excellent online tea shops that we can use to purchase pu-erh tea from, and most of them are happy to help you choose the tea that will be best suited to you. Finding a reputable tea dealer is also paramount to make sure you are not being served fake pu-erh tea.
The health benefits of Pu-erh tea
Pu-erh tea has long been purported to have numerous health benefits; and the better (and more expensive) tea is made from wild old trees which are considered more potent and have stronger Qi or life force (in Chinese Medecine, Qi is considered the source of everything and it's concept underpins Chinese Medicine and many of the health giving arts like tai chi and qi gong). The Chinese have known about the medicinal properties of green tea for a very long time (some sources say as long as 4000 years), and teas and various infusions are often used in Chinese Medicine for to help cure all manner of ailments from the common cold to arthritis to lowering high cholesterol. There is even some research into using green teas to inhibit the grownt of cancer. The Chinese believe that pu-erh tea has greater health benefits than any other green tea. In Chinese Medicine, pu-erh tea invigorates the Spleen and inhibits damp, which basically helps us have more energy and boosts our immune system. The antioxidants in pu-erh tea are called flavanoids and are responsible for reducing blood blood pressure and cholesteol. More immediately usefull for those of us who enjoy a night out is the reviving properties of this tea which help flush out alcohol and recover from a hangover more quickly.
Enjoy your Pu-erh tea
Even though it can seem like a complex subject, enjoying Pu-erh tea is something everyone can appreciate. Behind all the mythology and history and carefully production and precise brewing, tea is simply a fantastic drink that anyone should be able to sit down and enjoy.
I hope you gained a glimpse of the facinating world of Pu-erh tea with my hub and that feel inspired to order some, invite some friends round for the afternoon and try this wonderfull drink!