Go to the archives

Pu-erh Tea

By Jesse Kornbluth
Published: Dec 07, 2016
Category: Food and Wine

SAVEUR: The gourmet magazine makes an interesting point: “Pu-erh’s earthy depth and strong body make it a perfect candidate for a coffee replacement.”

Alice Waters drinks Pu-erh tea.

And swears by it.

“My cholesterol went down 100 points since I started drinking this,” she says. ”It was extreme."

That’s not a small endorsement. I ordered some.

It looked like a…cow pie.

Just so. This tea has been fermented, aged, then pressed into an inch-thick circle. It has an earthy aroma. But not unpleasantly so. Pu-erh is one of the higher grades of tea grown in Yunnan province. You break off the leaves you need, crumble them into a pot, douse them in very hot water for 30 seconds, pour off that first steep, and then brew your tea. Not for long. Three minutes will more than suffice; I prefer a minute. Bonus: you can use the leaves for as many as eight steeps. [In a Zojirushi Stainless Steel Vacuum Insulated Mug, you have a day’s supply.]

It turns out that lower cholesterol isn’t everything — that might be the smallest health claim for this tea. Pu-erh is said to promote weight loss (the health claim is that it dissolves fat cells) lower blood pressure, and calm the nerves.

“A Chinese study performed on rats and published in 2009 showed lowering of LDL, cholesterol and triglyceride levels after the animals were fed a pu-erh tea extract, along with an increase in HDL,” writes Andrew Weil. “We know that tea, in general, is protective against heart disease and cancer. It’s likely that pu-erh tea has similar effects.” [To order Pu-erh tea from Amazon, click here.]

Reader Review: “Two years ago I found out yet again my triglycerides were high. (They had been for a couple of years, I tried medication that caused insomnia, etc.) The next day you recommended a fermented tea that Alice Waters said lowered her triglycerides. I drank it every day for a year and then forgot about it. Just got new blood work done. Triglycerides are fine.”

An Amazon reviewer finds another benefit: “I needed it for is the Theanine that is in this tea, I have an autoimmune disease that causes inner tremors and I take L-theanine to calm me down but this tea is doing that in a more natural way.”

Back to taste: Good to the last drop? Astonishingly good. Quality Pu-erh is never bitter. Milk and sweetener are superfluous — this is a rich brew that delivers an unusually modest caffeine hit along with a welcome hint of natural sweetness. Some Pu-erh fans say the last drop is actually the best, that the last infusions taste richer and sweeter than the first.

Pu-erh has been around forever — in China. Here it’s just starting to be the new cool thing. But this is more than a fad.