Pu'er tea - A taste that grows on you

Updated: 11 Jun 2009
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I'm no tea connoisseur. I love to sip tea when I'm in a mood to relax, but I didn't know how to savor the subtle flavors of different teas.


Until I arrived in Pu'er.


Pu'er is a special kind of tea grown in southern Yunnan. The tea is so well-known that the local authorities decided, a few years ago, to change the name of their hometown from Simao to Pu'er. Actually, it is more complicated than that. A smaller town used to be called Pu'er, and the name was taken over by Simao, the city with wider jurisdiction including that town.


Anyway, I was sitting inside a teahouse in a tea garden. Not just any tea garden. The biggest of its kind in the whole world - 20 hectares of mountain slopes of tea plantations, at 1,700 m above sea level.


I had four kinds of tea in front of me, prepared by a young lady dressed in an ethnic costume. One was green tea, the kind I grew up with - I'm from Hangzhou, the place of the Dragon-Well (Longjing) green tea, one was black tea, or if you use the literal translation from Chinese, red tea, and there were two kinds of Pu'er, one with hot water and one with cold water.



Pu'er.tea prepared by a young lady dressed in an ethnic costume


Green tea has a fragrance that rushes through your body. You'll feel fresh. But after two or three refills of water, it turns tasteless. Black tea comes on strong. It has a burning passion, so to speak. Pu'er has a somewhat "dull" first taste, but then it gets to you and grows on you. It won't wear out after two dozen refills. In fact it becomes more and more "tasty".


Gradually, I began to associate green tea with an adolescent, with youthful freshness to delight you. Black tea reminds me of all those mature women in Desperate Housewives, in their prime and armed with all the knowledge of the world. Pu'er, by comparison, is like an old sage, with white beard flowing and sporting a white gown and making utterances that take days to decipher. It's like Confucius or Lao Tzu talking to their disciples, or for that matter, Yoda dispensing gold nuggets of wisdom, reversed sentence structure and all, to Anakin.


No wonder Pu'er is the only tea that grows in value with age. For green tea, the shelf life is only one or two years.


This special quality of Pu'er turned out to be both a blessing and a curse. A few years ago, speculators created a bubble out of Pu'er tea. Then, like everything else, it plummeted back to earth, hurting a lot of tea farmers in the process.


The best way to enjoy Pu'er is not as an investor, but as someone who takes pleasure in sipping quality tea. You can spend a whole day at the China Pu'er Tea Expo Garden, where the process of tea production is turned into an amusement park. You can learn how to pick tea leaves - in the old days you had to be a maiden and get to the plantation before sunrise - how to process it by hand, and finally how to engrave a tea pack with your own name, or the name of the person you want to gift it to.


The experience is not complete without a tour of the tea museum and a visit to a mock home where a dozen ethnic Lahu youths serve you tea in the way it has been done for hundreds of years.


Source: China Daily


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