Puer is a city in the southern Yunnan province of China. Pu-er or Pu-erh is a tea named after this city. It is a Chinese variety of tea that is dark in color. This tea is known as black tea in China where the traditional European black tea is called as red tea. The Pu-erh tea is a fermented tea while the traditional black tea is an oxidized tea.
The making of Pu-erh tea involves a special microbial fermentation and an oxidization process. The Yunnan province has a large leaf variety of tea plants which is used to making Pu-erh tea. The leaves are picked 3-4 leaves with the bud against 1-2 leaves and the bud which is picked for green tea. The involvement of the older tea leaves may help the Pu-erh tea to have its unique texture and taste.
The quality of the Pu-erh tea differs between various parts of Yunnan province as well as with the outside. The quality depends more on the type of tea plant more than anything else. The common commercially grown tea bushes give the lowest quality Pu-erh tea. Better quality tea can be produced from tea plants which are old and abandoned. However the highest quality Pu-erh tea is made from the leaves collected from wild tea plants, which are not grown with human interventions. These wild tea leaves command the best prices in the market.
Traditionally the ethnic groups in the southern boarders of China were interested in the dark Pu-erh tea. For a long time Pu-erh has been among the most produced tea varieties in China. The raw Sheng Cha and a ripe Shu Cha teas are used to make Pu-erh tea.
The initial step is to process the picked greenish tea leaves. There are two methods involved. Both methods use rolling and sun drying but one method leaves raw greenish Sheng Cha while the other leaves more dark and ripe Shu Cha.
These two varieties are not yew fermented. They are traded at this raw stage as well. The next step is drying these tea leaves. Once dry, they are sent to the factories to be piled. They are piled in pits which have various bacterial and fungal species. The microbial are found on the leaves themselves. The bacterial and fungal colonies differ from factory to factory. This fermentation process is known as ripping.
This fermented tea then goes through a number of traditional Chinese tea making steps to become Pu-erh tea. Some of these steps involve steaming and pressing. The final output of all these steps is a well fermented and oxidized black tea. The traditional black tea of Europe is called red tea in China. It only undergoes oxidization by the enzemes in the tea leaves. The fermentation process is unique to Chinese Pu-erh tea.
Making of the Pu-erh tea is a traditional Chinese craft. It is still widely practiced in the southern Yunnan province. Though nex methods have been developed over the years, the traditianl methods are still widely preserved.