明清時期是普洱茶發展的重要時期，普洱茶一詞，便是始見於明代謝肇淛《滇略》：「士庶所用，皆普茶也，蒸而成團。」「 普茶」意即普洱茶，可見明代時期已有加工揉制的緊壓茶了。至清代普洱茶的發展更尤為鼎盛，據史料記載，清順治十八年 (公元1661年)，僅銷往西藏的普洱茶就達3 萬擔之多，同時以「六大茶山 」為主的西雙版納茶區，年產乾茶8萬擔，更是達歷史最高水平。至雍正七年（公元1729年），普洱茶更被清朝宮廷納為貢茶，極受朝廷讚賞。清中葉，茶山鼎盛，普洱茶更遠銷四川、西藏、港、澳及印度、南洋各地，從此名揚中外。因普洱茶貿易需要，形成了源起於六大茶山的茶馬古道。所謂茶馬古道，就是普洱茶的外銷路線。
As one of the oldest tea in China, Pu'er tea can be traced back to 1,700 years ago in Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220 CE). Yunnan began to process tea in the Three Kingdoms period (220-360). Trade in Pu'er tea began in the Tang Dynasty, became famous during the Ming Dynasty and was popularized in the Qing Dynasty.
The very first historical mention of Pu'er tea was in 862 when Fan Chuo, an important scholar during Tang Dynasty wrote a book with the title “Manshu” which means “Book of Uncivilized Peoples”. There he actually mentioned the origin of Pu'er tea from the six major tea mountain at Xishuangbanna area. Another mention of Pu'er tea comes from The Ming Dynasty scholar Xie Zhaozhe, his book "Dian lüe" which means "local gazetteer of Yunnan" mentioned the old name of Pu'er tea, "Pu Cha", and describes the old method of traditional preparation of Pu'er tea.
Over time, Pu'er tea gained a reputation and appreciation. By the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), the production of Pu'er tea was rampant. In 1729, Pu'er tea became a tribute tea for the royal family. At the same time, the administrative district of Pu'er Fu (Pu'er city) was established in this area and it stayed that way until the last emperor served in the Republic of China. Pu'er tea and its raw materials from various tea mountains, such as the Six Tea Mountains, were gathered along the Ancient Tea Route that became known as "the Tea Horse Roads" to Pu'er, and then conveyed by caravan to Beijing, Tibet, Southeast Asia and Europe.