I feel that Pu’er tea can be a tricky thing to learn about for the new lover of tea. Depending on how you come to learn about this kind of tea you may be told many different things about how the tea ages, old trees, famous mountains, how temperature and humidity affect storage, what is good, what is aged, and what is the “true” kind of Pu’er tea.
To make things more complicated there are no strict regulations in China for how teas are labelled. This is a problem because some people interested in Pu’er tea are looking for an authentic product. When you buy Champagne you know it comes from a certain part of France. When you buy a cake of Big Snow Mountain Pu’er you cannot always be sure if it comes from Big Snow Mountain, or even Yunnan Province for that matter. If you want something authentic, then the quest for good Pu’er becomes an issue of trust. If we trust how our tea vendor labels tea and find that tea good to drink, then the Pu’er tea becomes “authentic” in our minds.
To circumnavigate this issue of authenticity some vendors sell Pu’er tea without labels. The origin then becomes irrelevant and all that matters is whether or not the drinker enjoys the cup that is directly in front of them. I tend to shy away from some of these vendors because in the extreme cases you can find them selling a $51 / ounce of tea product that has no information listed whatsoever. With this out of mind however, I think that these vendors have a good point: It all comes down to whether or not you enjoy what is in the cup in front of you.
After learning more about Pu’er tea I have become very interested in the aging process. The internet has made it possible to learn a good deal about a very specific kind of tea that otherwise wouldn’t be available to me. The downside of this is that it is possible to hear a lot of opinions about aging without having any of them grounded in my own experience. For this reason I have started a new experiment. Starting this May I’ve collected eight cakes each of two raw Pu’er produced in 2017 and am going to age these teas myself. If I sample 6 grams of each tea every two months one cake will last me just about 9 years before I have to break into the tong (wrapped stack of 7 cakes). I will keep track of how each tea develops over time. If I follow through over the years it will be my first time seeing the transformation of young Pu’er to aged Pu’er firsthand. I believe this will help me better understand the aging process, as well as see how Pu’er changes in my local climate.
Today’s post marks the first tasting notes in this process for one of the teas I am aging: the 2017 San He Zhai cake from Yunnan Sourcing. San He Zhai means “Three Harmonized Villages”. It is named this because the cake contains blended material from different areas in Yunnan. This helps round out the tea while keeping costs down. After trying a sample of the 2012 production I was happy with the price to quality ratio and decided I wanted to age a newer production myself.
Water Temperature – 100 degrees C
Leaf / Water Ratio – 6.5 grams / 150ml
Aroma – Very floral (orchid), hay like, slight spiciness (like oregano or other green herbs)
1st steeping (10s): Very light. The chunks of tea haven’t opened up yet and this brew tastes similar to long jing green tea.
4th steeping (45s): By this point the tea has really opened up, and reminds me of the Bi Luo Chun from Wuliang Mountain. It has a sweet nutty flavor that instantly turns into a more green bean/vegetal bitter/astringent mouthfeel after swallowing. The tea really takes over the palate and leaves a lasting impression
7th steeping (1 min 30s): By this point the tea is fully opened and has reached a plateau. Intense mouthfeel with bitterness/astringency after a very quick sweetness in the front. It has a complex floral quality in the aroma, and reminds me of an IPA. For this reason I’m going to refer to this tea half jokingly and half lovingly as “Triple IPA”. I’m hoping that the intensity means it has the legs to age in the long term, but it is not possible to know in such an early stage of the tea’s development.