Pu-erh tea (also commonly known as ‘puer,’ ‘pu’er,’ ‘po lei’ and ‘bolay’ tea) is mainly refer to the teas soucing from Yunnan, China. Pu-erh tea is known for its health benefits.
Pu-erh Tea’s Flavor
Good quality pu-erh tea has a deep, rich flavor. The flavor and reputed health benefits of pu-erh tea also make it a great option for drinking as a digestif after a heavy meal.
Pu-erh originated thousands of years ago in the Yunnan Province of China, where large-leaf tea trees (Dayeh) grow. Its history relates closely to the tea trade between China and other nations (notably Tibet), and it is named for the town from which it was originally sold en route to other countries (Pu’er City). It was originally compressed into shapes for more efficient transit, and it acquired its dark color and flavor due to natural fermentation in transit to its final destinations.
For many years, pu-erh has been aged. The aging process results in a slow fermentation, and it can take about 3-5 years at least for a ‘raw’ (unfermented) pu-erh to get the dark color and flavor that pu-erh drinkers desire. In the 1970s, a style of processing called shou (Ripe Pu-Erh)processing (or ‘cooking’) was developed to expedite the fermentation process.
Raw pu-erh is made from the minimally processed leaves of the large-leaf Yunnan tea tree, and then carefully aged under supervised conditions before it is consumed. This style of pu-erh is often aged for 3 years above and can be aged for much longer for a deeper, richer, smoother, more complex flavor.
Ripe Pu-Erh processing involves the application of heat and moisture, as well as the inoculation of the tea leaves with beneficial bacteria. It takes about a year for harvested tea leaves to become ‘ripened’ or ‘finished’ pu-erh. Some ‘ripened’ pu-erhs are also aged for a flavor more similar to traditionally produced pu -erh.
Pu-erh Tea Shapes
One of the more distinctive characteristics of pu-erh tea is its many shapes. Pu-erh commonly comes in shaped forms, such as bricks, cakes (which are disc-shaped and also known as ‘bing cha’) and ‘tuo cha’ (which are shaped like tiny bowls). These shapes make the transport and storage of pu-erh convenient.
Pu-erh may also be in loose form (like other loose-leaf teas) or packed into pomelo fruit or bamboo stalks. Occasionally, it is available in teabags.
How to Blew Pu-erh Tea
If you’re making pu-erh from a compressed form of tea (rather than loose-leaf pu-erh), you’ll need to gently pry off about a teaspoon or two of leaves. You can use a pu-erh knife (available from most pu-erh retailers) or another small, dull knife to do this.
Once you have your pu-erh leaves ready to steep, you’ll want to ‘rinse’ them, especially if the pu-erh is aged rather than cooked. Although some people say this is to remove dust that has settled on the tea during the aging process, it is actually to remove the dust that has formed as the pu-erh has fermented, as well as to ‘awaken’ the leaves (prepare them for infusion). To rinse your pu-erh, place the tea leaves in a brewing vessel, pour near-boiling water over them and then quickly discard the water.