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King of Tea: Curative and Preventive Powers of Pu-erh Tea

Updated on February 18, 2014
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As a certified health and wellness coach, I love discussing food, health benefits, and how to keep weight in check.

Pu-erh Tea
Pu-erh Tea

Tea is drunk to forget the din of the world. ~T'ien Yiheng

Green tea has long stolen the limelight—what can this starlet not do? From banishing bad breath to trimming inches off the waist, green tea has all the answers. Now, along comes Pu-erh tea—kind of like the new kid on the block (it’s still bashful but it holds tremendous health capabilities ) but actually this tea has a long history of medicinal use—a 2,000 year history tracing back to the Eastern Han Dynasty (25 to 220 AD). Hailed from a small town called Pu-erh (hence the name) in the Yunnan province, it has been used for generations in China for its preventive and curative properties. Regarded by tea connoisseurs as the King of Tea, Pu-erh tea was once used as a form of currency in China and premium brands were often used as a tribute tea to the Emperors of China. To this day, it remains a highly valuable commodity and recent researches have uncovered bold health claims that are certain to put Pu-erh tea into the spotlight.

Freshly picked tea leaves
Freshly picked tea leaves
Loose pu-erh tea leaves
Loose pu-erh tea leaves
Compressed Pu-erh
Compressed Pu-erh

Each cup of tea represents an imaginary voyage. ~Catherine Douzel

What is Pu-erh Tea?

Pu-erh tea is harvested from a broad-leaved variety of an ancient strain of wild tea tree, otherwise known as Da Ye (direct translation = big leaf). It is picked and then put through a delicate maturation process culminating in the creation of “maocha” or “rough tea.” This rough tea can then undergo one of these two processes. If it is pressed into tea cakes in its raw form, it is known as green pu-erh. The other process is more involved and requires an induced aging process of 30 to 40 days, where the leaves are turned, splashed with water, covered with cloth and left to ferment. Once this fermenting process is achieved, it is then dried and press into tea cakes. The end result is cooked or black pu-erh. This induced speed-up process is developed by the Kunming Tea Factory in 1975 to hasten the process. Traditionally, pu-erh is pressed raw and left to ferment in vault for up to 100 years. And needless to say, like aged wine, aged pu-erh is highly priced and valued.

Pu-er is sold either in the loose leaves or compressed forms in the forms of many shapes, ranging from traditional round cakes to mushrooms, pyramids, coins, bricks and other shapes. The smell is musty and the tea yields a dark, muddy brown with a hint of red liquid when brewed. The taste is earthy yet mellow.

There is no trouble so great or grave that cannot be much diminished by a nice cup of tea.  ~Bernard-Paul Heroux

Traditional Use of Pu-erh

The Chinese believe that Pu-erh ta has greater health benefits than other teas. In traditional Chinese medicine, “internal dampness,” refers to a build-up of negative energy from the spleen’s inability to utilize energy that it receives from the stomach. This negative energy can sap the “qi” (pronounced chi) or energy out of a person. Pue-erh has the ability to inhibit this “internal dampness” by invigorating the spleen and the stomach to work in harmony. It is often used to remove toxins from the body, cure dysentery, induce weight loss, improve eye-sight, promote blood circulation and to reduce toxins in alcohol .

I always fear that creation will expire before teatime. ~Sydney Smith

Health Benefits of Pu-erh Tea

Now, more researches have surfaced to back up the health benefits of pu-erh. What are they, you may ask? Well, here are some solid answers:

  • Lower Cholesterol

In a recent study reported by the U.S. Library of Medicine, National Institutes of health, pu-erh exceeded green and black tea’s abilities to lower levels of trigycerides and is more efficient at lowering total cholesterol than oolong or black tea. They also found another twist, one that puts Pu-erh on the cholesterol-lowering pedestal: Pu-erh can both lower bad (LDI) cholesterol and increase good (HDL)cholesterol whereas the other teas tested (black, oolong and green) can only lower the cholesterol levels of both. This is significant as decreasing bad cholesterol and increasing good cholesterol can greatly improve your chance of fighting cardiovascular diseases. Good cholesterol has the ability to diminish bad cholesterol, which further reduces the levels of bad cholesterol.

So add pu-erh tea drinking to other cholesterol fighting foods like avocados, nuts and omega-3 fatty acids found in salmon and other cold-water fish.

Tea is a cup of life. ~Author Unknown

  • Weight Loss

For many, weight loss can be a constant battle. Fad diets can only do so much—fast weight loss followed by weight gain unless you have the stamina to keep up the grueling/punishing routine. What if you can include a beverage that can help you tip the scale a little downwards? Pu-erh is a very natural way of keeping the weight in check.

Pu-erh tea is rich in antioxidants. Together with naturally-occurring caffeine and minerals found in Pu-erh, it helps to suppress fatty acid synthase. This special ability to improve fat metabolism is due to the unique fermentation process to create special enzymes and microbes to produce micronutrients essential for better health—it helps to stimulate a more functional metabolism.

In the Chinese culture, they often drink tea with their meals. They believe that hot tea helps to flush out fats found in food. Try drinking a cup of freshly brewed pu-erh tea with each meal to help burn fats.

  • Improving Qi in the body

Qi is the body’s life energy. When you feel sluggish or listless, your qi is low. Pu-erh can restore qi to the body and revitalize you by boosting the flow of blood and overall circulation. This in turn, is believed to relive minor aches and pains.

  • Remove Toxins

Exposure to pollutants in the air or water, eating foods loaded with chemicals and saturated fats can increase toxins in your body. Toxicity generates damaging free radicals that can give rise to different forms of cancer and ill-health. Pu-erh has high levels of antioxidants, particularly epicatechin, one of its main polyphenols that can capture damaging free radicals. In addition, pu-erh exhibits both antimutagenic and antimicrobial properties, according to a report published in the Food and Science Technology article.

Tea's proper use is to amuse the idle, and relax the studious, and dilute the full meals of those who cannot use exercise, and will not use abstinence.  ~Samuel Johnson

How to brew Pu-erh Tea?

With so many health benefits attached to this ancient tea, why not enjoy a cup every day? You can buy Pu-erh tea from Asian grocery markets, specialty tea shops or online stores. Most people think that pressed cakes of Pu-erh tea has higher quality. This is not always the case. The quality of the tea depends on the region of harvest, the tea leaves, and the processing and fermenting process. Some aged Pu-erh (between 10 to 30 years) can cost thousands of dollars.

The best way to brew is to steep Pu-erh in full boiling water (around 93 to 100 degrees Celsius). Leave it in the water for 2 to 5 minutes. It can be infused many times.

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