About Pu'er Tea

Pu'er Tea

Pu-erh or Pu'er tea (Chinese: 普洱茶; pinyin: pǔ'ěrchá) is a fermented tea, named after Pu'er county in Yunnan, China. It is an unusual tea, because unlike other teas which are consumed shortly after production, it can be over 50 years old and is usually aged at least 1-4 years. Over this time it acquires an earthy flavor due to fermentation.

In Cantonese culture, pu'er is known as po-lay, bo-lay tea, or bo-nay tea and is often drunk during dim sum meals with family and friends, as it is believed to help with digestion. Pu'er is considered a medicinal tea in China.

The Pu'er tea has been subject to a number of health studies. A number of medical studies have substantiated claims that the tea helps reduce cholesterol levels and saturated fats in human; it could assist in weight loss.

Unlike other varieties of tea,
Pu'er Tea is traditionally made with older leaves (not the first flush or budding leaves) from tall and old trees. These trees are of a type only found in Yunnan Province, known as broad leaf tea. The leaves are covered with fine hairs, are larger than other tea leaves, and have a different chemical composition. The leaves are then left green or moderately fermented before being dried. Often times the tea is then formed into cakes or bricks, wrapped in paper or pomello rinds, and stored outside exposed to moisture, air, and heat in order to further mature. Then the tea is stored underground for several years before taking on the darker, mellower characteristics that make Pu'er tea. This type of tea originated from the natural aging process that happened along the ancient caravan routes, and the tea bricks were at times used as a form of currency. The tea bricks developed a unique flavor that was then refined by aficionados.

Many have mistakenly categorised Pu'er as a sub class of black tea, due to its dark color. In fact, it is impossible to process Pu'er from black tea. There are 2 major categories of Pu'er:

Green (青饼 qīng bǐng) This tea, after drying, is left unadultered to age naturally. Though it takes longer to mature, it is considered superior by afficionados.
Cooked (
熟饼 shú bǐng) This tea is manipulated to accelerate the aging process. Also known as Mutual or Oolong.

Pu'er, as with Chinese black teas, and especially Yunnan teas, is generally expected to be served Gong-Fu style, generally in Yixing teaware. The tea is often steeped for long periods of time and can acquire a dark brown/black color, as dark as strong coffee. Because of the prolonged fermentation and oxidization Pu'er generally fails to develop the bitter, astringent properties of other teas, and can be brewed much stronger and for hours.

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More on Health Benefits
The chemical composition of broadleaf varietal tea trees (da ye) grown in Yunnan not only gives the tea a distinctive aroma and flavor profile, it also makes the leaves of Pu-er tea suitable for aging, enhancing the quality of the tea. Pu-er starts its life out like a green tea (except it is not dried completely like a green tea). As the tea ages, naturally or artificially, the leaves, which retain a certain amount of moisture, undergo fermentation, which is brought about by the action of various microorganisms. It is the result of this microbial activity that give rise to the unique medicinal qualities Pu-er tea offers.

Many studies have been conducted to pinpoint the health benefits in Pu-er tea.  An article published in the Experimental Gerontology, June 2009 entitled Pu-er tea aqueous extracts lower atherosclerotic risk factors in a rat hperlipidemia model suggests, “Pu-erh tea exerts strong antioxidative and lipid-lowering effects and therefore can be used to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disorders.”

A study conducted by the Institute of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, College of Medicine National Taiwan University, Taipei entitled Pu-er tea supplementation suppresses fatty acid synthase expression in the rat liver through downregulating Akt and JNK signalings as demonstrated in human hepatoma HepG2 cells reveals, “The expression of fatty acid synthase (FAS) in the livers of rats fed Pu-er tea leaves was significantly suppressed. The gains in body weight, level of triacylglycerol, and total cholesterol were also suppressed in the tea treated rats.”

Another study done by the Department of Food Science and Technology, China Nan Univ. of Pharmacy and Science entitled, Effects of Pu-er tea on oxidative damage and nitric oxide scavenging, investigated the effects of fermented Pu-er tea on oxidative damage and a nitric oxide scavenging agent compared with other brands of tea. The study indicates that “water extracts of Pu-er tea exhibited a remarkable protective effect in lipid (liposome) and nonlipid model systems, implying that it is an inhibitor of lipid and nonlipid oxidative damage… Overall, these findings suggest that Puer tea may play a crucial role in preventing such oxidation-related diseases as atherosclerosis and other types of vascular diseases.”