One of my storage containers I've been impressed with is the red clay Frankoma honey pot, and I am using other crocks from Frankoma as well. Over the past year, my honey pot has held a sample of 2013 Bada Shan from camellia-sinensis.com. I haven't tasted this tea until now, I just tossed it in the pot. More than any other tea I've been storing, the tea in this pot has smelled malty and sweet when I've checked it over the past year and a half. Camellia Sinensis has brought back the tea again for 2015, this time in 100g cakes for $44 and change. Fairly pricey stuff for what appears to be mostly huang pian. I don't see much evidence in this of 800 year old trees, but I do see what is probably autumn tea.
|2013 Bada Shan by camellia-sinensis.com|
My crock has clearly pushed this tea as far as it can go in a short term experiment, based on the browning you see in my photo. No mold or humid storage, but the tea smells like beer. Soup is surprisingly thick. The brew is mildly bitter, nice warm throat effect and I break a sweat after tasting four cups. But no real punch to the tea. It's a pleasant and mild cake meant for western tea drinkers with very little experience in puerh, if you want to pay the price tag. I like the thickness, but not much flavor here for us who are well-braced puerh drinkers.
|First steep after two rinses.|
One anecdote I see repeated occasionally is the 6-6-6 rule or the 7-7-7 rule (take your pick). This rule suggests that raw puerh changes in years 6, 12, and 18. Or 7, 14, 21 if you like the other "rule" better. To me this is a real anecdote. Is there some sort of coding in the DNA of all raw Yunnan leaf, that can be applied to every sheng puerh? For one, we know that highly compressed shapes like tuos, mushrooms, gourds and balls remain dry on the interior even when steeped. Many of us tried the white2tea Poundcake gourd, or the Planet Jingmai sheng ball by Crimson Lotus, and after multiple soakings and steamings we had steeped out the exterior leaves, and picked apart the interior only to find it bone dry.
So a highly compressed tea can sit in a puddle for days and still remain dry on the inside. We all know that iron cakes and compressed shapes were developed for very humid climates and for very long term storage. I don't really believe a 6-6-6 rule is going to apply equally and consistently to a tuo or iron cake, compared to loose maocha or even a stone-pressed cake. And most of us know that even tea leaves are not equal, sweet leaves from the north of Yunnan peak far sooner than the bitter teas of the more southern counties. I'm happy to consign rules like 6-6-6 to the anecdotal basket.
And then I wonder whether we in the west have any business even buying tuos or iron cakes unless we live in Florida or somewhere near the equator. Unless of course these teas have already spent considerable time aging elsewhere, and we are buying on the back end rather than the front end. More and more lately I find myself tasting teas and judging how they will be after two years in MY storage, rather than thinking about how they taste now. And I definitely have zero thoughts of "this will be worth money someday." The best I can hope for is to drink what I have.
|Steeped leaves, I went 5 steeps on this.|
If we really want to age tea in a drier climate, we need to break up the cake and add humidity.
Without breaking up the cake, we are likely to end up with fading tea on the outside, and hardly any aging on the interior. For any consistency, the cake needs to be broken up. Because even soaking it for hours and hours is going to leave the interior dry.
Most of us who hoard puerh tea get attached to the shape, the wrapper. Like a vinyl collectible figurine we want to save the box, wrapper and papers and keep it intact. In other words, we are seduced by aesthetics that might better be applied to collecting tea ware rather than tea. But the person serious about fermenting and aging tea has to do what must be done to treat the tea as a plant product meant for fermentation and consumption. Collecting and storage are very different tasks and should guide our purchases at the start. Few of us think this way. And vendors with self-interest prefer that we continue to hoard cakes as things, because as soon as we take fermentation seriously, we truly realize some teas are impossible and the wrappers are unnecessary.
My puerh buying seems to fall into these categories.
1) Fine fresh sheng for drinking over the summer, to rid myself of excess water and cool my body.
2) 10 years old+ with some humid storage.
3) Heicha, partly oxidized and pile fermented teas that may have golden flowers fungi, something tangy as a change to shou puerh.
Because of my storage experiments, I can taste storage more and more. And I've become more aware of how truly undrinkable sheng is from 2-10 years of age due to fermentation and changes from wok charring in particular which gives the tea a sour dry quality until it is worked into the tea. For me, years 2-10 are the survival years for sheng. The tea either comes out of this heading toward a decent drink, or it dies from dry storage, bad leaf quality at the start, or too much char that needed really humid storage to work out.
|2015 version of the same tea. Photo camellia-sinensis.com|
In upcoming posts, I will continue to discuss more aspects of storage, so stay tuned!