Pu-erh, (pooh-air) is a elemental and mysterious dark, fermented tea that has been used in Chinese medicine for centuries for its many health benefits including reviving those who have over indulged in alcohol. According to the lore of traditional Chinese medicine, pu-erh tea helps to stimulate spleen activity as well as reduce 'hotness' in the stomach and bring down your qi levels. Translation: you’re going to feel better after drinking this stuff. It is often the favorite tea of the truly dedicated tea drinker and like a fine red wine, the older the tea, the better tasting and higher quality the tea becomes. People pay thousands of dollars per pound for a well-aged pu-erh '"cake" and because of this, people collect it and buy it as an investment also similar to wine. It is often pressed into cakes, aged and fermented, so in that respect it has much in common with the substances you might consume on a night out, and that get you into this mess in the first place.
The secret of the tea lies in its aging process. Pu-erh tea undergoes a unique fermentation where microbes feed on its leaves, allowing natural mold and yeast to develop. Because of its fermentation process, pu-erh tastes and smells like a damp forest floor. It is engulfed with earthy tones, damp wood and dirt tastes and aromas. (Hmm... I'm pretty sure I have used such tasting notes to describe wine.)
In early China, the loose leaf tea was compacted into a pressed "cake" for easy transport during long trading voyages. You may break off pieces of the cake for steeping. The Chinese typically prefer to re-steep these teas because they believe that only after multiple steeps, the true flavors and essence of the tea come out. You may find that you prefer a tea’s fifth steep far more than its first. Re-steeping tea opens the leaves further, releasing different flavors, tones and aromas. It’s an exciting adventure to witness how the flavors ripen and just as you would with wine, notice how your senses react to each steep. The next time you over indulge, give this fascinating tea a try to placate the hangover brute that wreaks havoc in your head the morning after.
You won’t find quality pu-erh at local grocery stores and I suspect that most Chinese might scoff at the off brands circulating I know I do. Do your research, it's worth it. and enjoy!