; Cwyn's Death By Tea: Old Lady Tea ;

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Sunday, September 21, 2014

Old Lady Tea

I don't drink young tea all that much. Maybe once a week or every two weeks. Most of the young teas (<10 years) I try are either for my son or things I will eventually give away elsewhere. Right now I'm in the process of choosing a puerh cake for a wedding present. The downside of too much young tea for this old lady is I feel a bit hungover afterward and need a nap. Then I spend the next five days or longer drinking shou, or really aged sheng, or perhaps a black tea. My normal drinkers are at least ten years old and preferably older than that.

The past couple of days are a case in point. My last blog post featured a couple of teas that some might not consider all that young, 2004 and 2005. But these teas were stored dry, and still are very green to me. The leaves taste good in these teas. I hate to waste tea so I've been trying to steep them out. The Menghai is getting close to done. But the Jianshen is like a young boy toy who won't go home and doesn't seem to sleep.
2005 Menghai and 2004 Jianshen, aren't they done yet??
A third day in, and I find myself sniffing around my tea samples and older cakes, longing for a bit of humid storage and some dark flavor. I like a little traditional storage on a tea, but not so much that "musty" is the only flavor I can taste. I want to taste other flavors too after the first few steeps. My personal theory is people living in humid climates don't even notice "musty" anymore, but those of us in drier climates can pick up the smallest whiff of damp.

My mother was one of those people. She had a mission in life to eliminate all possible mustiness and mold because of a constant allergy problem. Seeing her all stuffed up and puffy in the a.m. was typical. To add to the challenge, she insisted on living in a lakeside home, where a bit too much rain led to water in the basement and frantic efforts with dehumidifiers and bleach to dry everything out. When she changed her clothes closet between seasons, anything she planned to store got packed into vacuum-sealed bags to avoid the tiniest spore. Even the pillows on the beds were covered with plastic cases, which seemed to me more likely to cause mustiness than simply washing them often, or replacing them as needed. Eventually she gave up on the battle with mustiness and moved to Arizona, where she started a battle with dust and sand instead. Mom would have hated the musty tea I drink, and anyway not worth trying to move her away from the sugary, powdered Lipton lemon iced tea she drank for decades. But humidity ages a teacake far more quickly and is a godsend to someone of my age and health issues, making a puerh tea much easier to take.

An inspection of my stoneware crocks turns up this 1990s Menghai Red Star sample I picked up from Tea Classico last month.
1990s Menghai Red Star, by Tea Classico
I've been airing it in a small turned-clay jar I made in high school. (You know you're getting older when the stuff you made back in school qualifies as vintage.) This tea is described as having Hong Kong "dry" storage. I've learned with puerh however, that "dry" in Hong Kong still means some humidity, just about the right amount in my opinion. Once in awhile I get a tea from Hong Kong that has been vacuum packed, such as that 2005 Naka I wrote about last week. But a Hong Kong cake packed in space/time-warp wrap is something of a disappointment, if I wanted bone dry I'd order from somewhere else. This time, however, I can smell a bit of mustiness in the sample.

You can see in the presentation dish that the 20 gram sample I have includes some loose tea underneath with a few smaller compressed pieces. I put away the big chunk for now, and focus on the loose stuff weighing 6 grams in total. I have a tiny Yixing pot, but I'll go with the gaiwan instead so you can see the brew. Look at that dark brown color! Just the ticket for too many young sheng sessions. One rinse, because the loose tea doesn't need much more help to fall apart.
Go to bed with a boy, wake up with an old man.
First steep, very mineral-ly. Love it! I feel better already, knowing this is gonna go down nice. The tea has some liveliness on my lower tongue. Takes a few steeps to get rid of most of the humidity, but I don't want to toss these steeps or I'd miss out on that strong mineral flavor. Now into steeps 4 and 5 I'm getting tea flavor, a bit of green tea, but nothing like the green bitter brew I've been drinking over the past few days. Now this leaf isn't the wild old tree stuff, so no fancy flavors or incoherent babbling. It also starts fading after 8 steeps, and I increase the steep time. Worth sampling, and feels good to drink it today, but I don't think I'll be springing for a cake.

I don't have any actual tea advice to offer aged people, but a few things work for me.

1. Buy the best aged tea I can afford.
2. Develop a palate for at least some humidity in the tea cake, it widens out the choices of buying tea considerably than restricting myself to just dry storage choices.
3. Grandpa-brew a little bit of leaf in a Yixing mug with lots of water if I need a bit more hydration. Medications are drying on the body and rough on the kidneys.
4. Focus on teas I can drink right now. When someone recommends the latest plantation cake, I try not to feel tempted. I don't have the time. Unless I plan to give a gift to a relative, those cakes are for the young people.

Requiescat in pace.

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