An old Tibetan saying “One would rather starve for three days than not drink tea for one.”
An old Tibetan saying “One would rather starve for three days than not drink tea for one.”
The world of Puerh, the post-oxidised teas exclusively produced in the Chinese province of Yunnan, is complex and captivating. It can even be a little confusing due to the many facets and variables of this fascinating style of tea. These teas are well known for their unusual ageing process, their unique flavours and aromas as well as their health benefits. Another important distinction of Puerh remains - the difference between Shou cha and Sheng cha (fermented tea and green tea).
Sheng Puerh, also called raw, is naturally post-fermented after the tea is processed. The very slow fermentation process is caused by a bacterial fermentation that is the trademark of Puerh tea and is said to be the key to its many health benefits. After picking, heating, drying, etc. the green Puerh leaf is then steamed to shut down the oxidation process and lock in the polyphenols – antioxidants. The green leaf is then pressed into its chosen shape, brick, toucha, etc. it is the brick shape, size and a combination how tightly pressed the tea and its storage that determines how long the aging process will take. The Puerh leaf is very slowly converted over time by micro-organisms (fermentation); this will gradually change the colour, taste and aroma of the tea. The colour will become increasingly brown as a result of oxidation. Provided all the specific conditions are in place years are required before this style of Puerh will reach maturity (generally between 10 and 60 years). This is the traditional Puerh process.
The discovery of this process hundreds of years ago was a result of the long journey travelled along the Tea Horse Road from the source of Puerh in the mountainous Yunnan in China’s south to Beijing, Tibet and further. The bricks pressed and packed for ease of transporting on horseback would make the journey for many years through all types of terrain and climate changes allowing the Puerh to mature while giving the Puerh its own unique characteristics.
Puerh Shou cha, also called cooked, is a fermented tea that was developed in more recent decades using more modern methods to create a ready to drink Puerh with similar desirable characteristics of a well aged Puerh without the expensive storage etc. Inspired by black tea manufacturing and often using introduction of additional micro-organisms, this style allows green Puerh to mature very rapidly in artificial conditions usually in a heated oven room. In just a few weeks the leaves will be fermented and almost 100% oxidised. Therefore the many years of ageing needed for the Puerh Sheng cha is reduced to a couple of months! The result is a very dark red, often almost black, tea that may still benefit from a little ageing but will be mature a lot sooner.
Both Puerh styles offer similar flavour profiles but are nevertheless different – Like quality wines each vintage of Puerh Sheng cha has a different degree of maturity depending on its age, season, etc. A younger tea will have green tea qualities where an older Puerh will have mellow mature characteristics with a full bodied taste. Where a young Puerh sheng cha may cost very little a genuine aged one can cost a premium sometimes many hundreds to even thousands of dollars. This is when the Puerh shou cha becomes more appealing as they have very similar characteristics of an aged sheng (though a little less complexity) but they cost a lot less……perfect to drink while you wait for your Puerh sheng to age in your tea cellar.
Researchers now believe black tea provides many of the same health benefits as green tea.
While I enjoy a freshly brewed cup of a young green Puerh tea, there are times when I crave the fuller flavour of black or aged Puerh. Until recently, I worried that, by indulging my craving, I was losing out on green Puerh’s numerous health benefits. But recent research indicates that black tea has its own health giving properties.
Black or green Puerh – which is better?
Until recently, tea research has focused on green tea. Green tea is loaded with the compound epigallocatechin gallate (EGCg), a powerful antioxidant (see Polyphenols? Flavonoids? Catechins?). Since the fermentation process used to make black Puerh tea converts EGCg into other compounds, researchers assumed black tea had less health benefits than green tea. However, recent studies indicate the compounds contained in black tea – theaflavins and thearubigens with higher concentrations in black Puerh tea do more than contribute to its dark colour and distinctive flavour. They also provide health benefits originally attributed solely to green tea. Therefore it looks like there is no need to worry about depriving yourself of possible health benefits if black Puerh is your beverage of choice.
Here are the results of research into black tea:
Black Tea Research
• A long-term study by the Netherlands National Institute of Public Health and the Environment found a correlation between regular consumption of black tea and reduced risk of stroke. Researchers looked at data from a study examining the health benefits of foods that are high in flavonoids – phytonutrients with antioxidant benefits. While some of the flavonoids were obtained from fruits and vegetables, seventy percent came from black tea. The study looked at 552 men over a 15 year period. Researchers concluded that the flavonoids in black tea helped reduce the production of LDL – the “bad” cholesterol that can lead to stroke and heart attacks. Furthermore, men who drank over four cups of black tea per day had a significantly lower risk of stroke than men who drank only two to three cups per day.
• A separate study at Boston’s School of Medicine supported these results. For four months, sixty-six men drank four cups of either black tea or a placebo daily. Dr. Vita concluded that drinking black tea can help reverse an abnormal functioning of the blood vessels that can contribute to stroke or heart attack. Furthermore, improvement in the functioning of the blood vessels was visible within two hours of drinking just one cup of black tea.
• A study of over 3,000 adults in Saudi Arabia – where black tea is favoured over green – found that regular consumption can reduce the risk of coronary heart disease by fifty percent.
As you read more about Puerh tea on www.horseroadtea.com and from a range of other sources like health books and magazines, you will come accross several related health terms. Although often used interchangeably, they have different meanings.
Polyphenols are naturally occurring compounds that act as powerful antioxidants.
There are many types of polyphenols, including the flavonoids found in tea, fruits and vegetables. (The flavonoids are also known as bioflavonoids)
Catechins are a particular kind of flavonoid found in tea, especially Puerh tea. They’re sometimes called green tea polyphenols.
Tea researchers usually talk about five types of catechins:
epicatechin gallate (ECg)
epigallocatechin gallate (EGCg), the most potent of the catechins.
In addition to the catechins, green tea contains other health promoters:
Flavonols- which (like the catechins) are a subgroup of the flavonoids known for their strong antioxidant properties. They help trap and destroy free radicals, singlet oxygen, and peroxides, keeping them from destroying body tissue. They also work together with vitamin C to help strengthen blood vessel walls.
Vitamin C- which helps to reduce stress, fight infection, and strengthen the immune system.
Vitamin B complex- which aids in the metabolism of carbohydrates.
Vitamin E- which has antioxidant properties and helps retard aging.
Fluoride- which helps to harden tooth enamel.
The healthiest and cleanest Puerh Tea is made from the very young green tea buds (first flush) and is only available 3-6 weeks a year during spring or as known by the native Puerh growers as the awakening of the insects. These pristine Tea buds contain the least environmental pollutants and the most antioxidants, are handpicked and carefully processed the same day to avoid oxidisation and preserve the antioxidants, polythenols etc. Unlike regular Teas the beneficial properties found in Puerh continue to improve with time due to micro biological activity caused by the unique Puerh hand processing, this is what sets Puerh apart from regular Green Teas, all Tea with the exception of some Oolongs should be drank within a year of harvest, but puerh continues to develop with age.
If young green tea buds are so healthy, then why are we constantly being sold flavoured Tea, so called herbal Tea, sweetened bottled tea, packaged tea supplements and Green Tea bags with finely chopped leaf and extended expiry dates running into years not months. The reason is simple there is just not enough of the fine Tea to supply the needs of the rapidly growing world thirst for Tea so the big Tea growers – manufacturers use the mature leaves as it is a guaranteed source of Tea material, allowing year round processing. Large mature tea leaves cost much less than buds, allow Tea farmers to harvest throughout the year and supply a growing market demand while making profits more easily, not to mention allowing the implementation of machine harvesting and processing as hand selecting and picking is no longer necessary.
I am not against conventional tea products, there is something for everybody and a little of a good thing is not bad, but if you, like me, drink Tea for its great taste and more importantly for its health benefits, then I would choose a good quality Puerh Tea handpicked from early spring buds, from a remote location away from pollution and modern farming methods that are reliant on chemical pesticides, fertilizers, etc.
This is the reason why HorseRoadTea only sells Puerh tea. The remote jungle covered mountainous region of Yunnan China, the native birth place of Tea, is perfectly located away from the industrial world where 1500 year old Puerh trees still stand and produce the most highly valued Teas and still offer great quality and value.
Look for more about traditional native organic Puerh growing and the added benefits in our upcoming blog Mother Nature’s tea garden.
When searching for Pu-erh tea also try these Puer, Pu’er, Pu-er, Puerh.