Robust and earthy yet mellow and smooth, puerh tea (pronounced "POO-air" and sometimes spelled pu-erh or puer) is the most complex tea in the world. Tea aficionados love the rich, multi-layered flavors, while casual tea drinkers enjoy the smoky quality that separates it from other blends.
In Asia, some blends go for several thousands of dollars. Tea connoisseurs seek the aged varieties, prizing them as others would an aged Scotch. Lucky for the rest of the world, the sought-after tea, is available at every price point.
The Puerh Difference
The distinctive flavor and rare varieties that command premium dollars are due to pu-erh's extensive fermentation and aging. Most tea types undergo a process that includes plucking leaves, withering, rolling, oxidizing, firing and packaging.
Producers of puerh tea do all those steps too, except some of the steps are more complex – and then the tea is aged to perfection. Some Chinese tea producers have been carefully guarding the secret of their methods for centuries. Europe has its aged wine and ripened gourmet cheese, and China has its aged pu-erh tea, among other specialties.
After aging, the tea may be packed into cakes or pressed into decorative shapes. This style of packing made it convenient in ancient China to transport the tea for trading.
In fact, puer tea was developed by tea growers living high in the mountains of Yunnan, China. They had to cover long distances in rustic times so their tea had to survive a long journey.
Anyone who has ever kept regular black tea around for too long in poor conditions will know it quickly gets stale. Not pu-erh. If stored properly, it remains fresh for ages.
Distinct Flavor from the Aging Process
Tea is all about taste, of course, so tea lovers who have never tried puerh will be pleased with the markedly different, delicious, and smooth taste. It's this extensive oxidizing and aging process that give this tea its unique flavor.
Like fine wine and good cheese, pu-erh tea gets better with time. This is not the case with other types of tea. In fact, some puerhs are aged for more than 50 years and are prized for the superb, mellow taste they acquire over time.
In China, this tea is widely believed to deliver a full spectrum of health benefits. It is purported to help with weight loss, lowering serum cholesterol, and promoting cardiovascular health.
Outside of ancient Chinese folk wisdom, studies have supported the theory that this tea may be beneficial in reducing LDL ("bad") cholesterol and triglycerides. However, these studies are preliminary.
It is important to note that, while other tea types are known for their antioxidant properties, puer has lower levels of the naturally occurring chemical because of the extensive fermentation that occurs during processing.
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This article on puer tea was written by Cat Tims.