The Chinese know tea. There’s no authority more trusted, no keeper of ancient brewing secrets more renowned. You’ve prepared the Pu Erh tea in the recommended fashion, comforted in the knowledge it’s a hardy tea, capable of sustaining flavor even in the face of the most amateurish brewing methodology. You slowly pour a steaming cup, relishing the pungent aroma that wafts gently upward.
You step outside and settle into a favorite, old chair on the back porch, enjoying the crisp tug of the fall weather on the back of your neck. Warming your hands on the hot clay mug, you anticipate the delight of your first sip. After all, at fifty dollars a pound, this should be one fabulous cup of tea. You’ll have to thank your buddy Josh for turning you on to this rare blend. OK, you’re ready. First sip and… You rush to the rail and spew the foul froth to the ground, hoping you won’t have to reseed in the spring. “This can’t be right…” You utter in utter disbelief. “This stuff tastes like dirt!”
It’s true. Some have described Pu Erh tea as tasting like dirt. But, even if true, is that a bad thing?
The pungent aroma and earthy, dirt-like flavor of Pu Erh tea is a result of its unique production process. The tealeaves are gathered and fired, as in many other teas, but a portion of the moisture is allowed to remain. The tealeaves are then piled together and aged in underground rooms or caves. The remaining moisture allows a natural bacterium to grow and a process akin to oxidation, or composting, occurs. The result is of the process is a tea that is unusually earthy.
First brewed in China as early 1,000 B.C., the world’s best Pu Erh tea comes from the Yunnan Province. Situated in the extreme southwestern portion of China, this province is home to the Six Famous Tea Mountains, known for their perfect climates and conditions for the production of tea. While the tea may be produced from plantation bushes or “wild arbor” tress, the most prized teas come from fully wild trees. These tress are known for producing Pu erh that is rich and earthy, yet without being bitter.
When purchasing Pu Erh keep a couple things in mind. First, don’t look for a freshness seal. With Pu Erh it’s “the older the better.” Unlike other teas, which lose their taste over time, the depth of Pu Erh’s taste is actually enhanced with age. It’s not uncommon to find Pu Erh that is twenty to thirty years old, or even older. Also keep in mind that the older the tea the more expensive. Don’t expect to pay grocery store prices for Pu Erh. Twenty dollars per pound is a bargain and, for older and higher quality selections, you may easily pay fifty dollars or more per pound.
Pu Erh is also said to have a multitude of health benefits, including aiding digestion and lowering cholesterol. Add to this its soothing effect, its blood cleansing properties, and its facilitation of weight loss and it seems like a surefire winner. But…
While health benefits are great, it may not be enough to pique your friend’s interest in trying this rather unique brew. However, your friends simply won’t be able to resist the intrigue when you tell them Pu Erh tea “tastes like dirt – and, it’s good for you.” After all, who could resist a testimonial like that?