Since the 18th century, the United Kingdom has been one of the world’s greatest tea consumers and although there is evidence that the purchase of basic teabags is in decline since 2000, the sales of fruit and herbal teas has increased markedly in the same period. In common with many other beverages, it appears that quality is replacing quantity for the modern tea drinker who often takes a considerable of effort to find authentic teas to their taste.
In recent years, there has been a growing interest in Pu’er tea, which despite its long history is only now becoming widely available in the West. Pu’er tea has been grown for centuries in the “Six Great Tea Mountains” of Yunnan Province in China and has long been a prized commodity. In Imperial China, the tea was carried by horses in a caravan along the Old Tea Horse Road to be traded all over China and beyond. Pu’er tea was a favourite beverage in the Chinese Imperial Court and the very best quality tea was presented in tribute to the Emperor. One of the advantages of Pu’er was that it was found that tea actually improved with age, so many of the most valuable grades of tea were kept in warehouses.
In the last 20 years, interest in Pu’er tea in China and internationally has led to an increasing market for “vintage” compressed teas and collectors will pay thousands of pounds for a rare vintage. This market has led to an unfortunate side effect, fakes and copies of the tea inside and outside of China have become more common.
In response to this lack of regulation and tea being sold with big variations in price and quality, collector Carole Tan began her mission to bring the enjoyment of drinking Pu’er tea to the world in a contemporary manner. She created Teaspec, a company that seeks to become a standard-bearer for quality and pricing in the Pu’er tea market.
Carole and her family have been collecting tea for almost 30 years aiming to find and keep the best Pu’er teas in the world. Teaspec is a business that sells mostly Pu’er teas that are sourced from Carole’s own family collection which have been accumulated over decades.
The Pu’er tea provided by Teaspec is stored in Malaysia which is acknowledged by many Pu’er tea experts to possess the ideal conditions for ageing of this complex tea. The flavours and complexity of Pu’er tea are similar to wine and whisky where the land, skill of the producers, production methods and the best storage conditions have been developed and refined over centuries.
Pu’er comes in two forms – loose tea leaves or compressed into various shapes and has two basic classifications of Pu’er tea, there is raw (non-fermented) or ripe (fermented) tea. Raw Pu’er was developed over 2000 years ago, and is recognized by its dark yellowish-green dry tea leaves, fresh floral aroma and rich aftertaste. Ripe Pu’er on the other hand only goes back to the 1970s. It requires an accelerated fermentation technique with humidity and temperature. The reddish-brown tea leaves are compressed after fermentation. It has a strong brew with a woody aroma and mellow full flavour.
Once again like wine and whisky, it is considered raw Pu’er needs time and storage to acquire its unique taste and characteristics, whereas ripe Pu’er may lack some of the complexities but is ready to drink straightaway.
One of the benefits of using Pu’er tea is that you can use it for multiple re-infusions, a good quality tea can be re-infused up to 8 times with loose tea and more than 10 times with compressed tea. Pu’er tea is best made using boiling water , it involves very short steeping time of ten to twenty seconds. Each infusion will offer a different intensity of flavour.
Chinese and Pu’er tea have been associated with health benefits for centuries. In 1667, Samuel Pepys noted that his wife was taking Chinese tea on medical advice, after the doctor informed her it is good for her ‘colds and defluxions.’ Even as recently as the 1970s, Pu’er tea was marketed in Europe in the 1970s mainly for its health benefits not just for its taste.
If you are intrigued by Pu’er tea and would like to try it for yourself, Teaspec has developed some tea products in a range of sizes and prices. The tea is available in specially blended tea cakes which comprises of compressed tea, shaped into a round slab and weighing around 357 grams. The next size is a Tuo, a small dome of around 100 grams. A more portable version is the mini tuo which is handy for travelers or in a gift set. Teaspec also offers raw or ripe Pu’er in loose tea and teabag form.
The Teaspec range of Pu’er teas is now available in Harrods and will become more widely available later in the year.
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