Pu’erh is a fermented dark tea from Yunnan Province China. At about 1500 years old, it is one of the oldest teas in the world! The best known Pu’erh areas are the Six Great Tea Mountains, Yunnan, renowned not only for their ideal growing conditions, but also for the unique tastes produced there. Springtime is ideal for harvesting Pu’erh so we were lucky to catch a glimpse of the production process in action.
Pu’erh is usually produced in factories. In the above image, you can see one of the older tea estates we drove by which uses some of the original methods and equipment to cultivate and ferment the tea leaves. This was taken just outside of Kunming at one of the original Menghai Factories. Once the leaves have been thoroughly softened through withering, they’re rolled in order to break down the structure of their cells, releasing the enzymes to trigger oxidation. This is usually done using a machine like the one shown in the picture below.
The process includes picking, withering, heating, rolling, drying and sorting. The final steps include sorting and compression of the tea into cakes, or whatever shape is being used.
Tea drinking is especially important in Chinese culture. In fact, it is said to have started in China as early as the fourth century, and soon became a ritual ceremony once introduced to Buddhist monks in Japan during the Tang Dynasty. Zen Buddhism played a major role in the development of the tea ceremony. In fact, the history of Zen and the practice of tea drinking have developed side by side and have greatly influenced one another.
Pu’erh tea pairs well with heavier or fatty foods like meats and poultry and is said to warm the stomach and spleen. It’s even been said to do wonders for a hangover, so drinking some before a night out may be a good idea. Watching how complex the production process is really adds a new appreciation to a cup of Pu’erh!