Pu-erh, (pronounced "poor" or "pour') originating from the Yunnan province, can be made from black or green tea. Black or "Cooked" Tea is called Shu. Green or Raw Tea is called Sheng and is not oxidized. Pu-erh can be in loose form or compressed. Once traditionally aged in caves, now the tea is aged in specially designed "caves" which are actually climate controlled concrete lined rooms where the humidity level is carefully maintained at less than 80%. Moisture is introduced to piles of the dry, finished leaves which are then regularly turned and tended. This "composting" procedure is used to encourage microbial fermentation and helpful bacteria growth is encouraged. Aging is desirable as is the earthy aroma, fragrance and taste. Once aged the desired amount, the leaves are compressed into cakes, disks or bird's nest shapes. The natural aging produces a very mellow, smooth cup. Some aged Pu-erh cakes and disks are highly collectible and incredibly expensive. Factories are generally responsible for the production of pu'erh teas. While some individuals oversee small-scale production of high-quality tea, such as the Xizihao and Yanqinghao brands, these often never leave China and can fetch thousands of dollars per gram. The majority of tea on the market is compressed by factories or tea groups and it is important to be able to discern the differences as there are more than a few dealers who may try to convince a buyer that they are selling something much rarer than it truly is.
Whether in tuo cha or loose-leaf forms, these unique teas have long been used in China for the medicinal benefits. The soothing properties, aid digestion and are perfect after heavy or greasy meals. More recent studies indicate powerful cholesterol lowering effects, blood cleansing properties and may aid in weight loss efforts. Many published studies have been done showing the enormous health benefits of this wonderful tea. The most eye opening of these studies was conducted in France several years ago. A blind study was conducted with 500 individuals with advanced cholesterol conditions, usually controlled with medication. Half of the controlled group consumed 3-4 cups of pu-erh tea daily, while the rest of the participants were given something else. After a 30-day period the results showed that drinking pu-erh on a regular basis could significantly lower cholesterol and further research confirmed that pu-erh was as effective as the most advanced cholesterol lowering medications available. This is just one of the many health benefits of this delicious tea.
According to a study by the University of Michigan, teas are rich in antioxidants called polyphenols which are plant chemicals that may help prevent cancer, heart disease, metabolic syndrome, hypertension, stroke, obesity, arthritis, and other diseases.
And, according to the US National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health the effect of pu-erh tea on body fat and lipid profiles in rats with diet-induced obesity is quite promising.