Pu Erh Tea

Pu Erh Tea Pu Erh Tea janeskitchenmiracles.com

Named after the Pu’er city in china, Pu-erh tea is a variety of fermented tea that is mostly produced in the Yunnan province of China. In tea speaking fermentation refers to the involvement of microbial fermentation and oxidation of the tea leaves after being rolled and dried. It begins as a raw product called “máo chá”. Traditionally it was produced by the minority ethnics for own consumption, it used to be exported to the Tibet, Mongolia and the south east regions of Asia. It became an important commodity for trade that was usually exchanged for horses or other commodities.

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One of the most famous areas where this tea is produced is the Xishuang Banna, it is situated on the southern part of the Yunnan province and it borders with Myanmar, Vietnam and Laos. The ancient rout of Tea and Horses started in the south of the XiShuang Banna and the tea used to be stored in the city of Pu-erh, and that{s how its name was originated.

Currently in China there are four main regions for the production of pu erh tea, these are:

  • Xishuan Banna  (西双版納)
  • Lin Cang (臨滄)
  • Pu-er (普洱)
  • Chang Ning (昌寧)

A bit of history

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The history of this type of tea is not older than 800 years. In Yunnan you can easily find old tea trees that have been for a few hundred years or more. The raw pu erh tea was invented and introduced during the Ming dynasty.

There are two completely different types of pu erh teas. The first one is called “raw pu erh tea” which is preferred by collectors and connoisseurs while the tea beginners appreciate more the second type, the “ripe pu-erh”.

Both types of pu erh teas are made following different processes.

For both types the process starts by heating the tea leaves in a frying pan to activate the different enzymes that rest inside the leaf, then the leaves are rolled and left to dry under the sun. Until here the process for both types of teas is the same. After the leaves are dried you get what is called “loose raw tea” which can be compressed or left loose to start the two different processes.

Raw pu erh tea

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Raw pu erh tea has a very long history and was the tea that was primarily traded along the Ancient Tea Route and is a much demanded tea by enthusiasts and collectors.

Raw pu erh tea process start very much as the ripe pu erh tea but this is actually the traditional way of manufacturing. The plucking is very similar to that of oolong tea. Every bud is plucked with three to four leaves. The third and fourth leaves have been left to stay longer on the tree which make these leaves rich in polyphenols and minerals. These leaves are the ones responsible for the characteristic flavor and after taste.

The pan frying process is done to deactivate the enzymes, although some of the enzymes are still alive when the process ends. Then the leaves are takeout and dried with sunlight instead of using hot air, this causes some of the enzymes to stay active in the leaves this process also generates fermentation that helps bringing out that desired flavor.

The storage process is made to make them yellow as when the drying process ends, the leaves are still green. The leaves that are well stored never turn brown and if are perfectly taken care of the leaves will remain yellow for a long, long time.

Ripe pu erh tea

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The ripe pu erh tea is produced by placing the “loose raw tea” in a process of fermentation by Mold and generates what is called “loose ripe tea”. This resultant tea is then compressed to produce the ripe pu erh tea.

The initial step is to process in to raw pu erh which is not immediately transformed into ripe pu erh, first it has to go under a process called post fermentation. The leaves are piled in the ground and are sprinkled with water to initiate microbiological fermentation and then are covered with sheets in order to maintain the humidity, the temperature is usually kept between 70 and 80 degrees Celsius. Once a week the sheets are removed to allow the leaves to breathe and even out the moisture between leaves.

During the secondary fermentation, there happens a process of coagulation caused by the mycelium of mold and lumpy tea leaves are formed. These lumps are called “Cha-tou” which means “tea-head”. Once the cha-tau is formed, the moisture that is trapped inside will undergo more fermentation or maturation that will produce a dried-fruity flavor which inspires manufacturers to cherish it very much.

Tea with earthly flavor aren’t of the proper quality and were probably manufactured with poor quality standards, and this is the main reason why so many people dislike it. This is produced by fermentation conducted under the wrong conditions allowing the growth of different kind of bacteria that change the flavor of the tea. This not only creates a bad taste of the drink but may also create health risks.

The tea leaves are then spread over the floor with the thickness of about 200mm.

Determining the quality of pu erh tea

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There are several factors that can help you determine the quality of your pu erh tea.

  • Intensity of after taste: the concept of after taste is sometimes difficult to understand. To put it simple, it is the taste that you feel in your throat and lingers. It is what gives its depth to the taste. The teas with high levels of minerals tend to leave a stronger aftertaste.
  • Body of the tea: the body is commonly misunderstood with physical texture. To put it simpler it is the width of flavor, roundness or mouth-feel or the concentration of flavor that spreads in the mouth. The body of the tea is determined by the presence of different minerals.
  • Flavor profile: it is what makes it so special, it is like the different tones and effects produced by different camera lenses, but at the same time you can’t judge the quality of a camera just by the effects produced by the lens, as there are many teas with different kinds of flavors for all types of palates. The flavor doesn’t determine the quality but the character of a tea, and as a matter of taste it is completely subjective.
  • Process defects: Another thing to take in consideration is to be capable of detecting different defects in the process of the tea manufacturing. There are some easy ways to identify defects of the process:
    • Smokey flavor
    • Tea leaves are damage on handling
    • Overheated and burnt tea leaves
    • Excessive fermentation
    • Insufficient drying after the compression
  • Freshness: this refers to the conditions under which the tea is stored. The process of making the tea is as important as the process of storing it. If not properly stored, tea can oxidize and produce a bad flavor and can give stale or earthy flavor.

There is also a variety called vintage pu erh. As with what happens with aged beverages, such as wine or other liquors, the year the plant was cultivated and then the tea was produced is very important. Green and oolong teas must be consumed very soon after its production as these can’t be stored for longer periods of time without losing quality. But pu erh can be stored for as long as needed.

Another thing to take into consideration is that the growth rate of the plant determines the quality of the tea that can be produced from it. Plants that grow at slower rates have better quality for tea production as leaves tend to have more minerals and vitamins and other organic substances. The plant grows during the night while the flavor grows during the day, it doesn’t matter how much a plant grows to determine the flavor but as long as the plant can receive even a little sunshine it can still create a stronger and better flavor.

Longer storing periods create something called vintage pu erh teas, as storage time will help the fermentation that will take place. At the start of the storage process the leaves are a green-yellowish color and with time these will turn amber. The flavor also changes, fermentation gives the leaves a better fruity flavor.

This type of vintage pu erh tea is highly demanded by collectors and enthusiast who then keep them stored for years; there are in fact teas that have been matured for more than a decade.

Pu erh tea is something that every tea enthusiast or lover should try in their life, there are brands that sell this type of the at different price ranges. Finally, this kind of tea is really enjoyable and is something simply need to try.