A Quick Overview of Puerh Tea
This month you may have received a little surprise Puerh cake in your tea delivery. This traditional tea is made by moulding leaves together in the shape of spheres, disks and bricks. When infused, the leaves release and create a brew that's deep, dark and earthy. The taste and processing make it unlike any other tea in the world - keep reading to find out why.
The Tea Horse Road
Compressed tea from the Yunnan province of China dates back to the 7th century, when teas were transported along the southern Silk Road in exchange for Tibetan ponies.
The teas were plucked, dried and compressed into bricks with stones or hand presses to make them easier to carry and trade. During the long journey, often in hot humid conditions, bacteria most likely flourished to help create its unique flavour...
Bacteria and Fermentation
Hundreds of years later, the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) developed what we currently know to be puerh tea; tea that is processed to ferment over time.
While fermentation and oxidation are sometimes used interchangeably, the processes are actually very different. Oxidation is a result of plant enzymes reacting to oxygen (similar to a cut apple turning brown) while fermentation involves the slow process of bacteria metabolizing carbohydrates and amino acids (similar to milk becoming yogurt).
Raw vs. Ripe
As demand for puerh tea increased in Hong Kong and China, prices skyrocketed and in 1973 the Menghai Tea Factory invented a way to simulate the aging process.
By applying warmth and humidity to the dried tea leaves, the "piling" process approximates the natural aging process and speeds up fermentation to achieve vintage qualities within a fraction of the time.
This type of tea is called "ripe" or "cooked" puerh while the traditional aged tea is considered "raw." Properly vintaged, compressed raw teas are the most highly regarded of puerh teas.
Brewing Puerh Tea
The traditional method is to brew with a Chinese gaiwan (lidded bowl) or yixing (purple clay) teapot, but a normal teapot and strainer work as well.
A tea needle or tea knife is used to break leaves off puerh cakes, and is an artform in itself. If you received a mini puerh cake in your September delivery, simply unwrap and place into the strainer.
If possible, rinse the leaves with a small amount of boiling water before brewing with filtered or spring water. As usual the longer the brew time, the stronger the taste... so experiment to discover what works best for you!
The Chinese credit puerh with many health benefits, such as weight loss and cholesterol reduction, and puerh is commonly served with dim sum to aid digestion. However, few studies exist to support these claims and we'd warn against purchasing any tea labelled as a diet aid. For now, simply enjoy puerh for its rich history and distinctive flavour.
Stop by our exclusive shop for members! We currently have a couple puerh teas available for sale and will add more after our October teas ship...