Pu-erh tea is a mystical tea. It is worshiped by some as having spiritual qualities and its healing qualities are said to be far and wide. Pu-erh is made by fermenting tea through either natural processes of aging (called Sheng Cha) or forced process of composting or cooking called (Shu Cha). Shu means ripening or cooking. The tea is not actually cooked, but it is fermented in a warm humid pile with bacteria and fungi, it is turned, carefully monitored, the pile is carefully piled, dampened, and turned. The process takes up to 60 days and simulates the natural aging that a Sheng Pu-erh cake would go through over a period of a decade. The result, if done well, is a deep, earthy, smooth drink that will effuse flavor pour after pour.
As I was drinking Tou Cha, or birdnest pu-erh last night, from the Nang-ling mountains, feeling it fill my body with a warm vital energy, it occurred to me this drink was invigorating to my experience of vital energy. Good Pu-erh undergoes four distinct infusions of energy before it reaches your lips. The first is the land from which it comes, the soil, or terroir, but this is not enough, we must also consider the air, its qualities, as well as the outer environmental respect or damage by the humans who live there. You want to get Pu-erh from a place that is clean, nutritious, and still has the respect of the culture that lives with it. This fills the tea with good vitality. Then how is it processed. Cooked Pu-erh can be amazing, clean, and highly energetic, but only if ripened by master craftsman who know exactly what they are doing. Otherwise it comes out rough, overly sweet and will make you jittery. The next phase is how is it stored and brought to you, was it recieved with respect and stored well so it maintains its energy. The final stage is how is it served. Is the water fresh? Was the cup cleaned with intention and prayers. Was the water poured from a sufficient height to give energy and vitality back into the dried leaves. If all four of these aspects come together then you have tea that bestows spirit and mindfulness to the one who drinks it. You have a heart warming Pu-erh experience, one that will enhance your spirit and help you on your path to becoming a sage.