Guest Author - Heather J. Hasan
Imagine a tea with such a wide range of health benefits that the Chinese have considered it a cure-all for at least a millennium. Imagine a tea so ancient that it was a favorite of Kublai Khan and his Army as they traveled through China in the 13th century. This tea is Pu-Erh, one of the oldest and most revered medicinal teas of China.
Pu-Erh (pronounced poo-air) is a tea made from a large-leaf variety of the plant Camellia sinensis called "dayah" which grows in Southern China and parts of Southwestern Asia. The taste of Pu-Erh is rich and earthy and the color of the liquor is usually a deep reddish brown hue. The taste and the classification of Pu-Erh is dependant upon how long the tea has been fermented and whether the fermentation was achieved through a natural process over time or by artificial means. Green Pu-Erh describes the naturally fermented tea while black Pu-Erh describes the artificially fermented tea.
This history-rich tea is believed have been discovered as early as the Shang Dynasty (1600–1046 B.C.) and as late as the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907 A.D.).The name Pu-Erh comes from the town Pu-Erh in Yunnan province, where the tea was first harvested and where the best Pu-Erh tea still comes from today. Pu-Erh was highly regarded in ancient China. It was often given to royalty as gifts. At one time, Pu-Erh tea bricks were used as currency. Histories shows that Pu-Erh has been a charished tea in China for centuries.
The alleged health benefits of Pu-Erh tea are innumerable. The Chinese believe that Pu-Erh can cure and prevent a number of ailments including dysentery, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, and an over indulgence of alcohol. Pu-Erh is also believed to aid in weight-loss, reduce inflammation, control diabetes, improve eye site, and has strong anti-aging components. Because of the anti-aging properties, the tea is sometimes used in skin care products.
Authentic Pu-Erh tea is typically sold in bricks and cakes by the ounce, but in recent years it has become available in convenient tea bags. Older Pu-Erh sells for more because aged Pu-Erh is said to taste better and the health benefits are magnified. The tea must be properly preserved, however, because mold and insect infestations can occur if the tea is improperly stored. If mold and insect infestations occur, the tea can do more harm than good. Always make sure to check the tea cakes or bricks before you buy them and before you brew the tea. Your best bet would be to buy the tea in bag form. Also: make sure that you are buying from a reputable company. I recommend Stash Tea Company, who has colaborated with Yamamotoyama Tea Co. to present a line of authentic teas of China and Japan. I have done business with this company for many years and I have never received an unsatisfactory batch of tea from them.
As for brewing a perfect cup of Pu-Erh tea, make sure to use fresh, cold water. Bottled or filtered water would be an excellent choice. Once the water reaches boiling point in the kettle, let the water cool for about a minute then pour over the tea leaves or bag. Steep for approximately 3 minutes and do not add milk or sweetener. Pu-Erh tea is traditionally served in Gaiwan-style cups which can be purchased at World Market, Stash Tea Company website, and many places that sell Asian home decor.
Drink to your health and enjoy!