For the past week I have not consumed any puerh whatsoever. Unfortunately, my back went out and most of my time is spent recovering from one of the occasional bouts of pain from a former injury. Bad days do not come often, but when the back goes out I spend a week or two taking either aspirin or ibuprofen, or both, in as low a dose as I possibly can. The idea is to slowly reduce the inflammation over a period of weeks as the medicines build up a level in the blood. This is not a quick pain fix, but it works. One needs to be patient.
One also needs to be mindful of the stomach. Aspirin causes stomach bleeding, and thins the blood which can cause bleeding or easy bruising in other parts of the body, including the gums. I thank the gods for ibuprofen, a miracle pain reliever that came out while I was in college, and a life-changer for women’s menstrual pain. Yet this medicine too, along with naproxen sodium, now causes some stomach distress for me especially when taking generic forms. As a result, I am not drinking any puerh during this medicine course, but instead taking some roasted oolong and yancha teas.
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Puerh is called the “whiskey of teas” for a reason, and not just because of the myriad of flavors. Whiskey is a hard beverage, and puerh is hard tea. It is no different than taking a shot of whiskey. Ask yourself, under what conditions will I take a shot of whiskey? Can I do so in the morning, or on an empty stomach? While a hard core drinker might, he cannot do so forever. Hard beverages can and will catch up with you. You pay the piper eventually somewhere in your body, and very often the stomach is first to complain.
I never take any form of puerh first thing in the morning. I have medications to take, and so I drink hongcha with milk to ease into the day. Generally I prefer my puerh in the evening, an hour after supper, just as I would any other shot or digestif. In fact, I think puerh is best taken an hour or so after the largest meal of the day, so that the stomach is protected. For some folks, any green puerh at all might not be digestible without distress. Yunnan broad leaf tea is that strong, people.
Fortunately, I do not have any problem drinking green puerh tea, although it is not the only form of tea I drink in a day, and I do not always drink puerh every day either. I would guzzle it all day long, but instead I drink other teas too, most of which I do not write about because I get email complaints when I do. My tea avatar certainly drinks puerh non-stop, but she is an avatar, after all, and not this writer in full reality. She is wishful thinking. She is the person at work all day wishing she could drink tea instead of doing her duty. For the sake of your stomach, creating a puerh avatar is helpful so she can go tea shopping instead of cooking dinner for the family.
When I starting drinking puerh years ago, I found some blogs to read which gave me real information and experience on the cautionary aspects of puerh tea, blogs such as Tea Closet, A Tea Addict’s Journal, The Half-Dipper and TeaDB. The authors of these blogs are honest about the stomach effects of puerh tea, both in general terms and very specifically about teas they cover. These authors have found a way to write honestly about puerh teas, even when they are drinking samples provided by others. If that tea bothered the stomach, you can be sure they will say so. They cover stomach effects quite clearly.
Some tea vendors will say that a person can drink a very fine quality puerh at any time in its life, whether green, or teenage, or highly aged. The idea is that perhaps Gushu tea is safe. On the other hand, harsh “factory” teas made from plantation leaf, younger trees, and/or those grown with agro-chemicals, are the teas responsible for stomach distress. I say that no generalization will apply to everyone about puerh tea, just as I will say no generalization applies to whiskey or any other alcoholic beverages. These are “at your risk” beverages every single time you swallow one. Just as you can find a ninety year old geezer surviving just fine on his whiskey and cigars, you can find another one dead of the same at fifty. Likewise, you can find an old fart like me drinking puerh tea, and a twenty year old whose stomach cannot take it at all.
I recommend reading the above blogs from front to back. Most people don’t like to read much, or even search the internet for information on puerh. But if you take up puerh as a serious hobby, really you need to read and keep up on the reading as more information comes out. We are just learning more and more every year about how puerh tea ferments. Reading blogs from the beginning to today will require reading from the bottom of the pages on up, a tedious task, but this is worth doing. You will see those authors travel a journey with some wonderful teas, and also some gut-wrenching moments. In some cases, you will read years of gut-wrenching moments as the authors learned what teas they can drink and which ones they cannot.
My blog is about the worst one you can read, for my avatar is not in reality whatsoever. Even more blogs get started every year that mainly wax eloquently about wonderful teas with no dose of reality anywhere. I call my blog Tea Fluff, or Tea Filth. It is entertainment for puerh drinkers and me, but nothing more. You won’t find much tea education here. I worry that with puerh tea hitting a new mainstream hype, the cautionary tales long recorded on blogs will get lost in the excitement of new people taking up the hobby. Nowhere in the new articles on NPR and elsewhere do I see a realistic perspective on puerh tea. I can’t promise anything different myself, but I feel as though other authors such as those I cited above have done a good job. They continue to write honestly and informatively about puerh tea. Because of their work, somebody like me has the luxury of entertaining and drawing filthy tea cartoons as opposed to educating.
I think most mature tea drinkers drink a variety of teas. They know how to pair oolong with dessert, or hongcha with breakfast. They know how long to hold yancha and longjing, and how to detect a sour roast. They know how well heicha settles a heavy meal. All this is part of the tea drinking experience, and drinking widely amongst teas, not just puerh, is the best way for the body to enjoy tea. When a person takes medications, as I do, even more self-knowledge is required to continue enjoying tea and not wreck myself further in the process. The whole point of drinking tea is for enjoyment, and I want to continue to enjoy all of my teas as long as I can.