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By Mary Anne Trevey
Puer or Pu-erh is a variety of fermented tea produced in the high mountains of Yunnan Province, China. It is named after the town of Pu’er, which is one of the villages close to the heart of the growing area. Fermentation in tea production involves microbial fermentation and oxidation of the tea leaves, after they have been dried and rolled. This process is a Chinese specialty and produces tea known as “dark tea”. This type of tea is different from black tea which is commonly known in the United States as English Breakfast.
Pu’er traditionally begins as a raw product known as “rough” and can be sold in this form or pressed into any number of shapes. The raw product then undergoes the complex process of gradual fermentation and maturation. This process takes time, so newer accelerated fermentations have been developed to speed up the process. There is some controversy in China as to the legitimacy of the new processes; traditional tea aficionados believe that only the slow aging creates the original high quality Pu’er.
Pu’er is created from Maocha, a mostly unoxidized green tea which is the large leaf type found in the mountains of southern and western Yunnan. Other teas produced in China come from the small leaf type grown at lower elevations, which is responsible for the more well-known varieties, such as the typical green, oolong, black, and yellow teas. Only the large leaf type can be called Pu’er. Indigenous peoples in these high mountain regions have been cultivating this tea for centuries. There are numerous ceremonies surrounding the preparing and drinking of this tea. It is interesting to go on-line and read about the complexities of the growing, aging and drinking of this unique tea. For an interesting novel about Pu’erh Tea, based on historical fact, read “The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane”, by Lisa See. This is a wonderful story about honor and family which begins in the Pu’erh tea growing region of China and contains a lot of information about the cultivation and ethnic values attached to producing this amazing tea.
Pu’er tea has a wonderful earthy flavor, as the fermentation process removes the tannins that are typical in other teas. It is easy to drink and has numerous health benefits such as lowering blood cholesterol and encouraging weight loss. The energy that comes from Pu’er is light, and brings about a clarity and sustenance that is very different from other caffeine drinks. One never feels jittery. High quality Pu’er should be fairly dark in color, and clear, with no muddy appearance.
One of our customers, Deborah Knoles, owns a local tea company known as Moonflower Tea. She imports a premium organic Pu’er which she mixes with 10% premium quality organic black tea to give the product her personal take on this ancient tea. This rich smooth tea never has a bitter taste. We will be picking up this tea today, so you can find it on our shelf. One teaspoon of tea makes 2 cups; the leaves can be used twice to produce another pot with no compromise in taste or efficacy. The tea does not need to be steeped for more than a couple minutes. Pu’er is becoming very popular around the world. If you like tea, this one is not to be missed. You may never go back to other teas again.