Pu-erh tea, a Chinese black tea that undergoes true fermentation (microbial activity involving bacteria), has recently generated buzz in the press. An article titled “Puer Tea: China’s Next Hot Commodity?” on time.com and blog postings by techie tea enthusiasts like Kevin Rose, founder of digg.com, highlights Puerh tea’s growing appeal among mainstream tea fans. Rumors even exist that Victoria Beckham, a former Spice Girl, drinks Pu-erh to loose weight.
Is this attention only hype or shows that tea fans are gravitating towards more complex, artisan-crafted products with nuanced flavor and taste? From China’s famous Yunnan Province, Puerh teas have been coveted by collectors in China and abroad who buy just like wine connoisseurs for purposes of investment and as a status symbol.
Chinese authorities have stepped up their efforts to ensure that the integrity of Pu-erh branded tea is maintained by clearly defining what constitutes a real Pu-erh. Per the time.com article, “The goal, officials say, is to protect Yunnan’s heritage and build an internationally viable, niche brand.” You could compare these efforts to those that protect Champagnes only coming from that particular region in France.
In China, a national Pu-erh standard took effect on December 1, 2008, stating that only tea produced in Yunnan’s 639 towns in 11 prefectures and cities is allowed to be called Pu-erh tea. It also provided that the tea can only be made from a large leaf variety of the plant growing in a defined geographic area and processed using a specified technology. However, controversy exists as tea producers from neighboring provinces like Guangdong Province have been excluded from the designation even though they claim their Pu-erh tea process is just as authentic. Questions also remain as to how to control Pu-erh style teas coming from outside China, as the standard only applies domestically.
The Pu-erh industry is obviously evolving and may take time to sort itself out. Demand should increase as consumers become more familiar with artisan-crafted teas like Pu-erhs, and develop an attraction to their distinctive earthy taste and health benefits. This demand and rise in popularity may also help provide the impetus for China to continue refining its approach to the Pu-erh tea designation and turn the product into one not just for collection but for everyday enjoyment.
We would love to know if you are a Pu-erh tea fan and if you have any favorites?