Over the past week or so I’ve received a number of messages from people wondering where I’ve been and asking me to start writing more often. Attempting to do that now, but I want to put aside any concerns for my health, I’m doing fine at the moment. Lately I’ve been busy with a new job I’ve taken on. For several weeks, I couldn’t find the time and space to even drink tea. Moments like that never last long for me, and I’m back on the sauce with renewed interest. Unfortunately the job I’ve taken on, however, has left me rather devoid of humor lately which is why my writing is suffering.
My job involves managing Medicaid benefits and services for people with disabilities and frail elderly persons, and because of my long experience and credentials, the company tossed me some extremely difficult situations that one hardly can imagine in this day and age. For example, I am working for a deaf woman with almost no education and very limited signing, and even with ample funding, few resources exist in rural areas to assist in helping her become more independent in the community. And then I have a woman with rotting limbs, literally maggots eating her flesh and she doesn’t care enough for herself to get healed. Worst of all, another woman’s boyfriend has beaten her newborn baby almost to death, and I don’t know if the child will live. These situations are endlessly troubling, and while I can set aside time to drink some tea, I don’t have any humor at the moment to write with. All I have are black marks.
And one Blue Mark.
A couple of months ago, I got a sample of a 1990s Blue Mark tea in the mail from a Steepster friend, along with a few other favorites. He spoiled me with a big box, and now that cooler weather has arrived, the aged teas look mighty tasty. I’ve had my eye on this teacake ever since white2tea offered it back in 2014, I think. I see the Blue Mark is still available for purchase but for some reason my eyesight experienced a moment of blindness when trying to check out the price. My eye doctor confirmed the issue last week and told me “You can’t see!” and he ordered me some new glasses. I have to wait two weeks for my new Coke bottle lenses to arrive. So right now, ahem, I can’t possibly read the price tag for the 1997 Blue Mark and you’ll need to check it out for yourself.
I opened up the precious sample and dumped it into my presentation dish about two weeks ago. I weighed it out and now can’t remember what it weighed, maybe 8 grams. Oh, I saved a photo of the sample, so that tells me 7.5g, not bad for an eyeballing. I meant to start on this tea but then all my gaiwans had other teas waiting to be steeped out and I couldn’t possibly throw any of them away. Now with a gaiwan available, I pour two boiling water rinses and start in.
This puerh tea has had some humid storage, but this type of storage is more what we call “natural storage.” Anyone living in a drier climate will smell a bit of mustiness like old books, but it is not the true wet compost-type storage that melts and fuses the leaves in the cake. Not “on purpose” wet storage, but rather ordinary climate mild humidity over time. I doubt most people living in humid weather could notice this humidity, probably everything smells like this tea. But the musty is a little noticeable, and the effect of browning on the leaves quite noticeable. At first sniff, I wonder how long it has been since I had an aged tea with a bit of humidity. All summer long I’ve been drinking fresh puerh tea almost exclusively for the cooling and diuretic effects. Only recently the weather here has cooled to the point where I’m now setting aside my fresher teas and turning my attention to oolong and aged puerh.
The Blue Mark brews up crystal clear, and this is pure money, in a cup of topaz liquor with a ruby ring. None of the signs of bad wet storage, thick opaque brew or too much dust or swirling clouds of god only knows what. This tea displays aged results we aspire to with storage, obtaining this kind of clarity is the goal of goals. You can have the right wrapper, the right leaf, the best climate and storage solution and even then won’t know until 15 years on if you got it right.
This tea is alive with sweetness and energy in the mouth, bits of florals and spices and honey, vanilla and root beer. I can see some big leaves in the gaiwan, so it’s not all about buying tea with mostly buds, these bigger leaves prove a mix of leaf is what we want for a good aging tea. Lots of humid teas out there to buy, but can I find any with liveliness left? Or has the tea wilted too much under the dampness leaving only graphite and a bit of wood flavor?
This tea is a long steeper. Other folks who have tried it report days of steeping. With older, browner teas, I have noticed that giving the leaf a rest overnight or for at least a few hours between steeps lets the water soak in and release more from the leaf. That tea spent nearly 20 years getting to this point, it needs time to stretch out and open again.
Regardless if our teas are stored more wet or dry, this Blue Mark is an excellent benchmark to test out an example of exceptional storage. With it, I can compare my own teas: are my teas clear or cloudy? Do they taste sweet or merely neutral like wood or paper? Can I find flavors like fruits or spices in addition to the sweetness, indicating depth and dimension? If I can get results like this Blue Mark has, naturally I will become rich.
This tea is sold by the gram as well as the entire cake. I hope you have the chance to at least pick up a few grams of this tea to give yourself an idea of how an exceptionally stored tea looks and tastes. Thanks to my Steepster friend, I've had a chance to give this a try and I expect this will continue to steep out past the two days I've been drinking so far. Teas like this are not fussy to brew, one doesn’t need to mess with parameters to coax a decent cup, puerh tea with perfect storage will give it no matter how you brew. I’ve learned from this one that while leaf and wrapper may be important variables, my tea is only as good as my storage and maybe a few lucky fingers crossed.
Requiescat in Pace.
Requiescat in Pace.