Amazing tea from Puer town

One of China’s ancient teas, the name comes from the city of Pu’er, where until the XNUMXth century it was used from time to time instead of money. For many years in the markets of Tibet and Mongolia, pu-erh was exchanged for horses, and only now is it beginning to gain real popularity in Russia. Magic tea, natural medicine, beauty and youth tea, emperor’s drink, China’s national treasure – all this is about him.

During the Tang Dynasty (618-907), pu-erh was brought to Tibet from various regions. For ease of transportation, it was pressed into pancakes and bricks, transported on caravans. During the long journey, the climate and weather changed from dry to very humid; thus, when the caravan reached Tibet, the pu-erh from coarse green tea turned into soft black tea. So he naturally easily succumbed to fermentation due to the fact that he first got wet and then dried out. People noticed this change and Pu-erh became popular in the upper strata of society. 

Puer City is located in the center of Yunnan province. Tea was not produced in the city itself, there was only the largest market, where tea was brought from the nearest mountains and regions for trade. It was from this city that caravans departed – and all tea from these places began to be called “puer”.

What’s in it?

The taste of pu-erh is specific: you either love it or turn away with hostility. In particular, the old pu-erh has a specific taste, which is primarily associated with storage (dry or wet). If the young sheng pu-erh is of good quality, then it tastes good. In general, the taste of pu-erh is very diverse and everyone can find “notes” to their liking.

The beginning of man’s relationship with tea goes down in history for millennia before it is mentioned in literature. At first, tea was drunk by shamans from local tribes, healers and sorceresses who lived in the forest and used it to transform their spirit, body and mind, to heal others and pass on wisdom to students. Later, Taoist healers also fell in love with tea. To this day, some tribes in Yunnai worship old pu-erh trees. They believe that all life and people themselves originated from them. 

Production secrets

China has always been considered a country that reluctantly reveals its secrets. The secrets of production have been carefully guarded from time immemorial. Of course, in the modern world of information technology, there are almost no secrets left. However, in order to skillfully complete all the stages of processing pu-erh, you need a lot of experience.

It was believed that the best pu-erh is produced in the Xi Shuan Ban Na region. There are 6 famous tea mountains – the pu-erh collected in these places was considered the best. The history of the mountains dates back to the famous commander Zhu Ge Liang (181-234). He left various objects on each mountain that served as a name for these mountains: Yu Le copper gong, Man Zhi’s copper cauldron, Man Zhuang cast iron, Ge Dan horse saddle, Yi Bang wooden beater, Man Sa’s seed bag. Also in the Qing dynasty (1644-1911) it was popular to collect pu-erh in the Yi Wu mountains – it was considered the best and was offered to the emperor.

In the olden days, long and difficult trade routes through tropical rainforests promoted natural fermentation (fermentation), so the tea went on the road, while still raw, and “ripened” on the go. How is tea made today? All the secrets will be told by Denis Mikhailov, a student of the Cha Dao school “Tea Hermit’s Hut”. For more than 8 years he has been studying tea art, he is the founder of the Moscow “Tea Hut” and the creator of the organic tea store “Puerchik”. 

Denis: “Spring is considered the best season for collecting pu-erh, at least autumn. First of all, pu-erh is Mao Cha (coarse tea) – these are simply processed leaves. Then they are either pressed into “pancakes” or left loose.

The production details are as follows. Freshly picked leaves are brought into the house and laid out on bamboo mats for withering. The purpose of withering is to slightly reduce the moisture content of the leaves so that they become more flexible and not damaged by further processing. Withering must be done very carefully so that the leaves do not oxidize more than necessary. Tea leaves are left to dry for some time outside, and then placed in a well-ventilated area. 

This is followed by a roasting process in the Sha Qing cauldron where the raw taste of the leaves is removed (some plant species are very bitter to consume immediately). In Yunnan, the process is still done by hand, in large woks (traditional Chinese frying pans) and over wood fires. After roasting, the leaves are rolled – also by hand, using a special technique (a process similar to kneading dough). This breaks down the cellular structure of the leaves, which in turn encourages more oxidation and fermentation. Then the future tea is dried in the sun. This must be done very carefully so as not to spoil the leaves. Most often, the leaves are dried in the early morning or late evening, when the sun is not too strong. After drying, Mao Cha is ready. Then they begin to divide it into varieties according to the quality of the sheet.

The two most distinctive aspects of making pu-erh are roasting in the Sha Qing cauldron and drying in the sun. Roasting pu-erh should not stop the oxidation, but drying in the sun gives the future drink a certain taste, texture and aroma. Such processing helps the energy of the mountains and the jungle, where the tea grew, to remain in it for a long time.

Old and new Pu-erh

Many freeze in bewilderment after the words “wild puer”. In reality, wild tea trees are old preserved plants that are a hundred or more years old. They can be divided into originally wild – these are those that grow naturally in nature – and planted by people, which for hundreds of years have run wild and merged with other plants.

In the modern world, Pu-erh gained its popularity in Hong Kong, where it was supplied from the end of the Qing Dynasty. In China itself at that time it was not popular and was considered cheap coarse tea. Due to the very high humidity in Hong Kong, pu-erh matured quickly and found many connoisseurs. Just like wine, this tea changes over time, getting better, which is why it attracted the attention of many collectors at that time. Naturally, after that, the stocks of old pu-erh began to decrease. Then the development of Shu pu-erh began (more on it below). Later, in the 1990s, old pu-erh gained popularity in Taiwan. The people of Taiwan were the first to go to Yunnan to make their own pu-erh. They are very actively engaged in its study and began to restore the ancient recipes. For example, from the 1950s to the 1990s, pu-erh was mainly produced from small bushes – as a cheap and coarse tea, as mentioned above. This is how real pu-erh from old trees, made in the best way by tea people, gained popularity again. It was only in the early 2000s that pu-erh began to gain momentum again in China. 

Denis: “There are two main types of pu-erh: sheng (green) and shu (black). Sheng pu-erh are leaves processed to the state of mao cha (coarse tea). After that, as already mentioned, tea is either pressed into “pancakes” or left loose. Then, as it ages naturally, it turns into a fantastic old sheng pu-erh. Shu pu-erh is a sheng pu-erh that has been artificially fermented by Wo Dui. For its preparation, Mao Cha is piled up, poured with special water from a spring and covered with a cloth. This process lasts about a month, during which black pu-erh is obtained from green pu-erh. Invented in the 1970s, this process was supposed to replicate the qualities of old sheng pu-erh, which takes decades to age naturally. Of course, it was not possible to reproduce in a month what nature does in 70-100 years. But this is how a new kind of pu-erh appeared. 

For sheng pu-erh (unlike shu), raw materials are important. A good sheng pu-erh is made from the best raw materials from old trees harvested in spring and autumn. And in shu pu-erh, fermentation technology is more important. Usually, shu pu-erh is made from summer harvest bushes. However, the best shu is made from the spring harvest.

There are many mountains where pu-erh grows, and, accordingly, many different tastes and aromas. But there are main differences: young sheng pu-erh usually has a green infusion, a flower-fruity taste and aroma. The infusion of shu pu-erh is black in color, and the taste and aroma are creamy, malty and earthy. Shu pu-erh is great for warming, while young sheng is great for cooling.

There is also white pu-erh – this is sheng pu-erh, made entirely from kidneys. And purple pu-erh is sheng pu-erh from wild trees with purple leaves.” 

How to choose and brew?

Denis: “I would advise first of all to choose organic pu-erh. This tea is grown without the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. Such pu-erh has strong Qi (tea energy), which has a beneficial effect on the body. Tea grown with “chemistry” has little qi and is unhealthy. If you are a vegetarian and lead a healthy lifestyle, it will be easier for you to feel the Qi of organic tea and enjoy it to the fullest.

Advice for beginner pu-erh lovers: shu pu-erh must be bought from large manufacturers – they can afford the sterility of production, which is so important in the manufacture of this tea. Sheng pu-erh is better to buy in tea boutiques – these are tea lovers’ shops that produce tea themselves or control the manufacturing process.

Organic pu-erh harvested from old spring-harvested trees is best, but shu pu-erh can also be made from bushes.

All pu-erh is brewed with boiling water (about 98 degrees). With sheng pu-erh, you need to be careful and correctly calculate its amount, otherwise the drink may become bitter. Sheng pu-erh is best drunk from bowls. Loose sheng pu-erh can be placed in a bowl (large bowl) and simply poured with boiling water – this is the easiest way to drink tea. This way connects us with nature: just a bowl, leaves and water. If the tea is pressed, then it is better to use a teapot, and then pour it into bowls. If we want to feel the subtler facets and nuances of the taste of pu-erh, then it must be brewed using the Gongfu method. Gongfu is a Yixing clay teapot and small porcelain cups. Usually the best teas are brewed in this way – for example, 15-30 year old sheng per.

Shu pu-erh is very unpretentious in brewing (any method of brewing will do), it is good even when strongly infused. Sometimes, at late brews, it is great to add snow chrysanthemum to shu pu-erh and continue to drink it further. And buds from wild Ya Bao trees will go well in sheng. In addition, these teas are the best for brewing.”

Interesting Facts

Denis: “There are five points that make pu-erh tea special:

1 place. Yunnan Province is a magical forest that vibrates with life. It is home to over 25% of all animal and plant species inhabiting China. Almost all herbs used in traditional Chinese medicine come from Yunnan and, of course, tea is the best medicine among them. All plants here grow large, larger than in other places.

2) Ancient trees. The oldest pu-erh tree is 3500 years old. All tea originated from such plants. Such ancient trees have a long trunk through which they absorb the energy of the sun and moon. Their large roots, reaching deep into the earth, can reach for minerals and substances that no other plant can reach. All these minerals and substances are necessary for a person and can be obtained just through tea.

3) Crystal clear water descending from the peaks of the Himalayan mountains, mineralizes on the way down the Tibetan plateau and further nourishes all the tea trees.

4) Live tea. Pu-erh has the largest amount of live tea. This is a tea that is grown from seed in biodiversity, without the use of irrigation and “chemistry”. He has enough room to grow (sometimes bushes are planted back to back and they have nowhere to grow). The people who produce tea themselves love nature and are in harmony with it.

5) Bacteria and microorganisms that live on pu-erh trees (and then in the “pancake” itself) are very special. It is with the help of them that tea is transformed over time into a unique one. Now there are sheng pu-erhs that are over a hundred years old. These teas are amazing. This is a great gift of nature to people! The process of appearance of such tea is difficult to understand, until now it remains a mystery that we can only take for granted.”


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