I figured it appropriate to begin the first post of an Occidental tea blog with red tea, the tea that most Westerners will encounter first. I chose a pu'er to finish this post because my tea journey has taken me to outlying regions of aged tea--pu'er in particular. Hong cha is where I started; hei cha is where I am now.
2007 Ju Qiu Hong Mei (from Jing Tea Shop)
Sebastien of Jing Tea Shop sent this sample to me gratis with my last order with him. This gongfu black tea hails from Hu Fou, Hang Zhou city, in Zhe Jiang Province, an area most famous for one of China's 10 Famous Teas, Long Jing aka Dragonwell.
The dry leaves appear delicate and wiry. Their curves mean they interlock, like they don't want to let go of each other. I felt giddy with epicaricacy when I fractured a measure of leaves into into my scoop.
Lascivious scents of roses, lavender, and grain arose from the wet leaves in the pot. In the empty fair cup, it left the aromatic trace of butter and malt. I knew just from the wash that this black tea would satisfy me on a chilly and windy night in a city more famous for sunshine.
I steeped it fast and loose the first few servings in a new pot, a pot of unknown clay: too dense and tonal to be hong ni, but too roughly textured to be zhu ni. The pot performed superbly on its christening steep.
The tea offered an initial velvety texture, stevia sweetness, malty/grainy flavor, and surprising hui gan for a black tea. Creamy, it performed more like a good Assam than a gongfu black tea, but with the delicate feminine lightness and finish only Chinese blacks capture . The creaminess wouldn't die, and the tea took longer infusions without a bit of astringency or acid. Before I checked the website, I wondered if this tea was aged. It's been about a year since it was produced, and it shows itself in smoothness.
Toward later steeps, the flavor remained similar, but the rose aroma in the wet leaves entered into the aroma left in the mouth. Eventually, by steep 6 or so, the tea became too light for my taste, sweet and grainy with a long creamy finish, but not pronounced enough for my taste. I think I used too few leaves.
Overall: one of the better black teas I've had. Usually they sit heavy in my stomach, but this did no such gastrointestinal damage.
1997 Zhongcha (CNNP) Yiwu Ye Sheng (from Teacuppa)
I bought this sample and had brewed it once before tonight. It drinks nicely for an adolescent tea, perhaps because of wetter (but not "wet storage" wet) Malaysian storage.
The tea claims to be "wild" and "Yiwu" tea. This tea falls within my experience of Yiwu teas at this age, but any claim to wildness I couldn't verify.
The tea is hard to write about right now, cuz I'm already drunk on it. It started out sweet & easy, with honey and timber notes, soft mouthfeel that encompasses all areas of the mouth (tongue, soft and hard palates, even gums!). Hui gan took a while to build, but the more it built the longer it lingered.
The tea's clean start and finish pleased me. It soaked into the back of my tongue and dripped down my throat as though absorbed by a sponge, leaving a trail behind the whole way down. It became soothingly aromatic when its muted floral notes evaporated off my tongue as I breathed out my nose, and early on it made my ears, back, and shoulders tingle with moving qi.
It tastes its age. No arguments there. Very late in the aftertaste--minutes later--a youthful bitterness appears. Maybe it's cut with a little border tea?
I started feeling silly and delirious some 6 infusions in. I wrote in my notes that the flavor was not quite wood but aromatic like a wood sauna. Obviously, my mind was elsewhere.
Unfortunately, with my finances the way they are of late, I won't enjoy this tea in more than 20g increments. But, that Teacuppa makes this tea available loose is an awesome move.
Nonce thoughts on pu'er and aging
No one really knows anything yet. It's all guesswork. Whatever the aging, it doesn't matter all that much, because I haven't had any bad 20+ year old pu'er. Some better than others, sure, but none so bad I felt sorry to have tasted it. I feel more nonchalant about my teas' aging. In 30 years, all we collectors will be sitting on a mound of deliciousness. What's the worry?
I also wonder if the terroir of a pu'er diminishes with great age. With single-mountain productions only recently labeled, perhaps in the future we will know, but with so many lying labels, I fear we're just as much in the dark. But the feeling above cancels out any worry: it'll be good. Just enjoy it.