Tasting Teas : Pu’er Tea with Dried Orange Peel

Tea is our ingredient of the season this winter. We’re using that as an excuse to do a lot of tasting and to share our finds with you. Also, if you like orange-y things,  it was our ingredient of the season last winter!

When Sarah was in town last week, we made it a point to visit Boulder’s Ku Cha House of Tea. We’re excited to tell you more about the shop and its tea house in another post, today I wanted to share some photos and details about the Pu’er tea in a dried tangerine that we took home for our afternoon tea.

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To make this specialty a fermented tea is stuffed into the whole rind or mandarins or tangerines. The stuffed fruit is then left to dry, allowing the tea to absorbs the light citrus aroma. The tea leaves can be brewed alone or with broken pieces of the dried tangerine peel, thereby amplifying the citrus flavor.

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Producing the dried tangerines stuffed with tea is extremely labor intensive. After the fruit is picked, it is cored and stuffed by hand and then left to dry, and that’s on top of all of the work required to pick, dry, and ferment the tea. This article provides a detailed overview of the process with photos. The final product is then wrapped in paper before being shipped around the world for consumption.

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Before adding milk and sugar as I always do, I tried this tea plain, and what I noticed immediately was that it’s an extremely smooth tea. My mouth didn’t pucker from the tannins that are common in black teas. This smooth characteristic is attributed to the fermentation process undergone by Pu’er tea. While the tea looks like what we would commonly consider to be a black tea, it is actually a distinct variety. This tea begins as green tea leaves that are ripened and aged through a microbial fermentation and oxidation process that is unique from the oxidation process undergone by traditional black teas.

In addition to changing the flavor of the final tea, the microbial processes also change the chemical makeup of the final tea! Studies have found that consumption of Pu’er tea reduced cholesterol levels in rats, and the tea itself contained levels of a cholesterol-reducing drug used by humans. In addition to the benefits attributed to the Pu’er, it is believed that a tea brewed from the dried tangerine rinds can further lower cholesterol levels and lower the risk of certain skin cancers…. we’ll drink to that! (too corny?)

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