Although we do drink a fair amount of coffee in the morning at our house, the signature beverage here is actually tea.
I know this to be true because we have more varieties of tea in our cupboard than we do coffee.
And though we do have many types of tea which that we enjoy, the tea most often brewed and consumed–on at least a once daily basis, is a Chinese fermented black tea known as shou puer. (There is also a less oxidized variety that can be classified as a green tea known as sheng puer, but I prefer the black tea, so when I talk about puer, I mean shou puer and I am just too lazy to type the entire thing.)
Puer, also know as pu-ehr comes from a large-leaf variety of Camillia sinensis that is grown in Yunnan province, China, and is famous throughout the country for its earthy flavor and aroma and its reputed restorative, healing and digestive properties.
I am told that it is often the chosen beverage for a dim sum luncheon, where its stomach-calming properties make it a perfect accompaniment to the rich meat-stuffed steamed dumplings, pan-fried turnip cakes and crispy, deep-fried taro fritters that are consumed in great quantities. I like to drink it by itself–just as a sort of pick-me-up for long evenings spent sewing, writing, playing with Kat or cooking, and Zak finds it invaluable as an aid to late-night guitar playing.
I have seen it written that puer has the highest amount of caffeine in a Chinese tea, but I must say that I have never had trouble sleeping even on nights when I have stayed up late quilting and drinking cup after cup of puer like a madwoman. If I tried that trick with coffee, I would be up for the next three days, my eyes bugged out with fingers twitching like an addict coming off of crystal meth. Zak doesn’t seem to have that trouble, either–he can sleep just fine after drinking puer by the potful and playing guitar while Kat safely slumbers upstairs.
The truth is, neither of us drink puer because it keeps us awake–we drink it because it tastes good.
The lady who owns our Chinese market in town says we are the only Anglos who buy puer, or who even know what it is. Most people, she says, when they taste it curl their lips and say it tastes like dirt.
Which, in a way, it does. Poetically speaking, it tastes the way the sun-warmed rich soil of the forest smells–it is like drinking the lifeblood of Mother Earth herself. It is rich and complex–and has a rich reddish-amber-brown color. And while I guess some people find that distasteful–I find it to be intoxicating. I love the flavor of it–it is seductive, and after drinking it often for a long time, I find it hard to be happy with other types of tea, even my long time favorites, pouchong and lapsang souchong.
Some people may be put off by the cost of puer tea–because it is fermented and aged, the older teas are more expensive. It is fairly rare, since it comes only from old wild tea trees in the mountains of Yunnan province.
But what is interesting about puer is that you can get a huge number of steepings from a single pot-sized portion of tea leaves. We’ve steeped one batch of really nice puer leaves about six or seven times, and the flavor only gets nicer as we go along. It isn’t odd to get multiple steepings from one pot of good Chinese tea leaves, but puer just seems to be the workhorse of the tea leaf world–it’s just keeps going and going like the Energizer Bunny. It is just a highly forgiving type of tea–many tea leaves require exact temperatures and brewing times to the point that it seems like they are harder to make than meringue on a humid day, but puer is really hard to screw up.
Here is a good overview of how to brew puer tea, along with information on the history, culture and health benefits of puer tea.
You can get it in several forms–loose leaf, which is the type we prefer, in compressed bricks, which is easier to store, and stuffed into dried tangerine skins, which scents the leaves with a lovely floral citrus note that floats as light as a dancing feather over the darker, earthy notes of the tea’s natural flavor.
So there you are–in a household of tea drinkers, this is our favorite, and can be considered the house beverage, since we drink it easily two or three times a day.
Even if it does taste a bit like dirt.
(And yes, Kat loves it, too.)
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