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Pu erh Tea, Health Benefits and History

Pu erh Tea, Health Benefits and History

Who ever said your morning cup of tea couldn’t be as extravagant as an age-old bottle of wine? Pu erh Tea is the answer, it not only offers deliciously earthy, and unmistakably bold flavours, but also provides countless health benefits to improve your every-day way of life!

Despite its treasured status in its homeland of China - other countries throughout the Western Hemisphere have only just started to uncover this marvellous and truly unique brew!

So, what makes Pu’erh Tea so special, and why is it only just starting to increase in popularity around the world?

Pu Erh Tea

What is Pu’erh Tea?

Pronounced as ‘Poo-air’, this beverage is largely known to be the most oxidised form of any type of tea. It originates from the Yunnan Province of south-west China, and is named after the nearby city of ‘Pu’er’.

The leaves used in the production of Pu erh Loose Tea is grown in a number of different counties along the Lancang river, with each estate creating its own, distinctive brew. However, some avid collectors may not even choose to drink it, at all!

When compressed into ‘tea bricks’ which are particularly popular methods for production it can be left to ‘age’, thus allowing the leaves to rise in value!In fact, Pu erh Tea is considered to be of a ‘finer quality’ when left to age. Unlike other Black Teas which are well-known to go ‘stale’ after long periods of time, Pu’erh Tea can mellow and improve with age.

There are even some examples of 100 year old Pu’erh Teas! These century-old brews, however, are understandably some of the most expensive teas currently available on the market! A 1950’s era 357 gram Red Chop Puerh tea disc can now sell for over $10,000 USD!

For those who do not wish to spend a fortune on their morning cup, Pu’erh comes in many different price-brackets and qualities - again, just like a bottle of wine!

Pu Erh Tea from Yunnan in China

Pu’erh Tea’s from Yunnan Province in China

The Yunnan Province is often considered a ‘mecca’ for tea in China. Not only is it home to the now-world-famous Pu’erh Tea, but it is likewise renowned for the production of other, equally delicious Yunnan Black Teas!

However, in 2008, the Government of the People’s Republic of China began limiting where the leaves could be grown. Initially, it was narrowed down to a production area of 11 cities and 639 towns. This is because the government wanted to establish a brand unto itself, similar to the Champagne region of France, the Tequila region of Mexico and, of course, the Darjeeling District of India.

If the tea was only allowed to grow in certain areas, they would be able to authenticate the brand. Much to the disgruntlement of tea-producers in the Guangdong Province, who had, themselves, been creating their own type of Pu erh Tea, a new standard was subsequently approved to restrict the tea’s production area. The Hunan Province were also affected by this sudden, unexpected change.

Within the Yunnan Province, there are four main areas of production: Baoshan, Lincang, Pu’er (Simao) and Xishuangbanna. All of these areas are known for their heavy rainfall and warm, humid climate.

Pu erh

 

This makes for perfect tea growing conditions. It is also aided by the Lancang river, which flows through all of these tea growing areas; providing steady irrigation to the gardens. Incredibly, many of the tea trees found across the Yunnan Province can also be dated back over 100 years - some even thousands of years!

  • Baoshan Area: Formerly known as ‘Yongchang’, Baoshan City is thought to be the first residence of human settlers in western Yunnan. The entire area, meanwhile, is known for its mild winters and summers, as well as boasting thick and full tea trees. Baoshan City, in particular, plays a vital role in the mass-production of the Tea.
  • Lincang Area: Located in Southwest Yunnan, the Lincang area’s name derives from the nearby river itself. It is arguably the main area of Pu’erh Tea production, as well as other types of tea within the province. It is also home to the renowned ‘Fengqing’ variety of Pu erh tea.
  • Pu’er (Simao) area: Between the 1950’s to 2007, the area of Pu’er was changed to the name, ‘Simao’. However, it has since reverted to its original name of ‘Pu’er’ (not confusing at all, right?). Today, Pu’er is made up of several different regions. To the north you find Wu Liang, Jinggu, and Ai Lao. To the east, Kunlu and Jiancheng. Meanwhile, to the west, there are Jingmai and Bangwei. All of these regions share a long and expansive history with this tea. Many centuries ago, Pu’er City acted as the provincial hub of tea distribution. Many teas (including what would later become known as Puerh) were sent to the city to be processed and sold. It is also home to the ancient tea tree, named Zhen Yuan, which is thought to be thousands of years old!
  • Xishuangbanna Area: This area produces some of the most sought-after Pu’erh teas available on the market! Most notably, Eastern Xishuangbanna is widely recognised for its six famous tea mountains, which overlook the luscious green valleys of the area. Covered in thousand-year-old tea trees, these mountains are legendary within ancient Chinese culture. However, after the formation of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, much of the tea production shifted westward, to Menghai County, in Western Xishuangbanna. Today, this is the home of some of the most popular Pu erh tea, like Lao Banzhang. It is also associated with big factory productions of ‘ripe’ Pu’erh Tea.

Incidentally, between the years of 1999 to 2007, the Yunnan province was subjected to fluctuating Pu-erh Tea prices. On occasions, these prices could rise to nearly 10 times their prior costing! This, however, did very little to deter avid Pu’erh Tea connoisseurs, who continued to buy their tea in bulk.

This subsequently led to many farmers in the Yunnan Province becoming millionaires almost overnight! Once the 2008 Puerh Tea standards were put in place, investors who had previously put a lot of stock in sales began to pull out of the market. Soon after, prices began to dip; allowing most Puerh teas to revert to their original, and far more reasonable prices!

Within the Yunnan Province, Pu-erh Tea is predominantly seen as an export commodity, rather than a choice-drink! In fact, many of the locals prefer younger, greener varieties of tea, as opposed to their biggest seller! (More for us, then!)

Pu erh Loose Tea

‘Sheng’ and ‘Shou’ Pu’erh Teas - What’s the difference?

For many decades, there has been much confusion circulating the world of Pu-erh Tea. However, the truth is conveniently simple! The term ‘Sheng’ refers to Green Pu-erh Tea, while ‘Shou’ means Black Pu-erh Tea!

Sheng has been in existence for many centuries, and is known as the first ever Pu erh. Shou’s history, meanwhile, only dates back to 1973, when it was first developed!

Even then, Black Pu-erh Tea Leaves would not be introduced to the market until 2 years later, in 1975. Both varieties of Pu-erh Tea follow relatively similar processing methods, which sees them undergo a series of different steps, as follows:

  • Withering: After the Pu erh Tea leaves have been freshly picked from their respective tea estates, they are taken to the factory to begin their rigorous processing. The first step sees the tea leaves placed on ‘drying tables’ and left for 1-2 days. This will subsequently remove all the moisture from the leaves.
  • Kill-Green: Also known locally as ‘Sha Qing’, this step was traditionally carried out by hand, but has since moved towards specially designed machinery. Once the withering is complete, the leaves are placed in these drying machines for 3 minutes. This softens them, and also reduces fermentation.
  • Rolling / Forming: Now that the tea’s fermentation has been reduced, the leaves are briefly allowed to cool before they are then rolled and broken.This breakage allows the leaves to release some of their potency which, ultimately, helps them to age well.
    Drying: Very simply, this stage of processing sees the leaves placed outside to be dried for up to 3 days.
  • Piling / Heaping (Black Pu-erh Tea): Following on from drying, the Piling / Heaping stage is unique to Black Pu erh Teas. This relatively new processing method manipulates conditions - similar to a natural aging process - by prolonging bacterial and fungal fermentation. Known in China as ‘wòdūi’ (translated to mean, wet piling’) the leaves are placed in warm, humid environments, under controlled conditions. This involves piling, dampening, and turning the tea leaves in a manner very similar to composting.

After these steps are complete, for both Black and Green varieties, the finished product can be left as Loose Leaf Tea or, alternatively, compressed into the following shapes:

  • A Tea ‘Brick’ (Juan Cha)
  • A ‘Tea Cake’ (Beeng Cha)
  • A ‘Bell’ shape (Toa Cha)
  • A ‘Mushroom’ shape (Maw Gu Toaw)

Whichever method is chosen, the tea is then kept in warm and moist storage facilities to allow the chemical process to mature and mellow the leaves. While it is not uncommon for the tea leaves (both loose, or compressed) to be left for years on end, by rights, Pu’erh Tea becomes ‘drinkable’ after a 3 month period.

Pu Erh Loose Tea

The History of Pu erh Tea

The Yunnan Province is allegedly the birthplace of tea, some 4,700 years ago. Pu-erh Tea, meanwhile, does not quite date back this far!

It is, however, centuries old, and is believed to have originated from the Han Dynasty (25 - 220 C.E). Trade in Pu-erh Tea began during the Tang Dynasty (618 - 907 C.E.), while its popularity soared throughout the Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644 C.E.) and the Qing Dynasty (1644 - 1912 C.E.).

The leaves used to create Pu erh Tea are known to have been originally attended by two Chinese minority ethnic groups, the Dai and the Aini. They would often oversee the harvesting and production of the tea before it was passed onto merchants to be taken on China’s trade routes.

During this time, the merchants found it difficult to deal with cumbersome loads of loose leaf tea, and so they compressed it into tea ‘bricks’. The bricks were easier to carry on pack animals, yet it could still take months, even years, to reach its destination. Over the course of these treacherous journeys, something incredible began to occur to the traveling tea. It started to change; transforming from green to amber and eventually to dark teak.

The taste, meanwhile, became livelier, richer, fruitier and smoother. It was soon discovered that the tea leaves had undergone what is now known as a ‘post-fermentation period’. Broadly speaking, this means that the tea has been subjected to biological and enzymatic changes, whereby beneficial microbes had developed within the tea.

Once nationwide trade had been established during the 7th Century, the tea industry began to truly nurture this delicious brew. In 1391, however, the first Ming Emperor, Zhu Yuanzhang, ordered the abolition of all moon-shaped, compressed tea. He believed his people were wasting too much time manufacturing this tea and so, for a few years, only loose leaf tea was permitted!

This was short-lived, and during the reign of the fifth Qing Emperor, Yongzheng, Pu erh Tea originating from Simao (present-day Pu’er) became a ‘tribute tea’. In the tribute custom, regions were selected by the Emperor to produce tea, which was subsequently gifted to the Royal Court. It was considered a great honour and was especially good for business! It is no surprise, then, that during the late 17th to early 18th Century, Pu’erh Tea sales increased at a rapid rate!

According to the last Emperor of China, who reigned between the years of 1906 to 1967, Pu’erh Tea was part of his year-round routine. Pu Yi chose to drink Dragon Well Green Tea during the summer months, while Puerh Loose Tea was the choice beverage in the wintertime.

So, when you drink this delicious beverage, you are, in fact, enjoying a tea that has been honoured in the Royal Courts of ages past, and treasured as a grand foundation within China’s fascinating and ever-changing culture. It has survived through the centuries, and seen the triumphant rise and humiliating fall of many weak and powerful Emperors. Pu’erh Tea is, without a doubt, ‘history in a cup’!

Pu erh Loose Leaf Tea

Benefits of Pu’erh Tea

Depending on whether you choose Sheng (Green) or Shou (Black) Pu’erh Tea, this beverage is an excellent choice for anyone looking for health benefit potential. Like any other type of Black Tea, Shou Pu-erh is not quite as high in antioxidant levels as White or Green Teas. This does not mean it is without its benefits, however, as it is rich in many vitamins and minerals.

These include: Vitamins B1, B2, C and E, as well as potassium, phosphorous, calcium, magnesium, aluminum, lysine, arginine, histidine and cysteine, and linoleic and linolenic acids. It also contains trace amounts of zinc, sodium, nickel, iron, beryllium, sulfur, and even fluorides!

While yearly scientific studies on Pu Erh Tea are not as common as other Black and Green Teas, such as Keemun or Gunpowder, we do know this brew can help improve your way of life. This is providing the tea is consumed as part of a healthy and active lifestyle.

Pu erh Tea Weight Loss

Pu erh Tea for Weight Loss

Pu erh Tea has been consumed for hundreds of years to help with obesity control. Today, little has changed! In fact, a study conducted by the United States Institute of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology has since established the Teas efficiency in reducing body weight, owing to the antioxidant compound known as catechins.

Further to this, the caffeine content found in Pu erh Tea is also believed to reduce fat content within the liver. Both Black and Green Teas also have the ability to boost the metabolism which, in turn, can help your body to burn fat much quicker and easier. It must be noted, however, that this is very much dependent on your lifestyle choices.

Pu’erh Tea should not be consumed for the purpose of weight loss without considering your healthy-eating and exercise routines (we weren't kidding about that, I’m afraid!)

Pu Erh Tea for the Heart

Pu erh Tea Improved Cardiovascular Health

Again, the results from Pu’erh Tea consumption and the improvement of the Cardiovascular system are far more noticeable with Sheng Pu-erh rather than Shou. A Chinese Study conducted at the Kunming Medical College saw 86 subjects with unusually high levels of blood cholesterol split into two groups.

The first group of 55 patients was given a cup of Pu’erh Tea, three times a day, while the second group received an unnamed Cholesterol lowering drug. The results established a 64.29% reduction in LDL cholesterol (or, “bad” cholesterol) within the tea-drinking group. Meanwhile, the drug group only showed a minimal improvement in reduction at just 66.67%. While, admittedly, the drug was proven to be ever so slightly more effective, it does, however, prove Pu’erh Tea’s ability to help your heart, as well as your entire Cardiovascular System.

Pu erh Tea for Digestion

Pu’erh Tea and Improved Digestion

In traditional Chinese medicine, the consumption of Pu’erh Teas both Shou and Sheng have been treasured for their ability to help break down foods within the stomach and intestines.

This is largely due to the microorganisms present in Pu-erh Tea, which can increase the healthy bacterial flora in the body. For this reason, Pu-erh Tea is a popular choice after heavy meals to aid digestion. It is also worth considering the consumption of Oolong Tea at least an hour before eating, owing to the fact it can boost your metabolism and decrease fat absorption. (It likewise gives you the opportunity to enjoy different teas throughout the day - that is surely a win-win!)

Pu Erh Tea Helps you Sleep

Pu erh Tea and Improved Sleeping Patterns

For many, it may seem counterproductive to drink this tea before going to bed, accounting for its relatively high caffeine content. Despite this, Pu erh Tea’s key microorganisms, Gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA) and theanine, have been since established to reduce stress levels and increase the production of natural melatonin in the brain. Ultimately, this results in decreased stress, stabilised mood and improved sleeping patterns!

Pu Erh Tea is Good for Hangovers
Pu erh Tea God for Hangovers

Yes, you read that right - Pu’erh Tea has been said to help with those nasty hangovers! Had a night on the town, and now regret it? This delicious brew might just be the answer. Although no official studies have been conducted in recent years, traditional Chinese medicine has long since recognised Pu-erh Tea’s ability to lessen the symptoms of headaches and nausea.

It all bores down to the Chinese belief of ‘Chi’ - which is said to rebalance the energy in your body. However, for those who prefer to practice modern medicine, this brew also contains high water content, and can provide hydration after the severe effects of alcohol consumption.

Whether you prefer your Pu-erh as loose leaf tea or in tea cake form, we are here to provide you with a wide selection of choice! If you like to keep things simple, then why not begin with our traditional loose leaf Pu erh Tea, This particular variety is brimming with trademark mellow flavours, in addition to a sweet, delectable aftertaste.

We also have Pu erh Special 3 Year Old Vintage Tea, for those who wish to understand the concept of aging tea. This beverage is high grown and hand crafted, with its colour a beautiful, deep burgundy. It consists of defined earthy notes and is, without a doubt, one of our favourites!

Looking for something a little different? We also have a Scottish Caramel Toffee Pu erh Tea! Again, a 3 year old vintage, this tea combines powerful earthy flavours with rich, sweet notes of caramel and toffee - Scotland meets China in a cup! Moving on, we, of course, have a classic Puerh Tea Cake. This is everything you would expect from your favourite brew. Made up of 5 grams of Pu’erh - enough to make a small pot of tea - these cakes are all individually wrapped, and consist of a very rich, deep flavour.

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