Like a Fine Wine, China’s Traditional Pu-Erh Tea Gets Better Over Time
During China’s Eastern Han Dynasty (25–220 C.E.), pu-erh tea was transported along the Ancient Tea-Horse Road, an age-old trading route that once extended 1,400 miles from China’s tea-growing region to the capital of Tibet. The traditional, still-popular drink is made from large leaves—grown by the plant Camellia sinensis var. assamica in mountains of the Chinese Yunnan Province—that are roasted, rolled, and dried in the sun. They’re then fermented in one of two ways, yielding distinct flavor profiles: The prized, raw and sweet sheng pu-erh ferments naturally and matures over many years like a fine wine, while the ripe and earthy shou pu-erh is incubated in a moisture-rich environment that accelerates the aging process, which concludes within a few months. Typically compressed into cakes or balls, the dark tea can be cut into chunks or pulled apart for brewing.