The history of Pu-erh (Pu’er) tea can be traced back to the ancient Puerh city in Yunnan province of China. During the 7th century, the increasing demand for tea in countries like Tibet and Egypt sparked off the trend of exporting tea from southern China, specifically Yunnan. Southern Yunnan, the birthplace of tea, was known for producing tea plants with long and soft tea leaves. These high quality tea leaves were revered by consumers across the globe.
Foundation of the “Tea Horse Road”
In the early days, when mules were the few mode of transport, tea merchants had to deliver tea leaves on mules across Asia. This route is now known as the famous “Tea Horse Roads” for laying out the foundation of long distance trading in China.
To prevent the tea leaves from getting ruined during the travel, the tea merchants had to come up with solutions for easy transportation. After enormous amounts of trial and error, the tea merchants discovered that fermenting and compressing tea leaves into bricks would allow easier transportation and prolong the freshness of the leaves.
Discovery of Pu’er tea
A unique feature in Yunnan’s green tea was discovered when the merchants found that these tea leaves improve in taste with time, by natural fermentation during and between the long journeys. This discovery was a blessing for the tea merchants and they named this new type of tea after its birthplace, “Pu’er”. Eventually the merchants started warehousing Pu’er tea for better price, which is still a common practice in this industry. Another reason for the increasing popularity of Pu-erh tea in the early days is its numerous health benefits―In Tibet, rich foods like beef or mutton were part of their daily diet, while seafood-based diet were popular in coastal regions like Guangdong and Hong Kong. People in these areas realised that Pu’er tea aids in digestion and provided nutrients which were not available in their local diets.
From compressed cakes to loose tea leaves
Compressed tea leaves were the most popular form of packaging until the Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644 CE). In 1391, the first Ming Emperor ordered the abolition of all compressed tea because it slowed down the production flow. Only loose tea leaves were allowed to sell and consume. The popularity of loose tea leaves flourished from that period onwards.
Obtaining the royal status
Tea was a cultural symbol for China and it was popular to everyone. During the early ages of tea production, high quality tea leaves were offered to the emperor as a tribute; which later became a royal custom. According to this custom, the emperors used to select and reserve a tea region for tea production specially for royalty. During the Qing Dynasty, the second Qing emperor Yongzheng awarded Pu’er tea from Yunnan as the tribute tea of the imperial court. This gave Pu’er a royal status and made it exclusive to the elegant society. The imperial period in China ended with Qing dynasty but Pu-erh remained as a symbol of elegance for hundreds of years after that.
Pu’er tea in today’s world
Pu-erh is still considered as a superior category of tea, not only for its glorious history but also for its highly regulated production process for ensuring best quality tea. Besides, Puerh is one of the few teas that Chinese government has designated as a protected-origin product.
Buying top quality Pu’er tea
Reputed and well-recognized companies like TEASPEC collect high quality Puerh tea from Yunnan and it is recommended to buy Pu’er tea from them. You can order TEASPEC’s Raw or Ripe Pu’er tea from Amazon or directly from their website. TEASPEC is one of the few brands in the world that offers the top quality loose Pu’er tea leaves, compressed Pu’er tea cakes and Pu’er tea sachets.