What is a Puerh, really? (cont.)

Wednesday morning Michael Plant, Joe Kubera, and I drank Puerh together in New York at Tea Gallery. Winnie Lee was our hostess. We drank six or eight different Puerhs, but all the others paled by comparison to a green (uncooked) one from a single old tree.[1]
Whether it was the best Puerh I've ever tasted I can't say: it's just too hard to summon up taste memories from different times and compare them accurately. What I can say is that its taste was mellow, rich, and complex, and that it easily supported a dozen steeps. (Its leaves were whole and startlingly large, which I suppose makes it authentically Da Ye, but that wouldn't matter if it hadn't tasted so good.)
OK, that sounds normal: from an old tree, tea that's been slowly aged - wonderful! But the fact is, this tea was harvested this spring, which is to say, it hasn't had time to age, really.
So, if this tea, which is fresher than most so-called fresh greens we drink, compares with the best aged Puerhs I've ever had, what, then, is a Puerh?
/Lew
Reply to
Lewis Perin
caution to the wind and posted:
snip
Well Lew, I wont get my samples until next week, and I am waiting anxiously. I am also curious about the PLA puerh that you guys sampled, specifically how it compared to the "other" PLA we recently tried.
How much did a cake of this Wild Old Tree sell for?
As far as your "What is a Puerh" question goes I think maybe you have tasted one of the rare high quality puerhs that Rippon alluded to some months back when he said that we seldom see the high qualities here. My suspicion is that most of the puerh we see, even the old stuff, pales in comparison to the puerhs being drunk in China. It sounds like you just got a really good one. Now imagine what that 3700 year old would taste like if aged in a nice dry room!
I have been conversing directly with some factories and dealers in mainland China recently and I can honestly say that "aged" puerh over there commands VERY high prices. My suspicion is that very little REAL aged quality puerh ever sees our shores. After all if they can get Thousands of dollars for a single 20 year old cake why would they ever try to sell it here where we would shun such prices? I have seen other verifiably "wild old tree" puerhs that sell for $100+ for a current year spring cake. Again, few of them ever see our shores because there is little market for them here. Not many Americans are willing to pay the premium prices that these cakes command in Asia.
BTW, there are a lot of cakes that claim to be "Wild Arbor Old Tree" puerh but a very large percentage of them are fake. While they are real puerh they are not "wild old" tree leaf. The problem has gotten so bad that a big thing now is to send an Inspector to personally follow the shipment from observing the picking of the leaf all the way through the various factory processes so that the Inspector can then certify the authenticity of the base leaf.
I believe Rippon was absolutely correct when he said we never see the truly great puerhs here, its a supply and demand thing. There is very little supply of the really good stuff and much much greater demand in Asia.
Mike Petro snipped-for-privacy@pu-erh.net
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Reply to
Mike Petro
Lewis snipped-for-privacy@panix1.panix.com6/25/04 18: snipped-for-privacy@panix.com
I think Lew's question is right on the money. Let me add that the tree from which these biggest-I've-Ever-Seen-Tea-Leaves were plucked is purported to be 3700 years old. Well, quite possibly so. But we saw pictures of the tree, and it *is* humungous with a huge trunk. Drinking this tea was an extraordinary experience. Nor can I figure out what makes Pu-erh Pu-erh.
Michael
Reply to
Michael Plant
Michael PlantBD02E62E.1C71E% snipped-for-privacy@pipeline.com/26/04 08: snipped-for-privacy@pipeline.com
Let me add nothing that Lew didn't already note. Sorry.
Reply to
Michael Plant
Mike Petro writes:
It was better, but I could live without it. That granted, the obvious question is whether the two bricks could possibly be from the same heterogeneous batch or not. The answer: who knows?
Lots. I think it came to $30 an ounce.
I'm trying to imagine, and I'm coming up empty, which was kind of the point of my original post. In my limited experience with Puerh so far, it seems as if the effect of age has been fairly puny compared to the effect of - presumably - the underlying quality of the leaf.
If I could buy the new cake we tasted Wednesday for $100 I'd do it in a heartbeat. Have you tasted any of these pedigreed $100 bingchas?
/Lew
Reply to
Lewis Perin
Couldn't this be a misunderstanding; that the tea was not plucked, but rather "excavated" this spring? That the ageing process was stopped?
Jon
"Lewis Perin" wrote...
slowly aged
spring,
greens we
then,
Reply to
Jon Nossen
"Jon Nossen" writes:
No. The leaves in the cake didn't look remotely like what you see in an aged bingcha. They looked like leaves from a month or two ago that hadn't been kept away from the air.
/Lew
Reply to
Lewis Perin
snip
Technically Puerh is tea from the Yunnan large leaf varieties of the tea plant that is processed in the traditional methods, see my site for specific processing steps. The "tea variety/traditional processing" is what makes a puerh a puerh. Within this broad group are a multitude of variables that can make distinctly different tasting products. The "natural oxidation" process is what "ages" puerh and improves it. What you guys experienced what an outstanding "base tea" that was "processed" into puerh. To my knowledge they do not process these "wild old" trees any other way presumably because the value when processed as puerh exceeds other methods, though I have seen regular Yunnan large leaf blacks before.
BTW, I have independent confirmation about the Tea Master who has contracted all of the tea from this 3700 year old tree. My buddy in China confirmed the existence and is rather jealous because he has never been able to get a hold of a sample.
Lew, I have tasted some of these $100+ cakes but let me taste these upcoming samples and I will let you know if they compare. I suspect not as these pedigreed cakes I have tasted where from trees that were quite old but still less than 1000 years old.
Mike Petro snipped-for-privacy@pu-erh.net
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Reply to
Mike Petro
Lewis snipped-for-privacy@panix3.panix.com6/26/04 11: snipped-for-privacy@panix.com
If I could add my two cents here, I agree with Lew, but this tea lacked the bitter quality of the former and so it was far better. I would not buy it since tea of so much better quality is available for less money.
I have reason to believe that this is a very kind price.
This tea has a distinct fruit all its own along with the camphor -- no, I don't really know what I mean by "camphor" -- which is more muted here than in more usual Puerh. It carries through bunches of steeps and remains pretty consistent throughout. (Camphor: Maybe the "smokiness" unique to puerh IME). Flavor and aroma are consistent with one another, rich and gorgeous. I'm going to try again, but I seem to recall that the mouth feel was thinner than I might expect from it later on. God willing and the crik dont rize we'll be drinking it over the years and will report periodically to this august teabody.
As for the age and beauty correlation question, I'm not sure yet. I've been drinking lots of Pu-erhs, but I'm still awaiting some side-by-side tastings before making up my mind. Teas I've been drinking between 5 and 10 years old have been among my favorites. Those I've tried that are between 20 and 55 years old have been far from my favorites, some just bad. What does that mean? Most of the new Pu-erhs I've tried have been mundane with the latest from the 3700 year old tree being a notable and noteworthy exception.
How pedigreed are we talking? Do we have certified trees to look at? How old might they be? I realize that these questions are secondary to the taste and aroma of the tea, but I'm curious. (I've seen many pu-erh cakes advertised as "wild old tree," but without further available information.
I'm going to try to get more information about the production of "our" Pu-erh, but I don't *think* it was made in a large mass production factory, although I can't say for sure at this point.
Michael
Reply to
Michael Plant
Mike snipped-for-privacy@4ax.com/28/04 07: snipped-for-privacy@pu-erh.net
Have we given up on the beastie theory? I'll check out your site again. Meanwhile Mike, why not place the site URL as part of your signature block the way Lew places Babelcarp's homebase? It would be very helpful.
If he has a house to mortgage or a child to sell, I would part with part of my sample. Actually, we could discuss this more seriously off-group. I do have some and enough to share. I'm glad to hear the confirmation.
I'm going to hazzard a guess here, go out on a limb, based on absolutely nothing, and say that I really don't think that a tree let us say 800 years old is going to produce a tea significantly different from a tea from a tree three or four times its age, all other things being equal. Why do I think so? Just seems that way to me. (Conversely, tea from each tree will be different given soil, micro-climate, and other individual conditions.)
Michael
Reply to
Michael Plant
A few comments:
1. The oldest tea tree in Yunnan (and the world) is only 2700 year old. It was awarded a Shanghai Guinness World of Record. It is now under the guardiance of Mr. Lee Rie-Ho and his Ten Ren tea company.
2. Teas from the six tea moutains have different characteristics. Some are sweeter, some have stronger aroma...
3. Like other teas, early spring leaves are the best for making Pu-erh. Regardless the leaf varieties, fresh leaves have to grow from tiny to large. When you only have a very short period of time to grow (early Spring), how large a young leave can be? 4-5cm the most.
Linda
snipped-for-privacy@4ax.com/ 28/04
most so-called fresh greens we
I've ever had, what, then,
money.
erh.
large leaf varieties of the
traditional methods, see my site
variety/traditional
Within this broad group are
distinctly different tasting
what "ages" puerh and
check out your site again.
part of your signature block
would be very helpful.
outstanding "base tea"
knowledge they do not process
presumably because the value when
though I have seen regular
the Tea Master who has
year old tree. My buddy in
jealous because he has
sell, I would part with part of
more seriously off-group. I do
hear the confirmation.
but let me taste these
they compare. I suspect
where from trees that were
limb, based on absolutely
that a tree let us say 800 years
different from a tea from a tree
being equal. Why do I think
tea from each tree will be
individual conditions.)
Reply to
jinyuxuan
Ripon,
Is this email address valid? I have tried to send you email about that Yunnan gold bud (A) you asked about but never got a response?
Mike Petro snipped-for-privacy@pu-erh.net
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Reply to
Mike Petro
BTW Michael, I checked my original post and my signature does include my website address.
OK, in response to several requests here and on an offline extension of this thread, here goes:
The 2 main things that make a Puerh a Puerh are the "base tea" and the processing. Age and storage only improve upon it.
1) The base tea MUST be one of the Yunnan large leaf varieties. I do not know the specific cultivar names but I will find out. These large leaf teas are unique to the Yunnan region and are traditionally only made into puerh or red(black) tea. I have also seen imitations that used Vietnamese leaf which were then processed in Yunnan.
2) Processing. If you look at
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(Production step #5) the withering step in the puerh process is crucial to its ultimate quality. My Chinese teacher says that TRUE puerh is Sun-Dried (Blue) rather than using other methods. Sun drying does create some enzymatic (sp) conditions, however they are all naturally occurring and are not artificially introduced like in sour dough or yogurt. Since tea is organic matter, moisture is involved, and the process takes many hours/days, these enzymatic (sp) conditions occur quite naturally. Some puerhs are withered by manmade heating systems (dryers) but these produce puerh of lesser quality than sun dried methods.
The general process to produce Puerh is public knowledge however if you where to get into the details of the various tea processing steps I am sure there are differences between the ones used in Puerh production and the same steps used Black (red) Tea processing. There are also difference from factory to factory used in Puerh production. It is in these details of the individual steps that the Chinese Factories tend to clam up and become very secretive. These nuances in processing influence the final character of the tea, and often these characteristics are recognizable as belonging to a specific factory or another.
This combination of Yunnan Large Leaf Tea and the traditional processing methods are what makes a puerh a puerh. Yes, there are some naturally occurring "beasties" that do play a role, but there seems to be other puerh that doesn't have them. No, there is no artificial insemination of any kind.
A lot of the confusion comes in at the factory level. The factories often just process tea on a contract basis for farmers and businessmen, they will simply process whatever leaf is brought to them using whatever processing recipe that the customer asks for. The factory processes the tea, often called "reprocessing" and then returns the finished cakes to the customer. The factory does not have any quality control over the growing of the tea or its harvesting. The same factory can process really good base tea from one farmer and really garbage base tea from another farmer. Unfortunately both batches can wind up in the same paper wrappers. To further complicate things most large factories do own some of their own farms and are able to tightly control the production from these farms, unfortunately they sometimes use the same paper wrappers that they used for their contract processing. That is why 2 identically looking cakes can be very different. You really can't judge a tea/book by its wrapper/cover. Due to the varying degree of quality associated with contract processing some factories are moving towards NOT allowing the Factory name on the wrapper in an effort to protect their reputation. To make things even more interesting it is a common practice to rewrap cakes in different wrappers, usually to portray the cake as being from a different source than it originated from.
Mike Petro snipped-for-privacy@pu-erh.net
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Reply to
Mike Petro
I forget what was said earlier about storage. I've gotten a supposedly superior (young) cake. How should I store it ? (What kind of wrapper? What kind of container?)
Thanks, mikus
Reply to
Mikus Grinbergs
Michael:
Off course a real aged green processed, well stored, sun dried Pu-Erh will be more *complex, sweet, smooth* compare with a three years old properly processed Pu-Erh that's why real aged processed Pu-Erh is a treasure. The question is- do we get that kind of aged Pu-Erh?
I am putting some information from my upcoming book:
-10+ years green processed Pu-Erh infusion is Orange color with strong aroma, sweet and smooth
1-3 years green processed Pu-Erh infusion will be dark yellow with medium aroma
-10+ years black processed Pu-Erh infusion is light black color with less aroma, sweetness and smoothness
1-3 years black processed Pu-Erh infusion is dark black color with strong aroma
When you check a quality of Pu-Erh- you first check the color of the infusion then aroma, sweetness, smoothness. You can tell the differences by tasting side by side.
If you want to know more about the quality, then you need to check if the processing(Green or Black), tea leaves, The tea master who processed the tea, location(Lang Chung is famous for good aged Pu-Erh tea tree), their storage facilities etc. etc. Their are many parameters.
Ripon Vienna,VA
Reply to
Ripon
Ideal conditions are cool, dry, odor free, and have free air flow. Leave the puerh in its original wrapper, do not put in another container. If you no longer have the original wrapper use tissue paper or a paper bag, DO NOT use newspaper as the tea will absorb the odor of the ink. Whatever you use remember that Puerh needs to breath to age properly, so do not use a Tupperware container or saran wrap.
The two things to avoid are high humidity and odors.
Read
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for more info.
Mike Petro snipped-for-privacy@pu-erh.net
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Reply to
Mike Petro
snipped-for-privacy@posting.google.com6/29/04 23: snipped-for-privacy@dhaka.net
Yes, *that* is the question. So, until we have drunk that level of Pu-erh, how can we be sure, to borrow a train of thought from Lew, that aging is a major influence on these qualities, espcially in view of the fact that these qualities vary but are not universally absent from among the younger ones?
My most trusted sources say good cooked Pu-erh should *never* be opaque.
What about complexity? I've been drinking a 1988 green pu-erh cake whose turns and twists of taste, style, and aroma qualities through successive steeps are the most dramatic I've ever experienced. The first two or three steeps of this tea are one thing; the seventh and eighth, quite another. Although I've had really delightful newer Pu-erhs, never have I encountered this level of complexity. And, unlike myself, this tea is silky smooth throughout.
Legion. (I am so confused.)
Reply to
Michael Plant
Dear Mike:
This is not valid anymore. Please re-send the message at snipped-for-privacy@cox.net Thanks.
Ripon Vienna,VA
Reply to
Ripon
Mike Petro writes:
This is not to disagree with you, but as you know there are other legitimate hei chas, e.g. Liu An, that don't use Yunnan leaf of any kind but can be quite good. These teas aren't pretending to be true Puerhs, but they're often confusingly called Puerh.
So this sun drying, because it happens after what you call step 3, heating to stop oxidation, is different from the sun drying of white tea, which allows oxidation.
Sorry, but I find this confusing. I've read that in typical processing of green tea, the purpose of the heating corresponding to your step 3 is to stop oxidation *by killing the enzymes* in the leaves. Are you saying that the heat in step 3 is less intense, or shorter, or what?
/Lew
Reply to
Lewis Perin
gave it a go. Two things strike me. First, although it *is* a green Pu-erh as witnessed by taste and style and liquor color, etc, the dry outer skin leaves are darker than I would have expected. Second, this tea has a soft camphory wood taste; very pleasing, but also very different from other Pu-erhs I've tasted of late. Smooth, but not sweet. Friendly and warm.
I'd think some of these attributes would be reserved for Pu-erhs somewhat older. So, Pu-erh "age" can be a relative thing, much like the geological life of rivers.
See, what all this Pu-erh talk has done to me.
Michael
Reply to
Michael Plant

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