The Pu-erh Tea is produced in Chinese Yunnan Province. It is made by the material from the Yunnan Big Leaf Tea, and featured by the sun-dried processing.
1. The history of Pu-erh Tea
According to the study, Yunnan is the origin of the tea in the world. The tea planting and processing in Yunnan started around 3000 years ago. The Latin name of Yunnan Big Lea Tea is Camellia sinesis var. assamica, which is in between the Chinese typical tea plant Camellia sinesis and the Indian tea plant Camellia assamica.
In the beginning stage, the processing and way of consuming of tea in Yunnan was very primitive. The fresh leaf was plucked, and then they blended it will ginger and mint and salt and ate as vegetable. Some of the tea leaves were naturally dried and kept to use for medical purpose. (This is the ancient white tea.).
In Yuan Dynasty, there was a place in Yunnan called as Bu Ri Bu 步日部 by Mongol. Later they wrote it in official Chinese. It was written as 普耳 Pu Erh. That’s when the name Pu-erh was invernted. The Xinjiang and Tibet market which consumed big quantity of tea from Yunnan started calling the Yunnan tea as Pu Cha 普茶. Before that, there was no fixed name to call the tea from Yunnan.
In the end of Ming Dynasty, the name Pu Cha was further evlolved to Pu-erh Cha.
The Pu-erh tea was one of the important strategic commodities for the central empire. Because the Chinese bordering nationalities eg. Tibet, Mongolia, Xinjiang and Middle Aian countreis had strong demand of Chiense tea. So the pu-erh tea was traded. Horse and silver flowed into the central empire and supported its finance and army. The ancient Tea and Horse Road of Yunnan is a road full of hardships and dangers.
The old Tea and Horse Road Full of Hardships and Dangers
The Emperor Guangxu 光绪帝 of Qing Dynasty had drank the pu-erh tea tributed from Yiwu of Yunnan. He was very pleased with the quality. And he He granted a royal wooden plaque with his writiting 瑞贡天朝 (Fine Tribute to Central Empire) to the Yiwu tea producers.
瑞贡天朝 Wooden Plaque granted by Emperor Guangxu 光绪帝
Now in the Natioanl Museum of China, it still keeps some tribute pu-erh tea left from the palace of Qing Dynasty. The age is more than 150 years old.
2. The Classification of Pu-erh Tea
Pu-erh tea is classified in to Raw Pu-erh Tea (Sheng Cha) and Ripe Pu-erh Tea (Shu Cha).
Raw Pu-erh (Sheng Cha) Ripe Pu-erh (Shu Cha)
To understand the the difference of these two different types of Pu-erh tea, it is necessary to know the background of them.
Raw Pu-erh Tea is very close to green tea in processing. Just the drying of raw pu-erh tea is sun-dried. while the green tea is dried by charcoal baking or electricity. The raw pu-erh tea can be kept to achieve vintage effect, after it is produced and compressed. Vintage raw pu-erh was highly valued by some pu-erh tea drinkers. Before 1970s, there was no ripe pu-erh. At that time, raw pu-erh was exported to oversea countries. The Chinese Tea Co. found that vintage raw pu-erh of tens of years old had very big market, while they could not supply the vintage pu-erh tea product in short time. So they had an idea to produce the ‘vintage’ raw pu-erh in a fast way. While the flavor and taste needed to be similar to real vintage raw pu-erh. The Guangdong Tea Factory under The Chinese Tea Co. invented the way to produce ripe pu-erh in around 1972. They used pile fermentation to further process raw pu-erh maocha. During the pile fermentaton, water would be added to the tea to help fungi and bacteria grow and transform of tea contents. The pile fermentation lasted around two months. By this way, the ripe pu-erh is produced. The ripe pu-erh is similar to the vintage raw pu-erh of 20-40 years old, in flavor and taste.
Pile Fermentation of Ripe Pu-erh Tea
From the above introduction, we know that ripe pu-erh is a kind of imitation of vintage raw pu-erh tea by changing the processing method. The ripe pu-erh itself is already very ‘vintage’. So it is not reasonable or necessary to ask for a vintage ripe pu-erh. (Have you often come across customers who ask for an aged ripe pu-erh?).
3. The processing of Pu-erh Tea
Just as we have mentioned, the processing of Raw Pu-erh Tea is very close to Chinese Green Tea. The processing flow of Raw Pu-erh Tea is, Plucking-Frying-Rolling-Drying (Sun-dried). The difference is that the way of drying for Raw Pu-erh Tea is Sun-dried. The climate of Chinese Yunnan Provicne is different from most of the other South China tea producing provinces in that it is very dry in the Spring season and the sunlight is very strong. The Yunnan people had taken advantage of this weather condition. The raw pu-erh tea has been produced by this way all the while. So now to talk about pu-erh tea, it must be sun-dried. Otherwise it is not ‘authentic’ pu-erh tea.
Sun Dry of Pu-erh Tea
The processing of ripe pu-erh tea is, Raw Pu-erh Maocha (The un-compressed loose leaf raw pu-erh without sorting)-Pile Fermentation-Drying and Sorting.
4. Compression of Pu-erh Tea
Though some Pu-erh Tea is sold and consumed in Loose Leaf, most of the Pu-erh Tea is compressed into different shapes, eg. cake, brick, tuocha, mini tuocha…The compression of Pu-erh tea started in ancient age when there was no modern transportation, the tea had to be transported by labor abd horse. And Yunnan is a faraway provicne of China. There is long way from Yunnan to the Pu-erh Tea destinations, eg. Beijing, Tibet, Urumqi, Nepal…. To transport the tea in an efficient way, they would compress the Pu-erh Tea before shipment (It is the same case on Dark Tea which also sold in faraway places in history).
The compression of Pu-erh Tea is as following, Weight the required quantity-Soften the tea leaf by hot steam-put into the mode and compress-Baking dry.
The Compression of Pu-erh Tea
The compression of pu-erh tea not only helps the transportaion but also helps the keeping vintage of the tea. The tea inside the surface is not directly contacting air and outside, which makes the tea form the vintage characters as keeping time goes on.
5. The Packaging of Pu-erh Tea
The standard Pu-erh Tea packaging including inner ticket, wrapping paper and bamboo shoot peel (For wrapping of Qi Zi Bing 七子饼)
Generally the company name, logo and produce date of the tea will be printed on the inner ticket. The inner ticket is inserted into the tea when compressed.
The wrapping paper selects cotton paper to make. In Yunnan, there are still a lot of cotton paper works. The cotton paper from those works is 100% made by hand, natural and clean for wrapping of food.
The bamboo shoot peel is used to bundle the Qi Zi Bing. The bamboo shoot peel is natural clean without smell. It is very good for wrappin of Qi Zi Bing and keeping of the tea. But the customers who import the tea should be careful if the customs will stop the import due to that the bamboo shoot peel is original plant packaging. Some countries require fumigation for original plant packaging.
6. The material of Pu-erh Tea
The material of Pu-erh Tea should come from Yunnan Big Leaf Tea. And it is classified into two categories, common tea garden tea (Tai Di Cha 台地茶) and Old tea tree. Most of the ripe pu-erh tea material comes from common tea garden. On the contrary, most of the raw pu-erh tea comes from old tea tree. The reason of the difference of the material resource requiement is that the processing of the ripe pu-erh tea is very complicated, especially the pile fermentation for long time changes the texture of the tea a lot. so the most critical factor to decide quality of ripe pu-erh is processing techonology. The material resource for ripe pu-erh becomes a not very sensitive factor. And the material cost of old tea tree is much high than those from common tea garden. So most of the tea facotries adopt common tea garden tea material to process ripe pu-erh. On the other side, most of the raw pu-erh tea is made by material from old tea tree. The reason is that the processing of raw pu-erh tea is very simple, frying, rolling and let it dry under the Sun. The material quality and characters can be apparantly reflected on the final product tea. The quality character of the raw pu-erh tea in relation to its resource is so noticalble that many tea mountains growing old tea tree in Yunnan are identified. Most of the raw pu-erh tea needs fine and specified matrial from old tea trees to make.
In China, we have very good metaphor to explain the material requirment difference of these two types of Pu-erh Tea. There are Xiang Cai (湘菜) and Yue Cai (粤菜) two different types of cuisine in China. Xiang Cai cooking is featured by spicy and tasty, while the material is not very selected; Yue Cai cooking is featured by simple and original, while the material needs to be fresh and more selected.
Generally the simpler the work it is, the more difficult to make perfect.
The material of Pu-erh Tea is also classified into three types by timing of harvesting. Qing Ming Tea, Yu Shui Cha and Gu Hua Cha. Qing Ming Tea is made by the material plucked before and around Qing Ming; Yu Shui Cha is made in the rainy season; and Gu Hua Cha is made in the Autumn when the rice flower open. It is generally believed that the quality of Qing Ming Cha is better than Gu Hua Cha, and Gu Hua Cha better than Yu Shui Cha.
7. The producing places of Pu-erh Tea
The Pu-erh tea producing places in Yunnan are mainly in the four regions, Xishuangbanna, Pu-erh (used to be Simao), Lincang and Baoshan.
7.1 Xishuangbanna is the most famous pu-erh tea producing place in Yunnan. It used to be the starting point of the ancient Tea and Horse Road (茶马古道 Cha Ma Gu Dao). Menghai is the biggest pu-erh tea market in China. The famous tea mountains in Xishuangbanna include:
1) Liu Da Cha Shan (Six Tea Mountains 六大茶山). They are Yiwu 易武, Youle 优乐, Gedeng 革登, Yibang 倚邦, Mangzhi 莽枝 , Manzhuan 蛮砖. These are the oldest famous pu-erh tea mountains in Yunnan. And in Yiwu, there are the famous tea villages Gua Feng Zhai 刮风寨, Ma Hei 麻黑.
2)Lao Ban Zhang 老班章
3) Bu Lang Shan 布朗山
4) Nan Nuo Shan 南糯山
5) Ba Da Shan 巴达茶山
6) Meng Song Cha Shan 勐宋茶山
7) Nan Jiao Cha Shan 南峤茶山
8) He Kai 贺开
9) Pa Sha 帕沙
Xishuangbanna Pu-erh Tea Mountains
7.2 Pu-erh Region (Used to be Simao) is the region named by tea. The famous tea mountains in this region are
1) Jingmai 景迈
2) Kun Lu Shan (困鹿山)
3) Qian Jia Zhai (千家寨)
4) Bang Wai Cha Shan (邦崴茶山)
5) Wu Liang Shan (无量山)
6) Ai Lao Shan (哀牢山)
7) Man Wan Gu Cha Yuan (漫湾古茶园)
8) Lao Wu Shan Gu Cha Yuan (老乌山古茶园)
9) Mi Di Gu Cha Yuan (迷帝古茶园 )
10) Lao Cang Fu De Gu Cha Yuan (老仓福德古茶园)
11) Jin Ding Gu Cha Yuan (金鼎古茶园)
Pu’er Region Pu-erh Tea Mountains
7.3 Lincang is the biggest tea producing region of Yunnan. The famous tea mountains in this region are
1) Xi Gui (昔归)
2) Bing Dao (冰岛)
3) Mang Fei (忙肺)
4) Da Xue Shan (大雪山)
5) Bai Ying Shan (白莺山)
7) Da Chao Shan (大朝山)
8) Ma An Shan (马鞍山)
9) Ming Feng Shan (鸣凤山)
10) Da Qing Shan (大青山)
11) Dong Guo Cha Shan (懂过茶山)
12) Bai Nuo Cha Shan (坝糯茶山)
13) Ma Tai (马台)
14) Man Lai Gu Cha Yuan (曼来古茶园)
15) Xiao Wan Gu Cha Yuan (小湾古茶园)
Lincang Pu-erh Tea Mountains
7.4 Baoshan is the one region located in Southwest Yunnan producing Pu-erh Tea.The famous tea mountains in this region are
1) Huang Jia Zhai Gu Cha Yuan 黄家寨古茶园
2) Gao Li Gong Shan Gu Cha Yuan 高黎贡山古茶园
3) Shi Fo Shan Gu Cha Yuan 石佛山古茶园
4) Yan Jiang Yang Quan Po Gu Cha Yuan 沿江羊圈坡古茶园
5) De Ang Zhai Gu Cha Yuan 德昂寨古茶园
6) Bai Ma Cun Gu Cha Yuan 摆马村古茶园
7) An Gu Cha Yuan 安古茶园
8) Ba Wai Gu Cha Yuan 坝外古茶园
9) A Guan Shan Gu Cha Yuan 阿贯山古茶园
Baoshan Pu-erh Tea Mountains
7.5 Dali. Besides the Xiaguan Tea Facotry 下关茶厂 which is mainly engaged in the business of compression of the famous Xiaguan Tuocha 下关沱茶, the main pu-erh tea production of Dali Region concentrates in Nanjian County. Nanjian is the North beginning of Wu Liang Shan Mountain in Yunnan. Ninety percent of the old tea resource of Nanjian distributes in the Wu Liang Shan of Nanjian. And there is the Yunnan highest altitude old tea growing record in Nanjian, 2602m in Zhonshan No.3 Old Tea Garden. Part of the old tea trees of Nanjian is identified as Dali cha Camellia taliensis, which is different form the dominant Camellia sinesis var. assamica in Yunnan.
Nanjian also produce the Tuocha, Feng Huang Tuocha (Phoenix Tuocha).
8. How to judge the quality of Pu-erh Tea
The quality of Pu-erh tea is mostly measured by its flavor and taste.
1) Ripe Pu-erh. On Ripe Pu-erh Tea, the tea appeared a lot of quality characters of deep fermentation. So we know that freshness is out of consideration for the quality examination of ripe pu-erh. Genrally the good quality ripe pu-erh carries a kind of mature sweet flavor, feeling like the flavor of dry Chinese date (If you are not familar with the flavor dry Chinese date , please try to obtain some from local supermarket, and open the fruit, smell its inside flesh ). The flavor can be noticed on either the dry tea cake or the brewing liquor. And aslo the liquor might give off some Chinese medicine flavor. Here we would like to argue that, though the ripe pu-erh tea has undergone pile fermentation for almost two months and is sopposed to be the imitation of vintage raw pu-erh, the tea can not carry earthy and stale flavor, which comes from bad managment of processing, especially failure in pile fermentation.
The taste of good ripe pu-erh tea is mellow and smooth. The mouth can feel soft and comforatble. The ripe pu-erh also produce some aftertaste. But generally the aftertaste is not strong on ripe pu-erh. On the contrary, if the taste of ripe pu-erh is pale, sour and bitter, the mouth feeling is harsh and coarse, it is indication of inferior quality.
Generally the ripe pu-erh tea will be graded according to size and shape after pile fermetnation. (The pile fermentation needs around 5,000KG MOQ to start processing. It requires big piling to ensure the fermentation goes on well). The full grades of ripe pu-erh from top to end include: Gong Ting (Royal tribute), Special Grade, 1st Grade, 3rd Grade, 5th Grade , 7th Grade and Outer Grade.
There one special and interesting grade of ripe pu-erh tea, whic is Cha Tou. The Cha Tou is formed during the pile fermentation. In the processing, a lot of pectins degraded from the tea juice will tightly connect the tea leaves, expecially in the middle of the pile there are more tea juice and pectins. After the pile fermentation finish, the connected tea leaves can not be dismissed. They from into a group. Which is Cha Tou. We can say Cha Tou is the essence of ripe pu-erh tea. Because it is formed by a lot of quality components and extracts. The flavor and taste of Cha Tou is very rich. Cha Tou has equal value to Gong Ting, and sometimes even higher.
There are quite few Old Tea Tree material used for processing of ripe pu-erh. The reason is as we have explained that the drastic reaction changes the texure of material a lot. One other reason is that the pile fermrantion needs big quanity to start processing. (It is ont easy to assemble big quality of old tree tea material. because its production is limited). Despite the above facts, there are still some Old Tree Ripe Pu-erh production in these years, due to the market demand. The ripe pu-erh made by old tea tree material usually has deeper taste than ordinary one, though not very obvious. And it has less golden hair than the commone one. The grading of ripe pu-erh made by old tea tree material is not so particular.
2) Raw Pu-erh, the raw pu-erh has a lot of different quality characters from different tea mountains. We are not discussing the different quality characters of different tea mountains in this article, but the common quality critieria of raw pu-erh tea instead.
The raw pu-erh tea generally behaves stronger tea flavor and taste than most of other types of chinese teas. eg. green tea, yellow tea and white tea, due to the quality character brought by the cultivar Yunnan Big Leaf Tea and the simple processing. The flavor of a good quality raw pu-erh tea is fresh, floral or fruity. And in some special mountain resource, there is kind of crystal sugar flavor. The taste of good raw pu-erh tea is strong and rich and especially the aftertaste come up fast. The mouth might feel irritating in the beginning, but the feeling turns to be pleasant and awesome very fast, and the sweet aftertaste is obvious.
Yunnan has rich old (or ancient) tea tree resource which lay a sound foundation for the quality of raw pu-erh tea. Besides the factor the old tea tree grows natural and healthy, the other most important value of old tea tree is that they have richer quality contents than common garden tea. The old tea trees grow natually and slowly, and they do not need chemical and fertilizer to help the growth. Also there is no trimming and less plucking time of old tea tree. These conditions decide that there are more quality contents accumulated in the old tea tree leaves. That’s why the raw pu-erh tea made by old tea trees behave good quality. And now among the experienced tea drinkers, the infusion lasting become a more and more imporant quality factor. They believe that the good raw pu-erh tea should certainly last a lot of infusions, which come from the rich quality content brought by old tea tree.
The tea grow in fertile field migh grow fast and there would be high nitrogen content. High nitrogen content is not good to taste, which make the tea taste pale and astringent. While the tea from infertile and rocky field has less nitrogen and richer mineral content, thus the taste is generally mellow sweet and the aftertaste is deep.
When we are pursueing old tree raw pu-erh tea, rather than just consider the fame of the mountain and how-old of the tea tree, we care more on the natural growing sourroundings of the old tea tree and don’t follow the tea over chased for yield.
The vintage raw pu-erh is developed from fresh material. So the fresh material is the basis of the quality of the vintage pu-erh. Good fresh material makes good vintage tea. And the keeping should be in a good way. The good vintage raw pu-erh has mature fruity flavor, and the taste is rich and mellow, aftertaste is deep. On the contrary, it is not good if the vintage raw pu-erh flavor is smoky or burning. And the moldy flavor or stale flavor is indiation of bad keeping. It is not good if the taste is sour, coarse and pale.
One intersting story is that some people had the chance to taste to vintage pu-erh tea left from the stock of Qing Dyansty royal palace whicn is at least 120 years old. They described the brewing is still red in color, the flavor is not moldy but very aging. The taste is very pale.
9. The Pesticide Status of Pu-erh Tea
Pu-erh Tea is produced in Yunnan Province. Yunnan is a Chinese faraway provicne located in the Southwest border territory, and here especially in the tea growing area, there are few industries, which makes the place clean and away from industrial pollution. Most of the tea gardens are good in ecological environment and have good practice of limit pesitcide application. Furthermore the old tea trees are growing naturally, which does not need regular tea garden maintenance, thus pesticides and herbicides are not used. Generally most of the Yunnan Pu-erh Tea can be conformed to EU-regulation. And now in Yunnan, the certified organic tea gardens are developing. Organic Pu-erh Tea products are available from more and more prodction sources.
10. What is White Pu-erh?
White Pu-erh is actually a white tea, instead of pu-erh tea. It is produced in Yunnan Pu-erh Tea producing places, followed the white tea processing flow. The tea leaves plucked from Yunnan Big Leaf Tea is naturally withered indoor on the bamboo plates. And in the final stage, it is subjust to baking for final dry. The dry loose leaf will be compressed into cakes like pu-erh tea. So people are used to calling the big leaf Yunnan white tea ‘white pu-erh’. Most of the White Pu-erh are made by material from old tea trees. The flavor of White pu-erh is wild and has strong fragrance. The taste is rich and mellow, especailly the aftertaste is very deep. It is very good alternative choice of Chinese white tea, besides the Fujian Silver Needle and White Peony white tea.
White Pu-erh (Old Tree)
11.The health benefits of Pu-erh Tea
Pu-erh Tea is one of the healthiest beverages in the world. The Pu-erh tea has the health benefits:
11.1 Help digest and keep body fit. The pu-erh tea can achieve obvious effect in help digest. After a heavy meal, and drink pu-erh tea, most of the people can feel stomach soon be emptied, thus the body feel relaxed. In particular, the ripe pu-erh can not only help digest but also nourish the stomach. As we know, most of the tea has some stimulative effect on stomach. So some people, expecially old people can not drink too much tea, due to the worry of uncomforatble stomach. But the ripe pu-erh is very freindly to it. Because the deep fermentation has made the tea ‘warm’ character. (In Chinese medicine theory, most of the tea is a bit cool in nature. but the deep fermentation change the nature of ripe pu-erh to warm, which is good to human stomach).
11.2 Improve cadiovascular health. The tea polysaccharide in Pu-erh tea can lower body fat, blood pressure and cholesterol. Thus it is very good to drink pu-er tea for cadiovascular health.
11.3 Prevent Cancer. The polyphenols like EGCG in tea has significant effect on elimination of free radicals in human body. And free radicals is one of the important reasons for tumor. Drinking tea can prevent cancer.
11.4 Anti-inflammation. The tea polyphenols and tea saponin can inhibit bacteria. Thus tea can play the function of anti-inflammation. And the anti-inflammation function of tea can help prevent teeth decay.
11.5 Anti-depression and anxiety. The theanine in tea is a kind of amino acid which can relax nerve. Thus the drinking of pu-erh tea can lift the mood and help feel relaxed.
11.6 Anti-toxin and brighten the skin. The flavonoids is a kind of special tea polyphenols which play as anti-toxidants in human body. And one of the performances of anti-toxidants is to eliminate the dots on skin. So drinking pu-erh tea can brighten skin.
11.7 Cure gout. Pu-erh Tea is the traditional Chinese therapy for gout. Because Tea can regulate the metabolism of purine in human body. It is an effecient and green way of cure gout.
11.8 Supply vegetal fiber and minerals. Pu-erh Tea is the esential daily consumption in the world places eg. Tibet, Mongolia and Xinjiang where the food is mainly composed by meat and lacks vegetal resource. Tea is very good supplement to aid intake of vegetal fiber and minerals.
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Tags: Pu-erh Tea