Pu-erh is an aged and fermented tea known in China as a type of “heicha,” meaning dark or black tea. In China, what we know as “black tea” is actually referred to as “red tea,” while fermented teas like Pu-erh are dark teas. Pu-erh tea is produced with leaves from the camellia sinensis plant in the Yunnan province of China, and named after the city of Pu-erh.
Like wine, Pu-erh is stored to age before consumption, and typically labeled with the time and place of production. Pu-erh that has been aged for many decades and can sell for thousands of dollars a pound.
Most teas go through a process of oxidation, but few are truly fermented by bacteria and yeast the way Pu-erh is. Fermentation occurs by storing the tea in a humid environment, over a time period of weeks to years.
The fermentation of Pu-erh produces a tea with an earthy flavor and low astringency, along with certain unique health benefits. Pu-erh tea is particularly good for aiding digestion and, because its fermentation produces natural statins, lowering blood pressure.
One signature of Pu-erh is that, after fermentation, the leaves are sometimes formed into neat shapes before packaging – such as cakes, bricks, mushrooms or flat squares pressed with Chinese characters. Pu-erh is often processed as a loose leaf tea as well. (ArtfulTea generally offers our Pu-erh teas in leaf form to make it easier for you to prepare and enjoy.)
Traditionally, Pu-erh is prepared by “rinsing” the leaves in hot water before brewing the tea to drink. First, pour boiling water over the leaves for a few seconds, then drain the water (this first step cleans the leaves and begins to unlock their flavor). Next, steep the leaves for one to five minutes and enjoy. Most Pu-erh teas can be infused multiple times. The same leaves might even be steeped up to eight times.