Friday, March 23, 2018

An Argument for Iron Bings/ Hydraulic Pressed Bings & Bricks


Are iron pressed bings and bricks better?

I know it almost seems illogical the way perfectly beautiful, intact, and absolutely delicious leaves are pressed oh so unnaturally, almost cruelly, by a machine press.  The pressure alone makes freeing any leaves from the bing such an annoying and impossible task.  What you do manage to stubbornly pry from the grips of an iron bing is sure to look anything but beautiful.  This exercise will almost certainly result in broken leaves, lots of tea dust, and end in an overly bitter brew- there is nothing good about an iron bing…

How could a vendor do that?  Are they insane?  Why would they waste such beautiful leaves?  Who actually buys these things?

I think iron pressed puerh cakes really get a bad wrap in the West and I don’t think it’s really fair.  This is partly because people don’t get the iron bing.  Many people drinking puerh nowadays don’t have a long experience in storing and aging puerh.  Experience with these things leads to an understanding that puerh that is pressed tight or stored in close proximity and even in a closed environment with other puerh will result in more of that original puerh essence, taste, qi and especially odour being preserved.  This is compared to puerh that is pressed less compactly such as loose mao cha or looser stone pressed puerh or puerh that is stored in open air or separated from other puerh.  These types expose more surface area of dry leaf to the environment.

Looser puerh ages more quickly and its qi and essence is more influenced by the humidity or storage.  However, a tradeoff to quick aging is the fact that more of the puerh’s original essence is lost.  The slower aging of an iron bing results in more preserved original essence and qi while still undergoing the slower and more minimal influence of environment.  Roughly this same idea can also be applied to wetter vs drier stored puerh. In fact, such close quarters and the extreme process of hydraulic machine pressing actually makes the puerh almost oxidize rather than ferment so the chemical process of the iron bing is in some ways different that a standard machine or stone pressed cake.  Iron bings and bricks are really quite special for this reason as they represent an extreme in puerh aging where the material itself, and not as much of the environment, dictate the end result.

I seem to think that traditionally tight machine pressed bricks and iron bings were used deliberately for three reasons.  First, was to preserve the raw material in unfavorable aging conditions.  Second, was to try to preserve subtleties of maocha that was maybe lacking them in the first place.  Thirdly, was to slow the aging down to the slowest rate possible

The first point is a good enough reason for the humble tea drinker in the West to seek out an iron bing or tight machine pressing. The tight compression was virtually designed to age in almost any environment.  So, in the West, where conditions are a lot less favorable, it makes a lot of sense.

The second reason is due to the fact that tight machine pressed bricks are sometimes used to press autumn material.  Autumn mao cha tends to have less high notes, fragrance, and intense qi than spring so pressing that material tight was a way to preserve what was there. 

The third point is playing on the theory of aging puerh where the slower the aging occurs, the more favorable the outcome. The adages “good things come to those that wait.” and “slow and steady wins the race” come to mind.  Alternatively this is also the same reason why some people are turned off the tight compression because they feel they won’t live long enough to enjoy it.

I think not very many westerners have much experience with iron bings.  This is espically true for those newer puerh drinkers that have mainly been exposed to fresh young puerh pressed by the western vendors.  Have you ever tried an iron bing?  Out of those who have sampled an iron bing even fewer have tried an aged one, never mind a quality aged one.  Things seem to be changing these days with some of the larger western puerh vendors offering machine pressings of their own brand.

Scott at Yunnan Sourcing has machine pressed some his higher quality, more fragrant, 250g spring cakes this year.  Some of these such as the 2017 Jing Mai and 2017 Yi Bang I had sampled in the blind tasting event and were quite light and fragrant and great candidates for more compressed storage.

Paul at white2tea is also starting to lean more towards tighter compression.  2016 Post Truth and 2016 We Go High (and maybe others?) have experimented with very tight compression on teas that have a lighter more fragrant feel.  It is also suspected that We Go High contains at least some autumnal material so to me the very tight compression here makes a lot of sense.
In the future, I think we are going to see a lot more of the tight compression puerh cakes.  I, at least, welcome this direction.

Peace

10 comments:

xiaguan whisky said...

Another good post 🙏
I always liked tight compressed dayi / xiaguan cakes and of course iron cakes from cnnp & xiaguan.

Akira hojo did write about that aswell. I think he suggests storing tea in vacuum sealed bags.

Iron cakes should really do well in extrem environments like tibet, S.E Asia & western countries with dry winter months.

Puerh Tea is amazing.

Matt said...

Xiaguan whiskey,

http://hojotea.com/article_e/puerh_e.htm

I forgot that I had read this many many years ago.

For me, living in such an extreme environment and aging puerh here, it just makes a lot of sense.

Peace

xiaguan whisky said...

To bad your blog has not more people posting in the comments. Would be a very interesting topic to learn about storage in different countries. I really like the tight compression dayi has on some of their shus. Tight but not to crazy like some xiaguan tuos.

Scott has some nice compressed cakes too.

I imagine they will do well in most countries. Just age slower in general.

Matt said...

xiaguan whiskey,

I can only imagine that there are some different regional storage preferences.

I have purchased some of Scott’s older iron bings for this reason.

Peace

Aardvark Cheeselog said...

I think the use case for iron cakes and similar tight machine compression is traditional HK-style storage, with a couple of years of ground storage at the start. After 15-20 years, an iron cake that's been through this will flake apart pretty easily.

Matt said...

Aardvark Cheeselog,

I totally agree HK traditional stored iron bing would be brilliant! I have never tasted one nor have I ever seen one for sale online or in person.

I wonder if anyone has?

Peace

Aardvark Cheeselog said...

Tealifehk usually has some Xiaguan tuos, which give you a good idea.

Matt said...

Aardvark Cheeselog,

He just has some ripes right now but it seems like he is someone who could track some down.

Peace

Anonymous said...

I have several aged iron press teas. The one downside about the flaking as they age is when the cake is largely very chopped leaves, makes for a bit of a mess in the wrapper and all over other teas.

Matt said...

Anonymous,

Tea dust from these guys are excessive that is for sure.

Peace