Production of Pu-erh can be traced back to the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD). The exotic offering was first written about in the ancient treatise,
Book on Barbarians, published after a visit to ancient Yunnan province by a Tang government official. (Evidently the Imperialists did not think too highly of the province’s early inhabitants.) In it he writes,
The tea is yielded from the mountains beyond Yinsheng City and picked from scattered trees without processing. Barbarians of Mangshe drink tea by cooking it with pepper, ginger and cassia. While this form of Pu-erh was certainly different from the Pu-erh cakes more commonly known in today’s world, archaeological records indicate that the same style of specialized leaf fermentation was being implemented, so the classification fits.
Which leads to the question: what exactly is Pu-erh? Among experts, this is a topic of fierce debate. Historically, confusion stems from the fact that Pu-erh tea is named after Puerh City, one of Yunnan’s old tea trading hubs. Normally most Chinese teas are named after the various leaf styles, towns or gardens where they were produced. At the zenith of Puerh City’s dominance over the regional tea trade, all tea traded there was called Pu-erh no matter what the style or origin. For centuries, this raised questions among connoisseurs and purists throughout China. In order to dispel the confusion, in 2003 the Bureau of Standard Measurement of Yunnan Province defined Puerh as
products fermented from green tea of big tea leaves picked within Yunnan province. This in itself is still quite a broad definition, so we will try to break it down for you.
There are two types of tea we in the West commonly know as Pu-erh: Raw Pu-erh (Sheng tea) and Ripe Pu-erh (Shou tea), the difference is in the aging process. Raw Pu-erhs are typically fermented very slowly by being stored in cellars and aged for up to 25 years. These teas, typically priced well out of range of the average tea lover, usually reside in the collections of exceptionally wealthy Chinese tea aficionados, and their presence on the international markets is incredibly rare. Raw Pu-erh vintages are characterized by warm tones of earth, damp moss and oak that shift and shape during the aging process.
On the other side of the coin is Ripe Pu-erh, processed according to a method developed at the Kunming tea factory in 1973. The Kunming factory devised the method in an effort to make Pu-erh teas available to ordinary tea drinkers in China. When making Ripe Pu-erh, the tea is fermented over a matter of weeks under heavy wet blankets. During fermentation, the tea develops characteristics very similar to that of aged Pu-erh. The leaf is then pressed into a cake-like form, wrapped, dated and shipped to market. Black Pu-erh, as we are offering it here, is a unique variation on the typically green product. Prior to blanket fermentation, the leaf is pre-fermented using heat. Like its raw cousin, the cup is wonderfully rich with deep notes of earth, malt and gentle musk. A fabulous cup from one of Yunnan’s top Pu-erh producers.
Bring filtered or spring water to 190°F. Add 1 tsp of tea leaves to an 8oz cup. Pour boiling water over the tea leaves and let steep 4 minutes.
Traditional Chinese brewing method: Break off enough tea for one cup, (about one gram):
- 1st brew 30 seconds;
- 2nd brew 40 seconds;
- 3rd brew 40 seconds;
- 4th brew 60 seconds;
- 5th brew 90 second;
- 6th brew 120 seconds.
With each subsequent brewing, note how the character of this wonderful green pu-erh subtly shifts in terms of strength and flavor.