I was first introduced to this deep, earthy brew when the discovery of its health benefits set off a buying frenzy in China. Luckily, a good friend of mine was working on a film set in Pu’er’s native region Yunnan, and was able to snap up some for me before prices went through the roof.
Pu’er is a coffee drinker’s tea. It’s deep, warming, and slightly bitter with a rich, lifting overtone, and also provides a nice, steady buzz. The flavor is often likened to fresh earth, wood and mushroom, and changes with each brew, and a good “shou” Pu’er (we’ll get to that in a second), can produce anywhere from 3 to 8 delicious brews before you should change the tea leaves.
Pu’er tea comes from China’s southwestern Yunnan province, known for its high mountains, stunning scenery, and the breathtakingly colorful garbs of China’s ethnic groups, many of whom reside there. The name Yunnan, literally means south of the clouds, and this is one of the best places to visit in China.
While there are different theories on how Pu’er tea was developed, Yunnan’s remote location most likely has something to do with it. Pu’er tea is often pressed into cakes to facilitate transportations, and many of its health benefits derive from the additional fermentation that took place during its long journeys.
Pu’er tea is a natural weight loss remedy. One of side products of this long process is lovastatin – a natural cholesterol reducer – produced by one of the bacteria naturally occurring in pu’er tea. Animal research suggests that Pu’er can lower triglycerides, and LDL cholesterol. not to mention is has just the right amount of caffeine to stimulate your central nervous system, heart and muscles, and antioxidants to protect the heart and blood vessels.
Now, there are two types of Pu’er tea – Sheng (Raw) and Shou (Cooked, mature or “done”). What’s the difference between Sheng and Shou Pu’er?
Sheng Pu’er is minimally processed, and normally aged for 15 to 20 years, and the Chinese believe that its health effects are more powerful. That being said, it has a raw, acrid finish that makes it much less of a pleasure to drink, and drinking it in excess is said to cause stomach problems. It is definitely a beverage for connoisseurs, and one that you really need to invest in.
Shou Pu’er is much smoother, owing to the additional heat and moisture that is applied during the fermentation process. When brewed, it produces a deep, earthy brown-reddish tea that glows like amber for a mild brew, and deep, clear chocolate brown for a stronger brew, which is how I like it.
The first time you drink Pu’er, you might be struck by the back of the throat bitterness, but consider this a palette-cleansing process. With every sip the flavors continue to unfold, and you’ll soon be mesmerized by its profound flavor and deeply satisfying fragrance. And then before you know it, you’ll be a Pu’er junkie like me, who can’t go a single morning without a cup of this delicious brew!
By the way, there are many ways that you can “upgrade” your Pu’er experience. In China, they sell Pu’er mixed with chrysanthemum, rose, and even roasted glutinous rice, all of which provide an amazing experience. You could also go exotic and brew it with ginsing slices or ginger. Or, you could do what Tony Gebely at World of Tea did, and make a Pu’er ice-cream float! Yum!
How to brew Pu’er Tea
Ingredients1 tbsp of your favorite Pu’er tea 1-2 cups of boiling water
Place Pu’er in your favorite cup or tea kettle, add enough water to cover, give it a quick swirl and pour the water off. This will open the tea and wash away any dust that can make the tea taste murky.
Pour you water and let it steep for about a minute for your first brew, and an additional 30 seconds to one minute for your latter brews. It’s not an exact science, but a matter of taste, so if you have a nice, aged pu’er tea, brew it lightly and really devote yourself to savoring the experience, and if you have a younger one, enjoy its robust earthiness.
Iced Pu’er Tea Recipe
Ingredients5 tbsp of your favorite Pu’er tea, preferably shou 1/2 cup of boiling water 3 cups of room-temperature water
Pour the boiling water over the tea, let sit for 30 seconds, and then give it a quick swirrel and drain the water. This will wash off any dust remaining on the plant and open the tea leaves.
Add the tea to a large container, fill it with water, and let it sit in the refrigerator for at least 12 hours. The resulting brew is a rich, deep reddish black that is slightly bitter and can quench even the deepest thirst!