The People’s Republic of China is known for its fine assortment of teas, but perhaps none is more coveted than pu-erh. The one-of-a-kind, large leaves hail from the Yunnan Province’s famed tea region, which is located just beyond the Yunling Mountain. It has everything high quality, wild teas could every hope for — including a temperate climate, nurturing soil and clean water. Once the leaves reach their peak flavor, they’re normally harvested by the bud and put through a rigorous fermentation process.
The process starts with an elaborate drying method that includes pan-frying, bruising and rolling. It’s designed to stop oxidation. Afterward, the leaves are traditionally fermented with the aid of microorganisms and pressed into a wide variety of shapes before being tucked away to age in climate controlled areas. For many tea enthusiasts, only the oldest cakes or bricks of pu-erh tea will do (and come at a premium price). Other connoisseurs are willing to buy bundles that are much younger and continue aging them at home solely for the pure joy of it. However, those that do give it a go must take great pains when storing their little treasured bundles. Otherwise, the tea won’t taste nearly as good.
In future editions of “Tea Cliffnotes” we’ll get into more detail about the nuances and differences among sheng and ripe pu-erh.
Regardless of whether a tea drinker is willing to hold out for 75-year old leaves or not doesn’t matter when it comes to the brewing process. The majority of all vintages are prepared with gong fu sets and steeping rituals to help bring out their inherent flavors. The sets are readily available online and tend to sell at various price points. As we indicated previously, pu-erh tea prices will also vary. Therefore, there’s a good chance that many tea lovers will be able to pick up loose pu-erh tea and a gong fu set that fits well within their budgetary constraints.