How To Brew Pu-erh Tea
Pu-erh tea is a fermented, aged tea from Yunnan province in south-west China, and is made from the large-leafed variety of the tea plant, the Camellia Sinensis, that grows in the area. It is named after the market town where the teas have been traded for hundreds of years. The most famous of puerh teas come from Xishuangbanna.
Other aged fermented teas that come from elsewhere are known as dark teas. The particular varietal of the tea bush, along with the Yunnan soil and the climate in the region, produce teas that have a rich, woody and slightly earthy character. Dark teas from different provinces have varying flavour profiles as they are made from different varietals and cultivars, and involve different moulds, fungi and bacteria.
Puerh is thought to have various positive health benefits, such as aiding digestion, easing stomach upsets, helping to reduce cholesterol in the blood and contributing to weight loss. Consequently puerh is becoming more and more popular throughout the world.
Raw puerh is made using entirely traditional methods of processing. First leaves are withered, pan-fired, rolled and kneaded, then sun-dried for high quality leaf or air dried for less expensive teas. This unfinished product is called ‘maocha’. The leaf is then either immediately steamed and compressed into cakes or slabs, or left loose. The tea is then allowed to mature.
During the maturation period, the tea is kept in naturally warm, humid, well-ventilated conditions. Because of the water content in the leaf and the oxygen in the air, the leaf slowly ferments. This really is fermentation, and is different from the oxidation that takes place during the manufacture of black and oolong teas. The leaf turns from green to a reddish colour, then to a dark brown.
The loose or compressed teas are left to age for up to 50 years, in conditions where humidity and temperature are carefully controlled to encourage the tea to develop a mature, complex, earthy flavour and aroma.
The manufacturing process for cooked puerh was developed in 1973 to replicate the mature earthiness of raw puerh by a faster method.
The leaf is picked, withered and then mixed with a carefully measured quantity of water and a bacterial culture taken from ancient puerh. The tea is then piled and covered for up to 40 days in a hot, humid room. Occasionally the covers are removed to regulate the amount of moisture and heat that builds up in the piles of tea, and the mixture is regularly turned to distribute the bacteria, heat and moisture evenly through the leaves.
The bacteriological activity causes the leaf to change from a yellowy-green to a reddy-brown. After the piling and fermentation process, some maturation is needed. Tea makers are constantly checking and tasting the tea throughout this process to see how it develops.
BREWING PUERH TEA
Puerh is brewed as part of the Chinese Gong Fu tea ceremony, Gong Fu or ‘Kung Fu’ meaning skill and dedicated learning. The ceremony is focussed around performing an art, and connecting with one’s mind and body, dedicating oneself to brewing the perfect cup.
Slide knife into the edge of the cake using a knife, and lift upwards. Pick leaves apart slightly to loosen up. Leaves are usually taken from the middle of the cake.
It is best to use a Yixing teapot or Gaiwan, and use a filter basket/mesh strainer over your pitcher to catch extra dust.
Rinse the leaves with boiling water for 4-5 seconds, pouring that first water away. This is to remove dusty bacteria from the leaf.
Brew the tea using hot water at 100C. The brewing time will depend on the type of Puerh you are making. Most raw Puerhs can be infused for around 10-20 seconds. Some puerhs can be brewed for a longer time, 30-40 seconds, or 1-2 minutes. Reinfuse the leaves up to 8 or 9 times.