A Chinese Pu-Erh tea cake in a wrapper.

What is Pu Erh Tea?

Teas like Black, Green, White and Oolong teas are all relatively well known, but what is Pu Erh tea?

All of these teas are made from the Camellia Sinensis plant, and all have health benefits however Pu Erh is very different. Why is it different? Because it is a fermented tea. Also known as dark tea and usually sold pressed into a round disc or “cake”.

a chinese pu erh cake in a wrapper
Chinese Pu Erh Cake in a paper wrapper

Origins

Pu Erh is from the Yunnan province of China and named after the county where it originated. By the 6th century tea was being traded and transported from Yunnan to Lhasa, Tibet. The journey to Tibet took at least 6 – 8 months along the meandering ” Tea Horse Trail”.

Along the zig zagging road there were dense forests, high cliffs with narrow paths wide enough for one man or mule, thick mists, heavy downpours, blazing sun, dry plains and marshlands to contend with. Logistically travelling with loose tea was challenging! Green Tea made in Yunnan was pressed into round flat cakes wrapped in bamboo leaves and loaded onto yaks and ponies . Each cake was wrapped in paper, displaying information about the tea and the year of making. In cake form the tea took less space and suffered less damage if dropped en route.

winding path on the tea horse trail, Tibet. narrow path next to a wide river
Nujiang Grand Canyon, Tibet, part of the Tea Horse Trail which Pu Erh was transported along.

During the long journey the tea leaves absorbed humidity. Micro organisms on the tea leaves from the Yunnan forests reacted with the warm climate of the air on the way to Tibet starting a fermentation process that continued during storage at the other end.

Fermentation

As fermentation happens micro fauna in the tea leaves is activated.

This produces more Aspergillus Niger and Saccharomyces micro organisms in the the tea. Aspergillus Niger is good at breaking down fatty acids, proteins and carbohydrates into more easily absorbable particles. It is also key in giving the tea a rich and more mellow flavour. Saccharomyces also help the flavour of the tea by adding natural sweetness.

Usually the longer the fermentation the richer the taste. In fact vintage cakes often rise in price the longer they are aged. Prices can rise into the thousands and cakes are given as gifts, or kept and stored as an investment.

Today there are two methods of fermenting Pu Erh tea. Leaving the leaves to ferment naturally ( Sheng Pu Erh ) and forcing the fermentation to happen by controlling the moisture, heat and humidity in which the leaves are stored ( She Pu Erh )

Health Benefits

All teas have natural goodness and health benefits, but Pu Erh especially because of the additional microbes produced in the fermenting. Here are some of the reasons why a cup or two of a day could benefit your overall health :

  • Energy – it naturally contains caffeine giving both your energy and mental clarity a boost. The caffeine is more steadily released than in other caffeinated drinks like coffee so no caffeine slump or jitters!
  • Digestion – The good bacteria aid the bodies own friendly gut flora. They also do a great job of breaking down heavy fatty foods in the stomach and easing digestion along.
  • Aids Weight Loss – You have probably noticed “diet teas” advertised everywhere. Maybe you’ve looked at the ingredients and noticed that very often they contain Pu Erh and Oolong Tea. Why is this? Pu Erh tea actually decreases the breakdown and storage of fatty acids in the body. In conjunction with a healthy diet and exercise a cup after a meal can be a fantastic weight loss aid.
  • Antioxidants & Minerals – All teas made from the Camellia Sinensis plant contain vitamins, minerals and antioxidants and Pu Erh contains even more of these thanks to the ageing process it has been through.
  • Stress Relief– Pu Erh contains GABA and Theanine. Both of these compounds are able to cross the blood brain barrier and have a calming effect. They also increase the production of melatonin meaning better sleep!

While we may not have as many Pu Erh teas as some of our other tea varieties, they are carefully curated so that there is something for people who are new to the tea a well as connoisseurs looking for something special.

Pu Erh China Yunnan

Pu Erh China Yunnan

A beautiful Shu style tea from Yunnan, China. These leaves are sold loose rather than pressed into cakes in the traditional style. These would be fantastic for someone new to dark tea, or for anybody who already enjoys it.

2009 Xia Guan Vinage Pu Erh Coins

xia guan vintage pu erh coins

We are so delighted to have sourced these beautiful vintage mini cakes. These cakes are a naturally aged Sheng Pu Erh. The long ageing has really bought out an incredibly rich depth and texture in the tea.

Fasting Tea

Fasting Tea

Fasting Tea is a blend made with Pu Erh, yerba mate, pineapple, nettle leaf, hibiscus blossoms and lemon grass. Delightfully refreshing and with all the health benefits this is a great blend to stay revitalised and invigorated.

How to Brew

We have a step by step guide to brewing Pu Erh which you can find here .

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