Pu-erh Tea – Potent and Popular
If you are a connoisseur of wine, then you will immediately understand the allure and fervor of Pu-erh, also known as Pu’er, tea. Pu-erh is not so much a type of tea as it is a method of processing and aging the tea, in order to develop the flavor and color of the final tea product. Dried pressed tea was historically developed for storage and ease of transport, but pu-erh has since become quite a delicacy in the tea world. Let’s dive into the fascinating facts of this tea product!
Red is the new Black
Just to add to the confusion over tea names, most North Americans consume what is known in this hemisphere as “black tea”. However, the Chinese actually call these varieties “red tea”. In China, the term “black tea” is reserved for Pu-erh tea, which is post-fermented blocks of tea leaves that have been treated according to specific recipes, and then left to ferment in order to allow the deep, rich undertones of the tea to develop. This process is also known as post-oxidization or secondary fermentation. Essentially, the leaves are heaped in a pile and microbial activity is allowed to take place in the piles of leaves, very similar to how a compost pile works, believe it or not!
Once the tea is sufficiently fermented, the tea is then collected and pressed into various shapes. The tea may be pressed into brick form, puck form, sheet form, or a variety of other creative shapes that are indicative of the factory producing the pu-erh and the quality of the tea. Once the tea has been pressed into its final form, it is then racked on shelves to age, sometimes for decades. Over time, the tea leaves will age and change color as they slowly oxidize in the air, and each variety and recipe of tea will age differently.
Generally, to brew pu-erh, a long, flat blade is used to pry off sections of the cake or brick. Since this tea tends to be higly prized (and very expensive!) it is commonly featured in a gungfu tea ceremony, where the elaborate brewing process can highlight the delicate and subtle undertones of the pu-erh tea. Much like wine, each variety of pu-erh has different qualities, and proper brewing of the tea is essential for connoisseurs to fully appreciate the wonderful experience that is pu-erh.