What makes Pu-erh tea so unique? Well, just about everything. The growing conditions of the region, the kind of tea used, and an unusual fermenting process all add up to this very special tea.
As with many varieties of teas and coffees, Pu-erh is named after the region where it was first harvested. There is a small town in the Yunnan province called Pu-erh, and trade in this type of tea was very heavy there. They harvest the tea from a broad-leaved variety of tea, that is supposedly a very ancient strain of tea.
All teas have a wide spectrum of health benefits, but Pu-erh has an extra one. Drinking Pu-erh tea can help reduce cholesterol, according to scientific studies. By helping digestion (particularly of fatty foods), Pu-erh is the perfect tea after a heavy meal. Accounts on the health benefits and medical use of Pu-erh tea has been documented in various ancient scripts and famous books throughout Chinese history. Pu-erh tea is strongly believed to have wide ranging health benefits from anti aging, prevention of heart disease and cancer, diabetic control, removal of toxins to curing dysentery, inflammation, aiding digestion and weight loss, improving the eyesight, blood circulation and reviving those who are overly intoxicated with alcohol.
The most prevalent microorganism found in fermenting Pu-erh teas is the fungus Aspergillus niger, but there are many others—and which ones are dominant in any given batch can make a big difference in the outcome. For obvious reasons, this is a matter of great concern to Chinese teamakers and scientists alike.
Chinese researchers recently investigated the effects of a variety of fermentation-inducing microorganisms on the levels of three substances in Pu-erh tea: lovastatin, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), and polyphenols (as a class); they also measured antioxidant activity in the teas
The brewed tea is darkly red, and has a bold, earthy taste. For optimum brewing, use boiling water. Unlike most other teas, Pu-erh is usually purchased in a compressed state rather than loose leaves. The leaves are pressed together during processing into a variety of shapes. The ‘tea bricks’ once used as currency were typically made with Pu-erh tea.
The flavour of Pu-erh is often under-appreciated, because it actually gets better with age. Letting it mellow will improve your cup of tea. You can buy very old samples of Pu-erh, but they will cost you. Some aged Pu-erh has been in storage for several years.