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Saturday, December 22, 2018

Personal Puerh Aesthetic: Considering the What in Drinking Puerh Tea


What is a puerh lover? I look in the mirror and know how I got here, a fairly straight path through green teas on a health quest. None of this explains how one acquires so much puerh, beyond that of what I reasonably drink. Puerh lends itself to a constant grail search, the dream of the divine disk transporting me into a state of bliss and youthful glow, dripping with complex spices and fruits, all I need is the golden sofa and grapes. In the case of puerh, the more aged the tea the younger I hope to feel.


What is this magical Yunnan leaf tea I drink? Usually the reader wants a treasure map, a list of names of teas, prices, places to run to and buy wonderful tea. Quite honestly, reviewers provide these lists all year long. Still, the reader is left less than satisfied, or perhaps merely hesitant, thinking that this or that tea is not quite the one. The truth is, if we line up ten collectors of puerh tea along with their current favorites, each person will have a different group of teas to swear by. With my personal puerh aesthetic of who-what-where-why, I divide my “Whats” into drinkers, stunners and untouchables.

Drinkers

Drinker teas are daily consumption teas that require little thought to enjoy. From bricks to tuos, this group is mostly in the lower end of the price list, under $200. I would list nearly all factory teas into this category. Sure a few older factory teas reach a legendary status, but the truth is virtually all of these teas today are likely to leave one satisfied if somewhat disappointed. 


Storages matter here too, I consider flawed storage teas to be drinkers, and that includes wetter stored teas. Wet storage is a flaw, and while such tea is perhaps drinkable, it will never be great tea. I spend a great deal of time on my blog writing about drinkers because so many beginners are looking for drinkers, even though I have plenty of these teas and need no more of them.

Stunners

These teas today generally are going to hurt your wallet, costing $200 or more, regardless of the size of the beeng. I say beeng because any tuo or brick costing more than this is iffy, I would generally not pay that much for a tuo or brick that to me is just drinker even if well aged. A tuo or brick just is not going to blow me away. A stunner is generally a beeng or loose puerh tea. A stunner will not have processing flaws like burnt leaves, oxidized leaves, or anything other than tea leaves, a quality control issue. 


A stunner is dry stored or lightly wet stored, very light. The clue here is price, assuming the tea is priced by someone skilled in evaluating tea. People continually try and find stunners by looking in cheap tea joints, the truth is you won’t find any. A real stunner sticks out with longevity, thickness, mouth and body feel, just to name a few qualities. I might be in the market for a stunner tea if I think the aging potential is there, some uncommon strength to survive the long twenty year haul.

Untouchables

Untouchable teas are frequently unmentionables, alas. Very often a friend or vendor sends me an untouchable, or shares a session, with the caveat that I do not mention the tea on my blog. Sometimes to ensure I do not discuss the tea, I am not told what the tea is. The person does not want others to know of this possession. Blogging does lend itself to more opportunities to drink or acquire this level of tea, along with a very, very healthy wallet. But blogging does not work in the way you might think. People share tea with me almost from a negative contingency. Rather than saying “oh here is a tea you might love,” the impression is “I will give you a tea that is better than what you have,” a bit of a dig suggesting my taste isn’t quite what the person thinks I possess at this stage, and a failure to appreciate on my part will prove a negative point. Perhaps my statements that I will drink anything lend itself to some collectors feeling challenged to send me a tea with grail potential.


Untouchable teas are those without real price, or undetermined price, or so high that, well, don’t ask. The teas are one of a kind, or few of a kind. You need to know someone. For certain these teas cost well over $1000 a beeng, and probably much more. Not all are completely inaccessible, however. TeaDB just reviewed a XiZhiHao this week that is probably attainable, assuming you have the cash and can find a collector willing to sell. But in the case of the review, a friend provided a single session of the tea which in itself is a generous gift. I am always on the hunt for untouchable teas.

How does one get to a place of owning better teas? Aside from the necessary disposable cash, you need to get to know tea people. You won’t find the best teas on your own, even if you travel to Yunnan. Over time you may acquire sufficient stunner teas to trade for a session of really decent tea.

Puerh Across Its Lifespan

My puerh aesthetic is all about drinking teas at various stages during the aging process to appreciate the current condition of the tea. I can taste the differences along the way, and make adjustments as needed to my crocks or move a tea out. I might decide to plastic-wrap a twenty year old tea to slow it down and preserve its current state. Others I acquired with a little dampness might need airing, which I also check. I enjoy tasting how tea changes the longer I have it in my possession. Occasionally I experiment and sometimes end up tossing a tea. All this for me is an important part of appreciating puerh tea.


I won’t be able to drink all my tea. I made plans for it when I am gone. This is the best I can do, and I am okay with what I choose to drink and stopped punishing myself for what I am not drinking up. I am also expanding my palate into drinking more white and red teas, and some oolong teas I have stored for some years. The What is a journey into my collection and beyond, and I don’t expect to find the grail.


2 comments:

  1. Interesting! I've tried some teas that will probably fit into "Stunners" category, like W2T Last Thoughts and Hai Lang Hao Bulang ripe bricks. Trying to compare them to regular teas, I think they are more balanced and clean. There are no weird tastes, everything is just right and perfect. But they are not stricking either and I wouldn't probably notice I was drinking premium tea unless paying very close attention. Anyway, as I never had a chance to try the teas you call "Untouchables", I was curious how would you compare them to your "Stunners"? How do you know this is "better than the best"?

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    1. Usually qualities stick out as more refined, such as a very old puerh might have in body feel, perfume, unusual color or texture. Last Thoughts is a very fine Yiwu tea, with incredible texture and body feel. Young teas may have potential for greatness, and higher quality tiers of tea are generally contenders to become great teas. Age is what is missing.

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