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Pu-erh tea, also seen spelled as pu'er or pu-er, is a type of post-fermented tea from China. In parts of China such as Canton province, the tea is known as po-lay or bo-lay, and served with traditional dim sum meals. The tea has a very distinctive flavor which some consumers find quite delectable, and is one of the few teas that improves with age. Some of the finest pu-erh tea is over fifty years old, and can be quite costly. Pu-erh tea is available in most Asian specialty stores, and can be found in some supermarkets as well.
The tea comes from the town of Pu'er in the Yunnan province of China, very close to Laos and Burma. Like all teas, pu-erh is made with the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant, and the unique flavor comes from the way in which the tea is handled. Technically, pu-erh tea is a type of green tea, because the leaves are roasted right after they are picked. After being roasted, the leaves of pu-erh tea are sun dried before being steamed slightly and allowed to ferment. Some pu-erh manufacturers ferment the tea twice, making the flavor even more intense.
Pu-erh tea is traditionally dried and packed in cakes which can be flaked apart as the tea is needed, although some companies make single serving cakes of pu-erh for convenience. It is believed that packing the tea in bamboo preserves flavor and prevents rot, and many high end pu-erhs will arrive packaged in bamboo. The tea is also available in loose leaf and bagged form, although connoisseurs of pu-erh tea prefer the cake form.
A slightly musty scent, and an earthy flavor is attributed to pu-erh tea, although cheaply made pu-erh can be very bitter. Good pu-erh tea is allowed to age for at least six months before being sent to market, to allow the flavor of the tea to mature. Some specialty tea stores carry older pu-erhs, making a variety of vintages available to consumers who are interested in aged pu-erh. If you store pu-erh in a cool dry place, the tea can be aged at home as well.
Pu-erh tea is favored for its unique flavor and health benefits. The tea is supposed to lower cholesterol and assist with digestion. For this reason, the tea is often served after heavy meals. Pu-erh is usually offered without a sweetener so that the flavor can be better appreciated.