Today I drank a raw pu’er tea from 2014 called Impressions. This tea is interesting because it includes blended material from various locations and harvests, rather than being a production from a single origin and time period. The vendor of this tea claims that the tea is produced from rough tea (mao cha 毛茶 in Mandarin) of 24 different regions in Yunnan province that was harvested from 2011 – 2014. This harvested rough tea also includes tea from both Spring and Autumn harvests. When you look at the dry leaves of the Impressions cake, you can see leaves and buds of various sizes and colors. This is different from the leaves and buds of single origin cakes, which will usually have a slightly more uniform appearance.
Why blend so many different harvests of tea?
When I first learned about this tea, I wondered why the vendor would choose to mix so many different harvests of tea material into one batch. A few answers presented themselves after reading more about the tea, and having a chance to drink it. One main reason is that sourcing single origin tea can become very difficult and expensive. This is especially true for regions that are famous for their tea. At the same time, a village or region is limited in the amount of tea that its tea plants can produce. Therefore by blending different harvests and regions together, the vendor can offer a cheaper yet more consistent product for their consumers.
Another reason for blending tea is due to the different flavor profiles of tea from different regions. The tea of some regions may have a lovely fragrance, yet lack substantial body. Conversely, tea from other regions may have a strong body but lack fragrance and refinement. For these reasons a skilled tea producer can identify the strengths and weaknesses of different teas, and create blends that utilize and balance the various flavors and aromas of tea from different regions.
Despite being aged for only 3 years, the Impressions cake had a very balanced profile that lasted over many brews. The color of the tea was a rich golden yellow. While being bold and uplifting, the tea was
never too bitter or astringent. It had enjoyable grassy, vegetal, and nutty flavors. Throughout the steepings it also had a slight floral fragrance. This tea was not the most complex pu’er that I’ve had, but it had a clean consistent character that I thought were right for the price.
Final Thoughts – Good Tea Doesn’t Have to be Expensive
After drinking this tea I reflected on something I’ve come to believe after trying different teas from different vendors – good tea doesn’t have to be expensive. Finding good teas that are cheap does require some trial and error, however. In my case this was true because it took me some time to find vendors that I believed were conveying trustworthy information about their products. This took time for me because every tea from every vendor is marketed to some extent. These claims are even more difficult to evaluate because of how subjective the experience of tasting something is. While buying pu’er there are a couple general kinds of marketing tactics I’ve noticed on different ends of the price spectrum:
1) The “too good to be true” situation – If you find a $10 cake of tea supposedly from a famous tea region like Lao Ban Zhang for sale on Tao Bao (a Chinese platform similar to eBay), there’s a big chance that the tea is a fake.
2) The “premium pricing” situation – I’ve seen vendors list pu’er teas for anywhere from $150 – $385 for a 100 – 200 gram cake of tea. There can be market situations that warrant hefty prices for pu’er teas such as these, due to Pu’ers rise in fame as an artisan product. However the dangers of premium pricing are that it is not very cost effective for the average person to evaluate teas like these. There is also the chance that one could pay the premium price for the brand or image of a tea, rather than for objective qualities that make it noticeably different in taste or aroma from, say, a $25 – $50 cake of tea.
For the reasons outlined above I have tried to identify tea vendors I perceive as trustworthy, and also tried to find good low – medium price range teas from these vendors that are complex and clean but do not break the bank. In the case of the 2014 Impressions, I bought the 357 gram cake a few years ago for $25 (although due to age its price has appreciated to $32). This means that one pot of tea (which can be re-steeped roughly 6 – 8) times costs only 35¢ . In my mind this is an example of an enjoyable & consistent tea that is affordable for an average consumer!