Such a funny name! “Puerh.” I’ve heard some pronounce it as “Poo – Air,” and some pronounce it as “Poo – Ur.” And while the name might have variations, the provenance of this tea has none. Just as true Champagne comes only from the Champagne region of France (all others must be referred to as sparkling wine), true Puerh comes from the Yunnan region of China (all others must be referred to as Hei Cha). Hei Cha is classified as a dark fermented tea, which is different from what most Americans consider “black” tea.
Fermented tea? You may very well ask. We don’t usually associate tea with fermentation. Yet, as with some wines and cheese, this particular fermentation process can actually add flavors, characteristics and complexities over time that add value to the tea.
This fermentation process includes a highly controlled environment and requires ‘wild’ bacteria available on the tea leaves themselves. If the process is not controlled properly, the result will be a poor quality puerh that may smell of compost or even have a fishy quality. (No, thank you!)
Traditionally, the puerh leaves were pressed into forms or bricks and even used as a form of currency. While puerh is still produced in this way, one may also find it in loose leaf form. Kat has a prized brick of Song Ping Yellow Mark Puerh from Char’s adventures in China. She was always vague about the man who gifted it to her, but every time Char talked about it, she got that dreamy, far away look. I have my guesses… (Sometimes my carrying case got in the way of juicy observations!)
One thing I find so interesting about puerh is the steeping process. It is one of those teas that you brew for seconds rather than minutes. And the lovely thing is that it may be used for multiple steepings! The first steeping might be for 10 seconds. The next for 12 or 13 seconds, and so on. Each steeping has its own unique characteristics. It’s a tea journey, not just a cup of tea!
The next time you’re offered puerh tea, look past the name and give it a try! You’ll be delighted you did!