Pu-erh tea is truly a unique brew, (it is pronounced "POOH-airs"). This is the one type of tea known in old Chinese as black tea.
The best quality Pu-erh is made from large leaves plucked from long-lived tea plants. These plants grow abundantly in the southern Yunnan Province.
All teas basically come from the Camellia sinensis var. sinensis, (techno speak). There is another Camellia sinensis var. Assamica. Also known as Yunnan Big Leaf.
This is the loose leaf form of Pu-erh tea
This leaf is found in the hot steamy southwestern corner of Yunnan, in a region known as Xishuangbanna. This is near the borders of Laos and Myanmar. But enough about geography, let’s get back to learning about this unique brew...
Fermentation and its shape...
Once the leaves are plucked, processed they are shaped into cakes. These cakes can take on a multitude of shapes and forms. The Pu-erh shaped cakes are then placed on shelves in climate controlled storages facilities to ferment
Just like many fine wines that improve with age this is the only tea that improves with time. This ageing process gives the brew a robust, earthy flavor. Some even have a tobacco like sweetness.
Before the use of modern facilities the cakes were placed in caves. Each cave with its unique environment would impart an artisan Pu-erh product. These cakes will remain shelved from a minimum of 2 years to 50.
The fermentation process is what truly sets this tea apart from all the others.
If you plan to purchase Pu-erh make sure to buy from a merchant you trust. There are ones who will mislead you as to the age of the cake you are purchasing.
Here are a few tips to help in your purchase.
1) The Wrapper...this is usually a thin cotton cloth or cotton paper. I should have the tea companies name on it along with the year of production, region of harvested leaves and plant type, along with the recipe number. Sometimes it will be wrapped twice.
2) One other proof or possible sign of authenticity is a small ticket embedded into the cake at time of pressing. There may be more than one inside the cake. This ticket should have the factory and brand on it.
3) Sometimes you may find a larger description ticket or flyer packaged loose under the wrapper. This is to insure the identity and should have the factory name on it.
4) Recently there are some factories that have begun micro printing and embossing their tickets to slow down the counterfeiting of Pu-erh teas found in today’s marketplaces.
Be adventurous...try something new if you've never had tea brewed from a piece of cake!