All the Tea in China
The origins of Yunnan Province’s world-famous puer tea are said to go back to the T’ang dynasty (618–907). Ingenious traders pressed tea into solid pieces for easy transport, and puer tea is still sold the same way, usually in dinner plate-sized disks, but sometimes in bricks, squares, or even mushrooms and melons. Two types, green and black, are aged for at least four years, and the more expensive black produced by post-fermentation. This black tea shouldn’t be confused with that of the West. Puer’s has a superior flavor that has helped it become a favorite with China’s newly affluent middle classes.
In fact, Yunnan has had something of a tea fad: Between 1999 and 2007, the price of puer increased tenfold, according to The New York Times. Then it plummeted back to pre-boom prices.
The rarest teas, such as those from bushes over 100 years old, command thousands of dollars per cake. But it’s quite possible to purchase high-quality tea for a modest price. Like wine, there’s an affordable tea for everyone. As the wiser wine enthusiasts might say, just buy what you like.
No need to worry about any best-before date. Stored carefully, puer will actually improve with age, which is unusual for tea. What’s more, it’s a highly economical brew. The leaves can be brewed 10 times or more, and even then they’re usefulness is not over: you can add the tea leaves to a bowl of warm water for a fabulously luxurious footbath.