Chinese Pu-erh Tea and French Red Wine


Twenty years ago, I had my first encounter with pu-erh tea at a friend’s house in California. The color and the smell of the tea intrigued me. The taste reminded me of a French red wine from the Bordeaux region that we call Grave. Like pu-erh tea trees, the first Grave vines were planted more than 2,000 years ago in the southwest of France.

The similitude of the two beverages is striking—the deep dark color of the liquor, the pronounced earthy flavor and the fact that pu-erh tea can be aged like wine. This was all very intriguing to me when I first encountered it.

I took a liking to pu-erh tea. Since then, I have tasted hundreds of different varieties and made it my beverage of choice. The word "terroir" comes up in conversations about tea. Like wine, tea tastes and aromas are unique to the place where they are grown. Terroir is a French word coined by winemakers of old to convey a sense of origin and uniqueness of grapes and of resulting wines. It is a concept with such universal application that it can be used for everything that grows under the sun. So why not apply it to tea?

In dealing in pu-erh tea, we are dealing with the “fine wine” of China! The same intense devotion of lovers of the beverage is readily apparent, the same labyrinth of grading and certification, the same conflicts over the best soil, the best leaf, the best method of processing, and the best way to serve the brew.

Pu-erh tea (also known as aged or vintage tea) is another of China's great treasures and has only recently been discovered in the West. It is unlike any other tea in the world. Westerners can appreciate its similarities to fine wine, with which it shares many attributes.

Like in the great wine regions of the world, pu-erh tea production is highly regulated to ensure superior quality and authenticity. Only aged tea that comes from Yunnan Province qualifies as pu-erh tea.

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