Like many great inventions, dark tea's beginning was most likely an accident. Although the Chinese kept the secrets of growing and processing tea to themselves for hundreds of years, they traded tea to many countries along the 4,000-mile Silk Road. To transport and protect tea on long-distance and sometimes two-year treks, the Chinese compressed tea into bricks. Sometimes, the tea bricks absorbed enough moisture to attract indigenous microbes. While it was initially thought this would ruin the tea, it in fact fermented it and gave the tea unique flavors. Considerably refined since those early days, dark tea processing is similar to making cheese and beer.
What is the difference between a pu'er tea and a dark tea? Only fermented teas grown and processed in a region of China's Yunnan Province can be called pu'er teas. Fermented teas grown outside this area or in other provinces must be called "dark teas." Pu'er, in this respect, is similar to French Champagne.
Dark tea's flavor profiles range from astringent, bitter melon for a one-year-old, slowly-aged pu’er cake, to notes of truffle and aged, smooth scotch for the same pu’er cake allowed to age for 12 years. Once steeped, dark teas range in color from light greenish-brown to an almost syrupy, dark brown liquid.
Whichever dark tea adventure you choose, you'll experience a tea invented along the Silk Road.