The Tea Detective
Uncovering and Exploring the Facts About Tea
Pu-erh Tea - The Inside Secret
Pu-erh tea is truly in a class of its own.  Even though it starts out fresh from the
field just like the other teas, inside there is a secret weapon - bacteria.  
During processing pu-erh tea
receives a unique step where
bacteria is placed both on
and in the tea leaves.

Now I know what you're thinking.  You reg-
ularly use a ton of Lysol to kill bacteria - so
why in the world would you voluntarily drink
it?  

Well, because this is a special type of bacter-
ia, one that is actually healthy when process-
ed and aged with the tea in a particular way.

In
China pu-erh teas are known as medicinal
teas.  And lately they've been attracting
attention in the West for their particular
Lose Weight - Lower Cholesterol
Studies have shown that pu-erh tea helps reduce blood cholesterol
levels and improves fat metabolism, and drinking three cups a day,
or one cup with each meal helps stimulate
weight loss.

There are two main types of pu-erh tea.  
Shou pu-erh, a quick aging
version devised to meet the ever rising demand for pu-erh, and
Sheng pu-erh (also called "young green"), the ancient traditional
method of producing pu-erh tea, and the manufacturing process
we'll examine first.

Sheng pu-erh or Mao Cha, is an ancient process which requires the tea to be properly stored and
aged for up to ten years.  Pu-erh  tea is one of the largest and oldest of tea leaves, with a deep   
green color, and large leaves.

The manufacturing process begins with the
plucking and cleaning of the leaf, before be-
ing left to briefly air dry (in the sun if possi-
ble).  Then it's quickly fired to remove any ex-
cess surface moisture that the larger size
tea leaves often attract.

The next step depends on which type of pu-
erh tea is being made; either sheng pu-erh,
the traditional aged pu-erh that is compress-
ed into cakes, or shou pu-erh, (called Wo Dui),
          the quick aging version made to meet
          the ever growing demand for this tasty,
          healthy tea.  This is the step that de-
          termines which tea it will become.

                                                          Sheng, or raw pu-erh is fired nearly completely to stop all
                                                          enzyme activity and also stop oxidation from occurring. The
                                                          trick is to not eliminate all internal moisture, which would
                                                          completely stop all   fermentation from taking place.  Be-
                                                          cause the leaves are larger and harvested from
Yunnan's
                                                          large, older plants, there remains plenty of natural bacteria
                                                          on the leaf surface to begin the chemical transformation
          necessary for pu-erh tea to properly develop.

          The next step is similar to that of
black tea, where the leaf is gathered, put on the floor
          on mats, and carefully supervised while being turned regularly, allowing it to ferment.  For
          all the leaf to evenly ferment, the pile must be turned at regular intervals, giving all the
          leaves a chance to be in the middle (warmest) part of the pile.  This allows the heat
          generated by the fermentation process to be dispersed evenly throughout the pile so the
          leaf remains raw.

          At this state the leaf is called Mao Cha or "young green". The
          next step in the manufacture of sheng pu-erh is to pack the
          Mao Cha into either traditional round-shaped cakes, called
          beeng cha, or the more modern compressed shapes, such as
          cubes, spheres, bricks, or pyramids.

          The goal is to get the raw pu-erh to ferment internally, to re-
          duce the moisture content to a very low level, and limit its exposure to fresh oxygen.  In
          its compressed form the Mao Cha will remain, while it undergoes post fermentation, or
          aging for the next ten years.

          There it will remain in climate controlled storage, with a humidity level of less than 80%,    
          and where good air circulation is maintained at all times.

          The paper wrapped disks are marked with the date and place of manufacture and noted
          with any important storage information.

           After remaining in
storage for approximately six years, the

           
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health benefits, some of which the other teas (also known for their many health benefits) may
not equally share.
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balance of moisture and bacteria slows the post fermentation process, and from then on
the tea becomes a dry-storage, naturally aged sheng pu-erh, and is ready for taste test-
ing.

To do the taste testing, a few leaves are carefully removed from the back side of the com-
pressed disk and brewed (this step is similar to wine testing).  When the tea is aged to the owner's satisfaction it is
ready for sale.

There's no hurry to drink your sheng pu-erh tea before it expires, because it will not change, but rather continue to
age gracefully.

                                                 When buying pu-erh tea, it's best to talk to the merchant and ask about it, and if
                                                 possible even ask for a sample amount to try first.

                                                 If that's not possible, or they can't answer your questions, I always recommend buy-
                                                 ing a small amount of tea in the beginning to see if you like it (I recommend this when
                                                 buying
any tea).  And, if you like it, buy as much of the lot as you can afford at one
                                                 time, because like wine harvests, every tea harvest is slightly different, and you'll
never duplicate this exact tea or flavor ever again.  So if it's a tea you love, snatch it up.  
Enjoy.