Pu-erh is one of the most popular teas in China and gets its name from a town in the southwestern province of the Yunnan region. Though tea is not grown in this town, it was at one time a thriving tea market.
Pu-erh is a large leaf variety or Dayeh, and is grown and picked throughout the year unlike other teas that require a dormant season. Although dark pu-erh tastes much like black tea, it is not black or oolong, but falls into a category of its own.
Processing is similar to black tea, with the exception of a couple of steps. The tea is picked, processed and partially fired, which allows the plant's leaves to retain their moisture. Next, the slightly moist tea is piled. Then, the natural bacterium on the tea leaves creates a chemical reaction similar to what happens with a compost pile.
The tea is then aged, in special underground rooms or caves, adding to its unique character. One of the most significant distinctions is that pu-erh tea gets better over time.
These aged teas are prized and can be found in vintages, like wine, some dating back 40 to 50 to 100 years.
Types and Brewing
The two main classifications are green and dark, or oxidized pu-erh. The tuo cha, meaning pressed, is a dark pu-erh tea. Tuo cha's were developed in early China trade because the teas were bulky and hard to transport.
Tea was pressed to compact the leaf, reducing the size of the loads for long journeys.
Dark pu-erh is just that, dark, due to the initial oxidation done before firing, like other black teas.
The teas age well and change over time, although not as significantly as green pu-erh. Not for the unadventurous drinker, they make a strong aromatic cup and most people are quick to judge whether they like or dislike the brew.
They are not for the unadventurous tea drinker. They make a strong aromatic cup and most people are quick to judge whether they like or dislike the brew.
There are a couple of things to consider before judging your taste of pu-erh tea.
The dark variety is the easiest to brew; unlike traditional tea preparation you can't over brew this tea. Prepare pu-erh tea with the hottest water possible and steep for 5-7 minutes or longer if you like.
You can wash your tealeaves once or twice to optimize the flavor. No matter what you do it is almost impossible to ruin this tea.
Whether in tuo cha or loose leaf forms, these unique teas have long been used in China for the medicinal benefits. The soothing properties, aid digestion and are perfect after heavy or greasy meals.
More recent studies indicate powerful cholesterol lowering effects, blood cleansing properties and aid significantly in weight loss efforts.
Many published studies have been done showing the enormous health benefits of this wonderful tea. The most eye opening of these studies was conducted in France several years ago.
A blind study was conducted with 500 hyperlipidemia patients (individuals with advanced cholesterol conditions, usually controlled with medication).
Half of the controlled group consumed 3-4 cups of pu-erh tea daily, while the rest of the participants were given something else.
After a 30-day period the results showed that drinking pu-erh on a regular basis could significantly lower cholesterol and further research confirmed that pu-erh was as effective as the most advanced cholesterol lowering medications available. This is just one of the many healthy benefits of this delicious tea.
This article was written by tea expert Beth Johnston of www.TeasEtc.com.
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