By Tatiana Pietrzak
Pu erh tea originated in Yunnan province in the southwest region of China some 4700 years ago. This is the region where it is thought that tea originated. Yunan borders on the countries of Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar (Burma). The area is known to be tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forests. Thousands of years ago pu erh was first made from large-leaf trees (Dayeh) and named after the city Pu’er, although some say that the city was named after the tea leaves. Pu’er City is where the tea was traded from.
Pu erh tea was traded with other nations and the far-reaching parts of China. The tea leaves were compressed into shapes for more easy transport by pack animals. It could take months to years to reach its destination. Mountains and rough terrain had to be endured. During this time, the tea aged like wine and did not lose its precious flavor. Instead the flavors were enhanced by microbial fermentation through rain and sweat, and was then, as now, considered a “drinkable antique.” The tea was sought after by royalty, high officials, literati, and tea connoisseurs for its taste and medicinal qualities.
Originally Pu erh tea took 15 to 20 years to age properly and have its flavor perfected. Now shou processes (techniques of heating or cooking) are used to speed up fermentation. It only takes about 1 year to supposedly reach the same flavors and quality. Tea connoisseurs who pay over $10,000 for 367 gm of 1950’s Red Chop Pu erh tea may contest this notion. The leaves from the oldest organic trees are much sought after and hoarded in Hong Kong, Taiwan and China.
Health benefit claims range from increasing metabolism to lose weight to fighting against certain cancers. It may also boost liver health and aid digestion.