When dealing with pu-erh tea, we are dealing with the “fine wine” of China! There is the same intense devotion of the lovers of the beverage, the same labyrinth of grading and certification, the same conflicts over the best soil, the best leaves, the best methods of processing, the best way to serve the brew.
Pu-erh also can benefit tremendously from careful aging. It is variously spelled as “pu’er” and “pu-erh,” and is sometimes known as bolay tea among the Cantonese Chinese. Pu-erh tea is almost always sold in the form of compressed bricks of tea, in several sizes and shapes, from oval balls to perfect cubes weighing anywhere between 10 and 2000 grams.
While some pu-erh tea is manufactured in counties of Guangdong and Hunan provinces, almost 90 percent of pu-erh tea is made in Yunan Province, bordering the nations of Myanmar, Laos, and Vietnam in the mountains that give birth to the Mekong River. In the 1600’s the Chinese government set aside six mountains to specifically grow the tea trees used in pu-erh tea.
Pu-erh tea leaves go through the same treatments as green tea until the stage of drying is done. Then, the green tea that is intended for pu-erh production is separated out. It is referred to a “maocha” at this point. Depending on the intended market, the maocha might be allowed to sit and age in a loose state, called “raw pu-erh.”
It might also be compressed and allowed to age in that condition, as “ripened pu-erh.” Some bricks have been stored for hundreds of years! Ripened pu-erh that has aged undergoes a process of fermentation that creates to the true flavors of the pu-erh tea, and for this reason, pu-erh is often describes as a “post-fermentation” tea.
There is a relatively new technique called “wet piling” that can be applied to ripened pu-erh, which duplicates the aging process and ensures a fermentation of the leaves. Wet piling is not considered an illegitimate method of manufacture in China, but it is significant that pu-erh tea fermented by natural aging still brings a much higher price in the marketplace.
Pu-erh tea is beloved for its dark red color and earthy flavor. It can be completely free of the astringent quality of almost all other teas. Good pu-erh is clear and fragrant. The sweetness of pu-erh can be strong or light.
It is often used for several brewing, with the first steeping considered to be inferior to the second and third. Traditional Chinese Medicine posits that pu-erh tea is a fine treatment for weight loss. Modern studies indicate that pu-erh tea is an excellent material for lowering LDL cholesterol.
Because gourmands of tea will pay top prices for aged pu-erh tea, there is a considerable problem with certification in the market. Fraudulent labels are common. Many factories that specialize in Pu-erh production are taking steps to combat this problem, adding multiple micro labels to assure their customers of quality and source.
You can fid legitimate cakes of pu-erh that are 50 years old, and there are even some bricks that date to the Ming Dynasty still for sale at thousands of dollars!
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