Super Teas Part 2: Pu-erh
During the Ming and Qing dynasties of China, Pu-erh (pronounced poo-air) tea became so popular it was used as currency. Compressed into cakes for easy transport to places as far away as Burma, transporters discovered the tea tasted better when it arrived at its destination, and today aged Pu-erh is still preferable Kefir Grains.
This is a true tea, as it comes from a genus of the Camellia plant. It is loosely divided into two types–sheng (green or raw) and shu (ripe or aged). If you’re new to it, try the shu first as sheng is hard on the stomach of a newbie.
The traditional culture around this tea says it’s good for curing hangovers. In the West it’s said to aid in weight loss and is used in many diet formulations; however, it’s one verifiable health benefit is a big one. Chinese doctors reported clinical experiments in the 1970s in which drinking it was shown to lower cholesterol levels. French scientists were able to duplicate these results. As late as 2002, a study published in Preventive Medicine shows that drinking Pu-erh measurably reduced cholesterol levels.
The tea is still sold in traditional cakes, but you may be able to find it already cut to suit Western tastes. I suggest you buy some quality loose tea from a reputable vendor. That way, if you don’t like it, you’re not stuck with an entire cake. If you do like it, you can always start buying it in cakes.
Pu-erh is an acquired taste for many people. Often people trying it for the first time say the taste is earthy or reminds them of mushrooms. As I said, it’s an acquired taste so give it a few tries. Pu-erh is normally brewed in the same small kettle over and over. The tea is known to last for many infusions and each one tastes slightly different. You’re wasting tea if you only brew it one time.