Get To Know The One-Of-A-Kind Pu-Er Tea
Pu-er tea is one of those rare beverages: It delights the taste buds and also has many health benefits. The Chinese have known this for thousands of years. Now, the West is beginning to appreciate the many fine qualities of Pu-er tea.
When microbes get to play, magical things happen in foods. Just think of cheeses and wines. This process is specifically known as fermentation. Fermentation is the magic that gives Pu-er its uniqueness. It’s also what separates Pu-er from other teas. Not only are layers of flavor developed in Pu-er; the astringency that is characteristic of black teas disappears. Fermentation also is also good for health.
China’s Special Tea
In ancient China, Pu-er was the tea of royal families and was given as a gift to foreign dignitaries. The Chinese revere this tea for both its taste and multiple health benefits. In China, Pu-er is discussed, argued over, and invested in. It was once described as more valuable than gold.
The discussions and speculation over Pu-er are due to subtle varieties in taste. Darjeeling, Keenum, and other black teas are easily described by their name. Pu-er’s nuanced-flavor is not so specifically described. Its essence depends on many factors, such as the exact area in Yunnan the leaves are grown, the size of leaves, the length of aging, and how it’s fermented.
The tea tree from which Pu-er comes from is deeply rooted in China. In 1991 a tree believed to be around 2700 years old was discovered in an ancient forest in Yunnan. Pu-er tea is so special in China the government restricts what can be called Pu-er. Only tea plants grown in and tea produced in the Yunnan prefecture can be designated Pu-er. Pu-er is also known as Puerh or Pu-erh.
Pu-er Ma Science and Art
Producing any tea is both a science and art. This cannot be overstated with the production of Pu-er tea. The multi-faceted process requires both knowledge and intuition at each step of the process in order to produce a tea with that certain je na sais quoi.
Some pu-ers are aged for decades. But, before it gets to the aging stage, it starts with the picking of the leaves. Categorizing and grading the leaves marks the first step in the quality of the tea that will be produced. An important second step involves drying the leaves just enough to stop oxidation, but retain some moisture.
Enough moisture needs to remain in the leaves to allow the magic of Mother Nature to happen aka fermentation. The dried leaves are formed into maochas, dried cakes. Maochas come in several shapes, which in ancient times was an effective method for transporting them. Cakes are sold or aged and then sold. The leaves of the cakes are flaked off to brew tea; it can take months or even years to finish off a cake.
There are also modern methods of helping this process along so it doesn’t take years for the tea to ferment. Pu-er tea can now be purchased in canisters in leaf form.
Pu-er Tea Benefits
Pu-er is not only prized for its complex, layered taste. The Chinese are well versed in its other special quality: Pu-er has properties that are beneficial for the body, such as antioxidants. Pu-er is high in the antioxidant polyphenol, a free radical scavenger. Antioxidants neutralize free radicals to prevent diseases. Polyphenols have also been shown to help prevent heart disease and looks promising for cancer prevention, osteoporosis, and neurodegenerative diseases.
In China and other Asian countries, Pu-er has been proven as an effective tool for weight management. It wasn’t known if this effect would apply to non-Asian populations. A recent clinical trial showed Pu-er is also good for weight management in non-Asian populations.[i]
The microbial action that creates Pu-er produces small amounts of lovastatin, a natural statin. The synthetic form of statin is prescribed to treat people with high cholesterol. Studies show that drinking Pu-er tea regularly over a period of time is beneficial for reducing LDL cholesterol and raising HDL cholesterol.
Pu-er tea in Traditional Chinese medicine is also said to be good for cleansing. It opens the meridians and removes toxins. Pu-er tea also aids in digestion. While pu-er has caffeine, it also has gaba and theanine that have been shown to reduce stress and help with sleep.
Pu-er is often described as tasting like the nuance of the forest with a sweet after-taste. It is also this deep connection to Mother Nature that gives it its many health benefits. Pu-er is a celebration of nature in both flavor and how it helps the human body.
[i] Jensen, Gitte, et al. Reduction of body fat an d improved lipid profile associated with daily consumption of Puer tea extract in a hyperlimpidemic population: randomized placebo-controlled trial. March 24, 2017
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Davis, Jeanie Lerche. Antioxidants in Green and Black Tea. Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/features/antioxidants-in-green-and-black-tea.
Falkowitz, Max. Why Tea Addicts Go Crazy for Pu-erh. Retrieved from https://www.seriouseats.com/2015/08/what-is-puerh-tea-where-to-buy.html.
Jensen, Gitte, et al. Reduction of body fat and improved lipid profile associated with daily consumption of Puer tea extract in a hyperlimpidemic population: randomized placebo-controlled trial. March 24, 2017. Clinical Interventions in Aging: Dove Press Journal.
Scalbert, Augustin, et al. Polyphenols: antioxidants and beyond (January 2005). Retrieved from https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/81/1/215S/4607494.