I just received a complaint today. Yes, I know a week has passed since my last post. Okay, more than a week. How is a person supposed to keep track of time while drinking puerh tea? Truthfully I have been drinking a lot of tea lately, more than usual. Instead of confining my puerh time to the evenings, I now start drinking earlier in the day. Most of my attention lately is on re-tasting teas from my collection. One needs to do this regularly as a way to check on the storage because measuring devices for humidity or temperature do not tell us anything about how the tea tastes. Also, I like to check on my new cakes to discover changes that occur in the first year when puerh tea settles from processing. More changes occur in the first year than in any other time span.
Tasting in the First Year
I taste each tea I buy when I get it, but then I wait another six months or more before sampling the tea again. This applies to fresh, new puerh tea but also aged tea I have ordered. Fresh tea needs time for settling, and aged needs time to acclimate and perhaps air out any storage odors. I might review the tea, but I try and confine myself to talking about the leaf quality and flavors without a big judgment on the tea.
This brings up something that is bothering me over the past year. I see more and more people buying new puerh especially, and then writing scathing reviews at first taste. I do not understand how a person can judge a puerh tea immediately after pressing on any aspect except leaf quality. We can notice much about the thickness of stems, the durability of leaf, whether the cake is poorly processed with too much or too little chaqing. But we cannot judge the quality of the tea brew straight off the steamers! We cannot know how well a tea will age when the tea just came out of the cotton bag!
Yet I see folks posting reviews on Steepster or blogs or Reddit with damning judgments on the flavors of brand new tea. Or reviews of aged tea straight out of the mailing box. Yet how many more reviews are posted over years and years when the writer says something like “I hated this tea at first, what a night and day difference six months (a year, two years, five years) makes.” I have tea friends writing some of these judgments too or posting them in photo form on social media.
I can discern fine leaf quality and clean processing at first taste when I receive a new or aged tea. An aged tea also has a storage quality that I can judge, dry/wet etc. My views of leaf quality, processing and any storage issues are not likely to change. My opinions on the brew, however, will change because the tea is going through stages of change.
The Need for Re-tasting
My dears, we need to keep looking, and keep tasting. Otherwise, we merely look upon a painting and comment upon the image alone, without seeing the layers of paint and how the effect we admire, or not, is created. Some tea writers will say “my tastes have changed,” but the truth is the tea is changing as fast as you are. Who is to say that you might store a tea very well, and find you have a nice one on your hands a few years down the road that you can appreciate all the more?
Perhaps tea reviews give the impression of a constant buying of tea, or constant sampling of new teas and not enough time spent re-visiting stored teas. I suppose blog posts of re-visiting teas are not as exciting to write or read as are posts about brand new teas, when everyone is eager for information. Yet I hope we are as eager to know about teas we are all storing. Now that we have tea clubs, more people together are storing the same teas, in different locales, using different storage methods. We have more opportunity than ever to generate consensus about teas.
2016 Head by white2tea
I first reviewed this tea last summer, and noted that the tea fresh out of the steamer was very green. I and many others noted a vegetal, almost sweet green pepper flavor to the tea. When tea is this new and green, we can note the strength of the leaves and the clean processing but we can hardly judge the brew at this point. I believe I noted that on my post back in July.
I am surprised now to remember from reading my post how Head arrived smelling like a hot tomato vine during a period of very steamy summer weather. For 2016 Head smells nothing like tomato vine today. 2016 Head has changed vastly from when I tasted it nearly seven months ago. I brewed up a pot of this tea and my clumsy fingers spilled tea all over the kitchen counter. From this mess wafted up a smell of a lily of the valley garden patch, and I was stunned at the florals and how sticky my fingers got while cleaning up the spills. The brew is now more golden yellow rather than green, indicating the tea has settled from the “green” tea stage to now a puerh ready to begin slow fermentation.
In the cup, the florals are now at the forefront, and the savory aspect deeper, more of a lower note. Also, the cup aroma after drinking is heavily floral which makes the tea seem more expensive than it is. I normally find the strong cup aroma after drinking in more expensive teas than Head. I went ten steeps easily and the tea has more to go. I forgot to take a photo.
Afterward, I emailed TwoDog and mentioned the changes in Head. He replied “I know the material well enough to know they should age better than they are…” But even he had not re-tasted Head in awhile. So this confirms to me that teas often change drastically long after first pressing. If you purchased Head last summer, give it a re-taste now. Otherwise, this tea is still only $69.
2011 Xiao Jin Gua Sheng by Verdant Tea
Yes, you all griped about this one that I reviewed last spring, and bought two of. This is an autumn 2010 production. I noticed that Verdant is now selling a 2016 Xiao Jin Gua, which consists (supposedly) of both spring and autumn material. Seeing a new pressing of this production, I decided to re-taste the more aged version. Back then I really liked the storage on this, and I still like it now.
|Around 10 steeps. I used a lot of leaf.|
I cannot vouch for the new pressing because I have not tried it, and part of what I like about the melons I own is the storage so far. I am glad I bought two because I am certain I will drink up one within the next couple of years. Also I am glad I didn't need to spend an entire month's salary to get a drinker tea, but a low $38, and the new pressing is on sale. As always, when buying from Verdant just ignore the photos of anything except the actual tea cake. Their marketing is dodgy but the tea might be fine enough.
2015 Autumn Bang Dong by Yunnan Sourcing via LiquidProust
This tea is from the Sheng Olympics box that LiquidProust put together. He aimed for depth in the box by including a 2012 version of this same production so that people can do deeper tasting. You get to try a younger version and a five year aged version. I wrote about the 2012 last month. I like the five year stored tea, seems to be aging along nicely. This newer tea is brewing past ten steeps for me, but it needs to rest after two steeps before it will give more. Like the autumn Xiao Jin Gua above, I taste that deeper spiciness. Autumn tea is a nice mild version of puerh that is growing on me, and the advice to try several years of a production more than once is sound advice indeed. The 2015 Bang Dong is a huge 400g cake of tea for $69, and the bargain of the three teas in this post.
|Some big leaves. Steeps nine and ten in one cup.|
I hope people will write about puerh teas they buy with at least some reservation in judgment until they have owned the teas for a time. I see a lot of flip flopping judgments going on. Deeper notes in puerh change over time, and I want to see writers noting these changes without needing to say “I don’t like the tea” fresh off the steamer, when you have no idea what it will taste like in a few months. Keep in mind other people are reading your notes. If you are flip flopping on your judgments, you either cannot discern leaf quality or you are not aware that sheng tea changes, and changes yet again. I believe that we can firmly judge the quality of the leaf, processing and storage of teas. But the flavor notes are ever-changing and on-going, and judgment of the brew itself is expected to evolve.