Insider’s guide to chinese teas – part 1 pu-erh

Insider’s Guide to Chinese Teas – Part 1 Pu-erh

Pu-erh is a town in the Yunnan province of China. In former times, it was the centre of the tea trade for the region and so gave its name to Pu-erh tea. Pu-erh tea has a distinctive flavour and produces a reddish-brown brew, a little like the conventional black tea. But that is where the similarities end. It is thought that tea production dates back almost 2000 years in the Yunnan region and some very old trees (getting on for 2000 years of age) are known and still produce tea to this day.

The tea that most people drink, black tea, is fermented and has lost a lot of the original nutrients that are reported as being beneficial. So although it is most definitely better for one’s health than coffee, it is not as beneficial as teas that have been fermented less such as pu-erh, or in not at all such as green tea. In common with most teas, it contains antioxidants that can help your body combat disease, including cancers. It is an accepted herb in traditional Chinese medicine which is perhaps why it attracts so much attention now in the west as awareness of complementary medicine is increasing.

The health benefits of drinking pu-erh have been researched and evidence suggests that it is particularly effective in the reduction of cholesterol. The tea seems to attach itself to the cholesterol molecules and somehow seems to prevent the absorption of these. It that is true, then drinking this type of tea is a must for those with high cholesterol levels as it may reduce the quantity of cholesterol entering the bloodstream from the diet.

Pu-erh and Oolong teas are both reputed to aid weight loss. The theory is that it increases the metabolism and therefore burns off food faster. To be honest, a bit of exercise is probably better! Still, even if it only has a placebo effect then that is an important part of any weight loss programme. Whatever the truth in this, there is a big market in slimming teas – it is a bit like selling carrot as a slimming vegetable!! If they are drunk instead of higher calorie drinks, then again they could help, a tastier alternative to water on its own.

Traditionally, Pu-erh tea is compressed into a variety of blocks for easy storage. The reason for this tradition is that it improves with age. Like a good wine, it is a ‘living’ tea; it contains active microbes which subtly and slowly change the flavour. The trouble is, that long storage times can make it quite expensive, in fact some of the older varieties (between 30 and 50 years old) change hands for ridiculously high prices – perhaps it is worth buying some as an investment!! The more affordable less aged Pu-erh teas are still expensive by tea standards but are affordable. By the time it reaches 50, it starts to go downhill, so you seldom see any that is older than this.

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