The Mysterious World of Aged Pu-erh
By A.C. Cargill
Pu-erh tea is a mystery to most of us tea drinkers here in the Western hemisphere. The world of those who drink pu-erh tea seems shrouded in myth and wild tales. When I first heard of it, I asked “Pu-what?” Fortunately, this mystery is the real myth; information on this tea abounds.
First of all, pu-erh is so special that it is collected, like stamps, Hummel figurines, or rare gold coins. In China, it is part of their savings for the future. The price in the ten-year-period of 1997 to 2007 rose by an average of 10% per year. That’s eased back some but is still better than savings accounts, CDs, and other investment options.
Second, Pu-erh teas are like many good cheeses (bleu and cheddar spring to mind), that is, they get better as they are aged (some as long as 50 years). Well, actually, “better” is a matter of personal taste. Let’s say they develop different and varied taste characteristics.
Of course, just as street vendors abound on the streets of major cities selling fake Rolex watches and Gucci handbags, so the growing popularity and, thus, demand for Pu-erh has spurred the unscrupulous among us to produce “fake” pu-erhs.
Pu-erh collectors taste their “collections” on a regular basis (just as cheese makers taste their cheeses), measuring each tea’s development and progress in an almost party atmosphere, anticipating the results. Living bacteria and microbes, similar to those used to age cheeses, make Pu-erh essentially a “living” tea and create new dimensions and complexities with each aging step. As time goes on, the tea develops flavors like sweets such as caramels, herbs, heavy fruits (including fairly ripe plums), aged wood, and faint notes of tannin and peat. The older the Pu-erh, the greater the increase of its smoothness and silkiness. An “antique” tea that has been aged well will have a soft and mellow body and a uniquely smooth and silky feel in your mouth, and the tea “liquor” takes on a color that deepens to a golden reddish hue. Small wonder this tea is so prized.
This tea is primarily produced in an area known as Xishuangbanna in China’s Yunnan Province. It’s rugged country just miles from the border of Laos and Burma. You can buy the tea “raw” or “green” (Sheng Pu-erh); it’s usually been slowly aged and oxidized in dry storage. The tea is also available in “mature” form (Shou Pu-erh), which has been oxidized quickly under a damp cloth in a hot room to avoid mold growth, which could be unhealthy.
If you’re a tea drinker with an adventurous spirit, try a bit of Pu-erh (be sure to purchase from a tea vendor you know and trust). In addition to the taste experience, it’s smoothness will aid your digestion and go well with meals that are on the heavy side and/or include greasy foods, and the tea has been known to lower cholesterol with regular consumption.
Good fortune and good health to you!
Just like Pu-erh tea, A.C.’s blog, Tea Time with A.C. Cargill, keeps getting better and better as time goes by. Check it out today!