Our next lesson was on the unique puerh and we tasted five different teas. Puerh is defined as a large-leafed, sundried tea that is either fermented or post-fermented and comes from Yunnan, which is in mountainous western China – all puerh comes from Yunnan. In this type of tea, naturally occurring microorganisms ferment the leaves over long periods of time, much like wine and cheese. This creates a very distinctive, earthy, full flavor that tends to be an acquired taste.
There are actually two different types of puerh tea:
To create raw puerh, tea leaves are steamed to make them pliable and are piled up to allow them to ferment while being turned regularly. Once this fermentation is complete, the leaves are then compressed into cakes or bricks. Compressed forms continue aging and are not considered drinkable until at least six years old. The older, the better.
Also called "cooked" puerh. This type of puerh is a more recent development from the 1970s. The process to create it involves a controlled fermentation: leaves are steamed, then laid out and covered with tarps. Water is placed on the tarps and it’s left to sit for several months to ferment. Unlike raw puerh, ripe puerh is ready to drink after only a couple years.
- If using a brick or cake, just break or chisel off a piece to brew.
- Always rinse the tea for 20-30 seconds with the hottest water you can get before steeping the puerh to drink.
- Puerh can usually be brewed several times and with each brew the flavor of the tea changes. With each subsequent brew, allow the tea to steep a bit longer than the time before.
- Try not to store puerh in the kitchen as it can easily absorb odors; avoid storing it in plastic for the same reason. Find a cool, dark place and store it so it gets a bit of air – it’s typically wrapped in paper so it can breathe.
Fun Facts About Puerh
- It's the only tea created to be aged.
- It was originally compressed into bricks to make it easier to travel with and carry. Bricks also made the tea easier to trade.
- Bricks of puerh are made in molds that are then pressed. Cakes are made in cotton bags that are steamed, tightly twisted and then placed into a press.
- The color of the water from brewed puerh can range from dark red to inky black.
- One can get many flavors from puerh, including: earthy, damp, tobacco, leafy, floral, dried fruit, chocolate.
- The leaves for puerh are picked in the summer. The summer sun isn’t hot enough to stop oxidation completely and so the leaves are partially oxidized. This form of oxidation is more natural and rustic than the oxidation of other teas.
- It’s used as a replacement for coffee because of its strong, bold taste.
- Puerh has a big cult following in China and connoisseurs around the world. They say it’s very good for health, however there isn’t any scientific backing behind this.
Get ready for the focus of my next post: green tea!