Introduction: What is Puerh Tea?
Puerh is a specific kind of aged tea produced in Yunnan, China, having originated there thousands of years ago. Puerh acquires a beautiful dark color and rich flavors due to the natural fermentation that takes place throughout its aging process. High quality puerhs like my 1990s Sinking Sheng, 1980s Loose Sheng, and 1990s Shou Puerh Tuo Cha are not only delicious, they also offer many health benefits. In America and the West however, everything from puerh’s taste, it’s processing, and how best to enjoy it is frequently misunderstood by those who are new to the world of aged tea. In this article I want to discuss what flavors to look for in high quality puerh tea, what its health benefits are, and how to brew it to ensure you’re getting the most out of your tea.
What does high quality puerh taste like?
Many people think that because puerh is aged and fermented, it is okay for it to taste “muddy” or “moldy” or “smoky.” This is not the case. Just as fine aged wine does not typically taste “dirty” or “old,” aged tea should not taste basement-y just because it has been through the ageing process.
Traditionally, puerh’s flavor should be rich and complex, with subtle hints of camphor, menthol and lotus. Some describe the taste as “earthy” or “mushroomy” but this can perhaps be easy to confuse with “dirty.” All of the teas sold at Hyperion Herbs are of excellent quality and very clean. They each have varying notes of camphor, menthol, and lotus as well as other authentic and classical pu-erh qualities.
What are the health benefits of drinking puerh?
From the perspective of Traditional Chinese Medicine, puerh helps to clear coldness and dampness, open the meridians, and warm the spleen and stomach. This makes it beneficial for “blood cleansing” and for improved digestion. For these reasons, I don’t recommend drinking puerh on an empty stomach, as it will likely just thin the blood too much. Traditionally, Puerh was often consumed after heavier or larger meals to help assimilate the extra food and nutrients and aid in digestion. Several studies have also shown puerh to lower blood pressure and cholesterol and to increase metabolism.
Other benefits of puerh may include:
How to steep and brew puerh tea
To fully enjoy puerh, I highly recommend brewing it gong fu style in a gaiwan. Brewing your tea gong fu style will provide you with a system that gives you consistency in flavor and maximizes the benefits of drinking tea. My Gong Fu Tea Ware is an excellent choice if you don’t already have a gaiwan of your own.
Once you’ve got your tea set, place anywhere between 1-2 teaspoons of the puerh in your brewing vessel of choice. If you’re drinking my 1990s Sinking Sheng or 1990s Shou Puerh Tuo Cha, you’ll want to gently break the puerh serving off from the “cake.” If you’re enjoying loose puerh, like my 1980s Loose Sheng you can simply grab your serving straight from the bag.
Now that you’ve got your puerh in your gaiwan, you want to “rinse” the puerh, both to clean the tea and to prime it for brewing/infusion. To rinse, gently pour near-boiling water over your puerh and let it steep for about 10 seconds before quickly discarding the water.
From thereon, generally speaking you can steep the puerh for about 30 seconds on the first brew, adding about 30 more seconds to each subsequent brew. For example your first couple brews might look like this: Rinse 10 seconds, first steep 30 seconds, second steep 1 minute, third steep 1 minute 30 seconds, etc. High quality puerhs can provide you with anywhere from 8-15 brews per single serving of tea.
These are just general guidelines. As you start enjoying puerh you’ll quickly find the serving size, brewing times, and even water temperatures that suit your particular tastes and mood.
How to enjoy puerh and use it optimally
As I mentioned earlier, I don’t recommend puerh on an empty stomach as it can thin the blood too much. It is great with a meal or following a meal.
Puerh is caffeinated so I’d also caution you not to use it before trying to go to bed. If you’re looking for a tea to drink later in the evening I’d point you toward herbal teas like gynostemma paired with rose buds or wild chrysanthemum.
Puerh is also a great base to make a tonic or elixir using my hot water herbal extracts. I think lion's mane is particularly tasty in it.
Lastly, as you’re enjoying your puerh, try paying attention to the tongue and mouth feel of the tea, as well as how it makes the rest of your body feel. If you’re interested, I talk more about how to enjoy my puerhs in this recent youtube video. Thanks for reading!