As the health food craze comes to a boom in many western nations, one of the products currently in the spotlight is Pu-erh tea. A traditional Chinese tea. Reported to alleviate high blood cholesterol levels, and aid in relief of stomach discomfort, along with increase metabolism. While many commercial goods masquerading as ‘health food’ also claim to remedy these same issues, pu-erh tea is definitely worth a second look. In this brief article, we will discuss the factors which make pu-erh tea so unique.
Also known as Bolay tea, pu-erh can be purchased in a vast variety of shapes and ages, from sheng (raw/green) to shou (ripe). It can be compared to wine in this manner. The post fermented tea has no valid expiration date, and can be consumed immediately, or allowed to age for a non-descriptive amount of time. Similarly, older pu-erh is more expensive than younger cakes. It has been reported that fifty year-old pu-erh can often go for five thousand dollars at auction. The tricky part? Determining the tea’s actual age. For centuries, some Chinese citizens have been attempting to market relatively young pu-erh as an older variety.
When the ripe, large tea leaves used to make pu-erh are harvested from the oldest trees present, they are carefully spread out in the sun to remove excess water. Caution is used not to expose these leaves to moisture or humidity. Afterwards, the leaves are pan-fried in a large wok to prevent further oxidation. Then, the leaves are shaped into strands, placed out in the sun once again, and bad leaves are removed. Finally, this finished product may go one of two possible routes: pressing to become raw pu-erh, or more processing to become ripened pu-erh. On a rare occasion, it may be sold in this loose-leaf form as raw pu-erh.
When pressing has been completed, the pu-erh takes on a vast variety of shapes, each one unique and depending on the sort of press used. Pu-erh shapes include: disc, nest, brick, square (often has words imprinted within it) mushroom and melon
These cakes can often be purchased in large, wholesale quantities, or individually. Generally, cooking pu-erh involves steaming the cake until it is soft enough to remove the amount needed to make tea – an arduous processed compared to the manner in which westerners are accustomed to preparing tea (in either a kettle or microwavable tea bag). After separation, the tea is prepared Gongfu style, with the steeping process lasting between twelve and thirty seconds.