Monday January 28, 2013 | 5 comments
Are you looking for a healthy morning coffee substitute? My customer, Kevin, substituted a 20-year-old pu’erh tea for his morning coffee. Each morning he brews two strong cups and meditates for 30 minutes. The tea gives him energy and mental clarity without the jitters. He also noticed that pu’erh, which he discovered at a Boutique Teas exotic tea tasting, cleanses his intestinal tract.
What is Pu’er or Pu’erh tea? It is a fermented Chinese tea. Kevin frowned the first time he smelled organic pu’erh tuo cha. He thought it smelled like a fishy, muddy river bank. As he sipped it, though, the sweet earthiness and cocoa bean notes came through. While he sipped the first few infusions, he learned more about its production process and health benefits.
Grown and manufactured exclusively in Yunnan, China, pu’erh tea is fermented in humid rooms. Traditionally, raw or green pu’erh leaves are plucked from ancient wild-grown tea trees. Raw pu’erh production involves plucking, withering, frying, fermenting, and steaming. Before steaming the leaves, tea workers stack the leaves into big piles and spray on bacteria. The internal heat generated within the piles encourages bacterial fermentation inside the leaves. The bacteria influence the earthy flavors. Workers rotate leaves from the inside of the pile to the outside for even fermentation. Leaves are then lightly steamed and either compressed or left loose. Steaming creates moisture for the bacteria to grow. The leaves are stored in a humidity-controlled room for 10 years or more. Healthy microbes are growing, developing the rich flavors and turning the leaves brown. Usually, raw pu’erh is compressed into flat discs. Wealthy Chinese businessmen pay high prices for the discs, creating pu’erh collections. Collectors scrape a little from the disc each year, enjoying the subtle flavor and aromatic changes.
In the 1970s, demand for less expensive pu’erh teas increased and tea artisans developed a quicker method to ferment the teas, thus inventing “cooked” or “ripe” pu’erh. This pu’erh uses the same tea leaves, but oxidizes the leaves before fermentation. After they are plucked, the leaves are withered, rolled, oxidized, and stacked into piles. Rolling the leaves releases the natural juices, resulting in wet leaves. The extra moisture encourages faster bacteria growth and internal fermentation. After the leaves are rotated in the piles a few times, they are steamed and compressed into small cakes. This pu’erh is usually called “tuo cha.” These cakes are aged 1-3 years before being sold. The cooked pu’erh teas have a pungent earthy aroma and flavor.
The bacterial activity happening inside and outside the leaves gives pu’erh its unique flavor and health benefits. Called the “skinny girl” tea in China, pu’erh is believed to help with weight loss and to decrease bad cholesterol. Many find the tea cleansing; a few cups cleans everything out of the intestines.
Learning about these benefits, Kevin decided to buy a bag of organic pu’erh tuo cha. For the next few weeks, he drank two little tuo cha cakes in the morning. He felt energetic, clear headed, motivated, and cleansed. He became hooked. However, he wanted a smoother, mellower pu’erh. He requested the oldest loose-leaf pu’erh Boutique Teas carries, a rare 20-year-old loose-leaf pu’erh, which is characterized by its smooth mellow flavors and aroma.
Kevin now enjoys life without coffee, but needs a constant supply of pu’erh tea.