The Legend of our Fermented Friend — Pu-erh

Posted by Angelina Kurganska on

Originating in Yunnan, China, Pu-erh tea has an ancient history of more than 2,000 years.

One legend has it that Pu-erh was first cultivated by a grandfather who wanted to preserve a great quality tea for his grandchildren. 

Another legend says that the tea accidentally came about after a huge amount of tea leaves were picked and neglected for years, originally with the intent to keep and serve to the emperor. After it's rediscovery, the officials found that the tea was not ruined, but instead had a marvelous taste. It was then considered to bring forth longevity and became a “secret weapon” of the emperor. 

No matter the actual origin, which remains blurred by myth and magic, the tradition of the tea to be experienced for oneself is now available to all. 


Pu-erh is considered the “champagne of the tea world”.

There are two distinguishable types of Pu-erh: Sheng Pu-erh (the raw or green type) and Shu Pu-erh (the ripened or black type). Both Shu and Sheng Pu-erh teas are usually made of Camellia sinensis var. assamica. The spring-picked tea is desired for its quality flavor.


After fermentation and roasting, pu-erh tea is aged, often for many years, resulting in its dark color and bold, mellow flavor. 


Its popularity spreaded like wildfire near its region of origin in Southern Yunnan. Soon enough, the famed Tea Horse Road (Chamagudao) found itself as a most popular trade route between Yunnan locals and the Buddhists of Tibet. The Chinese nobles were in need of horses for the transportation of goods, and the monks were more than grateful for the fermented tea.



The Yuan (1271 - 1368) and Ming (1368-1644) dynasties which followed continued to invest into the route as peddlers and pedestrians alike sprang up along this inhabitable trail. It loomed high in the mountains full of snow and ice. Mysterious paths were forged into the landscape, even along the cliffside. This otherworldly passage gave way to a myriad of stories and myths; phantoms of wandering sages, sightings of apparitions, infliction of visceral hopelessness. Yet, the trailed remained a strong commodity, along with the tea. 



The Tibetans had an interesting style of mixing the Pu-erh with Yak butter before enjoying. The tradition remains to this day.


As of 2003, Pu-erh in officially defined as "products fermented from green tea of big leaves picked within the Yunnan province."


On account of the Bureau of Standard Measurement of Yunnan Province. The term 'big leaves' are specified because surprisingly enough, the bushes of Yunnan are of the Assamicas variety, as opposed to the accustomed Camellia Sinensis.