For over 2000 years, a special tea that originates from the Yunnan Province of China has been coveted for its preventative and curative properties. This tea is known as Pu-erh or Yunnan Tuocha. The tea`s cultivation can be traced as far back as the Han Dynasty (202 BCE-220 CE) and was made from the leaves of da ye or broad leaf tea. The leaves of this variety of old wild tea tree when picked, are taken and put through a process of delicate maturation that ends in the creation of what is called maocha.
This maocha, meaning “rough tea”, is then taken and put through one of two processes. Either it is immediately pressed into tea cakes where it is then classified as “raw/green pu-erh” or it is put through an artificial aging process for 30 to 40 days where daily the leaves are turned, splashed with water, covered with cloth, and then left to ferment. After this fermenting stage, the tea is then dried and pressed into tea cakes and classified as “cooked/black pu-erh”. Traditionally, the tea was always pressed raw and then vaulted for up to 100 years to gain this fermented status, but this modern process of fermentation was developed by the Kunming Tea Factory in 1975 for economic reasons.
Pu-erh Tea has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for generations to inhibit “internal dampness” (a term used in Chinese medicine to describe a build up of internal energy due to the spleen`s inability to transform energy that it receives from the stomach) and to invigorate the activity of the spleen and stomach. Other traditional uses include the removal of toxins from the body, curing dysentery, weight loss, improving eyesight, promoting blood circulation and reviving those who have over indulged in alcohol.
More recently, researchers have taken interest in Pu-erh tea for its ability to reduce cholesterol, lower blood pressure, protect connective tissue, and its ability to attack free radicals within the body. In multiple studies done in several countries, pu-erh tea has shown significant success in reducing blood cholesterol. One study done at the Wun-Shan Branch Tea Research and Extension Station in Taipei, Taiwan compared the effects of green, black, oolong, and cooked/black pu-erh teas on cholesterol in rats. The study showed the rats fed the cooked pu-erh tea leaves had an increase of HDL-C (good cholesterol) and a decrease in LDL-C (bad cholesterol) where the rats given the other teas had varying decreases in both types. This means that with pu-erh tea you get the best of both worlds, an increase in the cholesterol that you do want and a decrease of the cholesterol that you don`t.
At China`s Kunming Medical College, another study that consisted of 86 patients with unusually high levels of blood cholesterol examined the differences in the treatment of patients with Pu-erh tea verses conventional cholesterol medication. 55 of the patients were given a regimented dose of pu-erh tea three times a day; the other 31 were given a cholesterol lowering drug called PCIB in doses of 1/2 a gram 3 times a day. At the end of a two month period, the patients drinking the Pu-erh tea showed a 64.29% reduction in blood cholesterol levels in comparison to 66.67% for the group taking PCIB. Cholesterol is not the only benefit that pu-erh tea has to offer though. In 2006, a study found that it has anti-aging and anti-cancerous properties by attacking free radicals within the body as well as actively protecting human fibroblast cells (connective tissue) from damage and deterioration
Pu-erh Tea is truly a wonder tonic but one must be careful when shopping for this sought-after tea. There are many knock-offs and fake pu-erh teas out there, and the older the tea, the more expensive it is. Sometimes tea cakes can sell for thousands of dollars. Another concern is for the quality of the tea leaf itself. Many of the cheaper teas can contain fluorine which, when ingested over a period of time, can lead to fluorosis or fluoride poisoning. When you are looking for a good pu-erh tea make sure that you are dealing with a reputable tea house or seller, make sure that the tea is from the Yunnan province of China, and make sure that the packaging states that the Tea was cultivated from wild da ye or broad leaf tea trees. This may be a difficult task because most pu-erh teas today are cultivated from multiple trees and from different areas. In the end it`s really the fermentation process that gives pu-erh its distinctive taste and curative properties but if you`re a tea purist, good luck hunting down a true aged Pu-erh tea; it`s difficult and you might just pay an arm and a leg.
Today we are constantly battling the toxicity of our everyday environment and our potentially toxin laden food. Drinking pu-erh tea is a great way to eliminate free radicals within the body, lower your cholesterol and blood pressure, fight cancer, and possibly look a little younger one cup at a time. If you are interested in more information on Pu-erh, please look through the links below.
Comparative studies on the hypolipidemic and growth suppressive effects of oolong, black, pu-erh, and green tea leaves in rats.
Kuo KL, Weng MS, Chiang CT, Tsai YJ, Lin-Shiau SY, Lin JK.
Journal of agricultural and food chemistry, 2005 Jan 26;53(2):480-9.
Pu-erh Tea Definition:
Chinese Natural Cures: Traditional Methods for Remedies and Preventions
Henry C. Lu.
Tess Press, 1994:14-15
Researches on Yunnan Tuocha Tea
Free radical scavenging effect of Pu-erh tea extracts and their protective effect on oxidative damage in human fibroblast cells.
Jie G, Lin Z, Zhang L, Lv H, He P, Zhao B.
Journal of agricultural and food chemistry, 2006 Oct 18;54(21):8058-64.