Pu-erh tea is the only truly “fermented” tea and is an incredibly old type, produced in China for centuries upon centuries. It usually comes in the form of a tea cake or tea brick, however is also available as loose leaf.
It is thought that the bricks and cakes were first made for storage purposes, as compressed tea was much easier to store, and far more compact. But it also added another advantage — it stood far less chance of being blown away, a problem which plagued regular tea leaves being transported by cart. Due to the incredibly long transport times involved with carting tea all over China, this tea then began to ferment, creating the puerh tea we know today.
There are two types of pu-erh: sheng pu-erh (raw) and shou pu-erh (cooked). The sheng pu-erh will improve with age gradually whereas the shou pu-erh does not continue age any further after processing. In optimal conditions (and with high-quality leaves), a good pu-erh brick or cake can ferment for decades, with older pu-erh fetching astronomical prices on the Chinese market from collectors.
Shou pu-erh tea is bold by nature, strong and potent, whereas sheng pu-erh’s brew is lighter in colour and in flavour. In these unique teas possible opportunities for positive cholesterol management have been found. They contain a small amount of the chemical lovastatin, which is actually used in medicines designed to help control bad cholesterol. Why it is contained in pu-erh tea and not any other type of tea is a bit of a mystery — the leading theory goes that the microbes involved in the fermentation process must also produce this chemical as a part of their natural biological process from living on the tea. Further research conducted on animals has also suggested that the tea may help to raise “good” cholesterol in the body.