There are few teas more complex or unusual than Pu Erh. Produced in the Chinese province of Yunnan, this tea has a distinctly deep and earthy flavour. All tea leaves come from the same plant (Camellia Sinensis), however the different processing methods result in the different types of tea: whilst green teas are not fermented, oolong teas are partially fermented, and black teas are fully fermented, Pu Erh teas are ‘post-fermented’ – this is because after fermentation there is prolonged storage stage under high humidity.
Pu Erh tea falls into two categories; raw and ripe. The two types vary slightly in their processing method:
1. Plucked tea leaves are withered in the sun – this removes moisture and allows the leaves to breathe.
2. The leaves are then pan-fried – this deactivates the enzymes and prevents further oxidation (/fermentation).
3. When rolled, the leaves twist and break, which allows them to release their essential oils.
4. Then again, the leaves are dried in the sun to remove any more moisture.
5. At this stage, the loose raw Pu Erh leaves can be sold as such, or compressed into cakes or bricks.
6. To produce ripe Pu Erh the leaves are fermented further through a process called ‘piling’ and the leaves are aged. Just like vintage wines, aged Pu Erh often gets better with age!
The tastes of Pu Erh teas cover a whole spectrum of flavour: smoky, vegetal, floral and sometimes fruity.
Making Pu Erh tea in a pot:
1. Warm a small teapot up by pouring in boiling water, then pouring away after 10 seconds.
2. Place roughly a teaspoon of Pu Erh (loose leaves or a small cutting from a cake/block) inside the teapot.
3. Rinse with hot water, whilst being careful not to pour the water directly on the leaves. Avoid using boiling water on the leaves, as this will result in a harsh and bitter taste.
4. For the first infusion, pour hot water into the pot again, but let the leaves infuse for a couple of minutes before serving into cups.
5. Re-infuse the leaves as desired. Further infusions have a much shorter steeping time than the first.
The benefits of drinking Pu Erh:
Pu Erh contains a higher level of antioxidants than many other teas and has anti-inflammatory properties, making it an incredibly beneficial health drink. Lovastatin, produced throughout the fermentation and aging of Pu Erh, is not found in other tea varieties; this compound is often used in medicines for lowering cholesterol levels, and reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease. Pu Erh tea also aids in digestion, reduces stress levels and promotes weight loss; frequent drinking often results in better overall health.