The story of the Pu'er Tea 普洱茶
The famous red tea of China.
If green tea is the white wine of China, then red tea is the red wine of China. It is laid down carefully and the best red teas are aged for a long time. Pu Er tea is one of the best red teas. The best Pu Er tea costs about RMB 10,000 per kg. Chinese people say Pu Er tea is just like gold. The birthplace of Pu Er tea was Si Mao. Si Mao had excellent soil for growing tea, which has been grown in this beautiful place for a thousand years.
Pu Er tea got its name from a beautiful mistake. This is the story of that very famous fable.
Near Lian Chang River, there was a lovely old town. Its name was Pu Er. Pu Er town was located amongst picturesque scenery and the people enjoyed the life there. The green tea that was originally grown there was very famous throughout China. Every year many tea traders came to buy tea.
In the time of the Qing dynasty, when Qian Long was Emperor, Pu Er town had a famous tea businessman, his name was Pu. His ancestors had grown and traded tea for many generations. His family was famous for the quality of the tea they sold. Pu had a big business and sold the tea as far away as Tibet and Burma. Qian Long, the Emperor, had many time ordered Pu to bring his tea to Beijing as tribute.
At that time, to make the tea for the Emperor was not easy. The leaves must be picked at the beginning of spring and only the very young leaf used. The selection of the leaves was based on the ‘five select principles’: select day, select time, select the right location, select the right tree, select the right tea twigs. Then the preparation was based on the “eight throw away principles”: throw away all the leaves which do not have a tiny bud, throw away any leaves that were too big, throw away any leaves that were too small, throw away if the buds were too thin, throw away if the leaves were not a perfect shape, throw away if the colour of the leaves was too light, throw away if the leaf had been eaten by an insect, throw away if the colour of the leaves had a tinge of purple.
Before making the tea, a sacrifice had to be offered to the tea’s ancestors. The people who made the tea must bathe and wash themselves carefully and not eat any meat that day.
The leaves were winnowed by hand in a large wok that was heated to a medium heat. It was then put in the sunshine to further dry the leaf. After it was totally dry, it was steamed and pressed into a tight wad the shape of a full moon. Then it was put in a room to fully dry again.
As you can see, there were many things to do and much skill in making first class tea, fit for an Emperor.
Normally Pu, with the Pu Er town the government officer, took the tea to Beijing. However one year Pu was very sick and he stayed in bed for a long time. He couldn’t make the journey that year, so his son with the town government‘s officer, Luo Qinzong, was designated to take the tea to Beijing. His son was very unhappy about having to go to Beijing as he was engaged to marry the beautiful daughter of one of his father’s business colleagues. However he had no choice and had to take the tea to Beijing. So they changed the date of the marriage until after he would return.
Pu’s son was too young for the responsibility of harvesting and making the tea. More pressing, he was in a hurry to go to Beijing. The sooner he went the sooner he could come back and marry. That impatience was compounded with a lack of experience. It was raining a lot while he was making the tea and he didn’t wait for the tea to dry properly. He set off to Beijing with the tea still slightly damp in the horse saddle bags. From Pu Er town to Kun Ming it needed 18 days. From Kun Ming to Beijing it needed another three months. They left Pu Er town in Spring and arrived in Beijing during the summer.
In Beijing they lived in a hotel. The young Pu missed his father and his lovely fiancée. He pined to go back soon. He thought, “tomorrow I will take the tea and present it to the Emperor, then I can go back home.” He wanted to see if the tea was still in very good condition, so he opened one of the bag in which the tea was stored. He was dismayed to see that the tea had become a reddish-brown colour, instead of the bright healthy green he was expecting. He opened another bag. The tea was the same. He opened all the bags of tea. They were all same reddish-brown colour. He had no idea what to do, “I must die” he thought. “When the Emperor sees the tea tomorrow he must kill me.” Young Pu thought his life was over. He cried and went to the bed.
That hotel had an employee who had seen where the tea was stored and thought that if this tea was for the Emperor it must be the one of the best teas in China. So he wanted to try some. He stole a piece. When he went back to his home he put the some of the tea into hot water and was surprised that the water became a reddish-brown color. He tried some. It was very sweet and had a strong, pleasant aroma. “Now I understand why the Emperor likes this tea so much!” he thought.
All the while, the younger Pu, had stayed in his bed and cried, thinking that he must be killed the next day. Luo Qinzong, who, with younger Pu had bought the tea to Beijing was out on the streets all the while. When he returned to the hotel, he wanted to talk to Pu about all the interesting things he had seen in Beijing. However, when he went into Pu’s room he saw that the younger Pu had hanged himself. Luo Qinzong hurried to find people to come and help. They found young Pu was still alive. When he woke up, Luo Qinzong asked him why he had tried to kill himself. Young Pu moaned and said, “the tea is ruined, the Emperor will kill us”
Luo Qinzong went to see the tea. When he saw what had happened he agreed with the young Pu, “Surely we will both be killed tomorrow.” He wanted to use his sword kill himself. As he lifted his sword to strike, the hotel employee walked past the room. He hurried over and stopped Luo, “what has happened? Why do you both want kill yourselves?” he asked. Luo said the tea was ruined, “how to give to the Emperor?” The hotel employee said, “you are wrong, the tea is very good. I tried some. I have never drunk tea better than this!”
Younger Pu and Luo Qinzong were overjoyed, “fine, tomorrow we will give the tea to the Emperor. If he likes the tea we don’t need to die, if he doesn’t, we get killed. Why we need to kill ourselves too early?”
The next day they took the tea to Emperor Qian Long. There was a big tea hall where all the different tea growing areas put their best teas on display. Emperor Qian Long didn’t know which tea was the best. He walked and walked and looked around. Suddenly, he stopped in front of the tea from Pu Er town. The tea was compressed into a round shape, like the moon. He broke of some the tea and put into the cup of boiling water which was placed beside it. The water instantly became a reddish brown colour, like a precious stone. A very pleasing aroma delighted the Emperor. He drunk a little of this new, unusual tea. It sweet and smooth, like a ‘light wind kiss of silk.’
Emperor Qian Long was very happy, he asked , “what is the tea’s name?”
Luo Qianzong had no idea. He kowtowed, but was so nervous he spoke in the Wun Nan language. Emperor Qian Long didn’t understand what was being said. He asked again, “what is the tea’s name and where did it come from?”
Luo Qianzong kept his head low and stammered, ‘the tea is from Pu Er town , Wun Nan province.”
Emperor Qian Long said, “Pu Er town, Pu Er town. Such an excellent tea should have a name. I will call it Pu Er tea.”
Luo listened very carefully to the name the Emperor gave. He went back hotel and told young Pu what had happened. They were both very happy and they effusively thanked the hotel employee. They took the rest of the tea that the hotel employee had stolen back to Pu Er town and asked the people to make tea just like this. From that time many people learned how to make Pu Er tea.
The finest quality Pu Er tea became the tea of Emperors. Ordinary people could not afford to drink tea of such quality. From that time all the emperors of the Qing Dynasty drank ‘long jing’ tea (green tea) in Summer and ‘pu er’ tea in winner. Why? Pu Er tea is made with water that is boiling hot, straight from the heat. Long Jing tea is made with water that has been left to stand a while and has cooled down a little.
Now, many Chinese people like to drink Pu Er tea. We say that Pu Er tea is very good for the stomach. I like to drink Pu Er tea on a cold day also. I am drinking Pu Er tea while I write this story.
Pronunciation – Pu as in Pooh the bear. Er as in her. Said as one word with two syllables.
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