PUER HAVE YOU BEEN ALL MY LIFE?
Updated: Nov 20
Tea has been grown and consumed by the native people of Yunnan Province of China for at least 1,750 years, according to the written record. Probably even earlier than that, they simply don't have the record. Therefore, Puer Tea has been in China for all of my life and a long time prior!
What makes Puer Special?
Since this was such a remote location, the tea producers in Yunnan required a #tea that would withstand a long journey of transport for trade. This unique blend, now called puer tea, is often thought to be named after the city of Pu'er in Yunnan Province. This special city was a common gathering spot where sellers would sell their local teas, however, the tea has been around long before any record of the city!
According to legend, during the Three Kingdoms Period (220-280), Zhuge Liang was the man responsible for developing tea production in Yunnan as a way to bring income to the southwestern parts of the province. During the Tang Dynasty (618-906), tea became popular in the Imperial Court, and the tea producers in Yunnan worked hard to just produce a tea that would travel well along the trading routes. The most important of these routes was the Old Tea Horse Road.
The Old Tea Horse Road was an essential trade route connecting what is present-day Tibet, Yunnan, and Sichuan. Though other items were sold along this route, its name most likely came from the creation of The Tea and Horse Office, established in the Song Dynasty (960-1279), to regulate the trading of tea for warhorses. This trade route was so successful that it flourished during the Yuan (1271-1368), Ming (1369-1644), and Qing (1644-1911) Dynasties.
Most of the growth of tea trading during this time, was to Tibet, as the popularity of tea grew exponentially. In fact, during the Ming Dynasty, the trading of tea to Tibet started crossing over into influencing political leaders and lamas.
What makes Puer Special?
What we have come to love about puer tea was initially developed purely as a way to pack and store tea for the long journey through the trade route. Over time, tea producers developed a way to produce teas that had these unique and desirable flavors using an aging process without having to travel great distances. The process used was a well-guarded secret, going as far back as the Ming Dynasty. Trespassers were assumed spies and killed on site. Even to this day, the entire puer process is rarely shared with outsiders.
Production of puer tea, today, is done so in two separate phases:
The first phase produces a rough tea referred to as Mao Cha. Mao Cha is representative of how the tea was first made before it was packed to travel the Old Tea Horse Road. Mao cha is similar to a green tea at this stage and is typically sold to large tea producers in the area to finish the processing.
In phase two the tea is made into either Sheng Cha, a traditional raw tea, or Shu Cha a cooked tea.
Sheng Cha is processed into its final shape and carefully stored for many years until the tea has matured and turned a rich brown/black color. This process can take many years (5+). This naturally aged tea develops complex characteristics and increases in value as it ages. The older the tea the more expensive.
In the 1970s, the Kumming Tea Company developed a way to speed up the aging process by controlling a secondary fermentation process referred to as Wo Dui, an auto-thermal process. Tea produced by this method is referred to as Shu Cha. This process takes only months to complete and produces a tea similar to that of the naturally aged variety, only with less complexity. The cost of shu cha is significantly lower and is most of the Puer sold in the United States today. hough there is a growing demand by educated consumers for sheng cha.
Is that Diversi-tea?
Puer tea comes in many shapes and sizes. It is common to find puer tea pressed into discs or plates (bing), bricks (zhuan), birds’ nests (tuo), squares (fang), mushrooms (jin), melons (jingua), and loose (san).
Additionally, puer is also stored in a citrus rind, like tangerine (ju pu), or stuffed into bamboo tubes (tong). Size can vary as well, from a single serving tuo cha to a large 357g birds nest; or from a small 100g tong cha to a bamboo tube as tall as a person.
Puer teas have become so popular, that other provinces in China have started producing teas in the puer-style as well. Puer teas are teas that only come from the Yunnan Province. A relatively new category of teas has entered the market this past decade called dark teas. Dark teas are puer style teas that are not produced in Yunnan, but come from other provinces such as Hunan. In fact, you can now find dark teas in several countries around the world.
Thirsty for more?
What do you like about Puer Teas and are there other teas you enjoy that are also grown in that area? Share your favorite brands or region of puer with us or ask us a question about what's in your cup. Reach out on your favorite social media! #hulaconsulting
The #teaexperts at Hula Consulting can help with puer teas and ingredients for your tea line as well as tea education courses to give you and your team the tools to be a better cupper, blender, and purchaser of teas and tea ingredients. Drop an email to Scott@HulaConsulting.com or call 561.600.7025 to get started today.