Thursday, April 19, 2018
Another thing that I really noticed when getting back into buying puerh was that a lot more people seem to be buying China National Native Products (CNNP) puerh. This surprised me at first. To me CNNP was associated with a risk of being lower quality puerh. Basically, you never knew, for certain what the cake would be like and had no brand recognition behind it. At the random tea tables in China, and to a lesser extent Korea, there was a decent chance that these teas would be almost undrinkable. To order a cake of this stuff blindly was almost unimaginable 10 years ago.
Nowadays, the mentality toward the CNNP labeled teas has changed thanks to western pureh vendors. Puerh vendors have picked up on some Western puerh drinker’s preference for value over brand and have started stocking these. As buyers we no longer have to be concerned about them being undrinkable because the vendors basically do the leg work here to ensure something of a particular quality that won’t compromise their own brand. I feel sorry for them, but grateful!
As a result, we are now ensured a certain level of quality with these CNNP cakes. Without brand recognition behind these cakes- great value can be had. This pretty much removes the puerh collector from driving up the market value of these teas. These are the true puerh drinker’s puerh!
Recently, my feeling of the CNNP cakes changed because of good reviews and a general positive outlook overall and a run of good ones that I sampled from Stephane of Teamasters . After reading some of these reviews I really wanted to try some out in my next order. It took me longer than I thought to order again (probably a good problem to have), but I am happy to say that some of these CNNPs are on their way. I am really hoping that these cakes help me overcome my fear of CNNP.
The first to arrive was….
Dry leaves smell of a faint smoke almost creamy sweetness and slight aged, almost roasted meat odour.
“Big Yellow” gets the big yixing and big Korean ceramic cups treatment today. “Go bold or go home” I chuckle to myself.
The first infusion delivers a slightly smoke, slight sour initial taste. There is a mild sweetness that lingers on the breath. The base taste is slightly smokey, meaty, and savory here. There is a soft subtle sweetness that tries to push through in the mild returning sweetness. There is a soapy, almost cinnamon and rose pedal quality in there as well. There is lots going on with this tea. The mouthfeel has a bit of chalkiness to it in this first infusion. I got some mild allergic symptoms off this one right after the first infusion. Next time I will probably give it 2 or 3 rinses instead of just one.
The second infusion starts with a meaty, savory BBQ like taste then adds a slightly almost chalky rose edge. The aftertaste is mildly cooling and evolves in the mouth. The throat has a deeper chalkier mid throat feel which works well for this tea. The aftertaste minutes later is a nice mild smokey menthol barely rose sweetness. The aftertaste is long and interesting trying to push more subtle sweet flavours through. The qi of this tea is strong enough to have a profound effect on the mind.
The third infusion starts with a smokey, BBQ like taste. Then there is a splash of almost sweetness then back to smokey BBQ, then slowly and long evolving into a cooling returning aftertaste. Minutes later there is a barely creamy rose aftertaste. The taste profile of this tea is long and unfolds slowly. The mouth and throat feel develop a nice astringency to it. The aftertaste has a creamy almost sweet finish reminiscent of Nannou. The way I am reacting to this tea, it contains more than a bit of evil qi in there.
The fourth infusion begins with this roasted meat and smokey BBQ taste. The mouthfeel becomes more astringent but not overly so. The aftertaste is more measured in this fourth infusion with less subtlety or sweetness pushing through.
The fifth still carries this burley, masculine feel of smokey, strong almost harshness followed by hints of Nannou creamy sweetness in the aftertaste that slides into a rose-like taste. There is much to see in this tea if you can see through its smokey strength.
The sixth infusion starts to coalesce nicely. Its initial taste is almost a creamy sweet woody taste. Its less smokey here and more rich and creamy. It has a nice floral rose like finish that is more noticeable now. The mouthfeeling is chalky and deeper and aftertaste is slight cooling evolving. The qi is really nice and strong you can feel it in the chest as the heart beats stronger and in the head that feel cloudy, energy sure is felt, a boost for sure.
The seventh infusion is similar to the sixth but more smokey and woody. Nice big qi in here for sure.
I think about throwing in the towel with this tea but it just tastes too damn good, despite some of the allergic like reactions I’m having to it. It seems like it’s even getting better in these last infusions so I steep it a few more times. The body of these infusions are decently rich and thick in the mouth with a more cohesive flavor profile of smokey wood and almost creaminess. This tea feels like it could go a lot further with even more infusions.
This tea reminds me of 85% Xiguan, 10% Nannou single estate, 5% Yang Qing Hao. It is robust and strong, almost harsh but has some elegance, some softeness as well. To me the Nannou profile is the most obvious but the strength indicates other Menghai material mixed in there.
This tea tastes great and has some very nice qi but my body is reacting negatively to something in that cake. Who knows what it is. I really want to like this cake, but my body and the itch is telling me it’s probably not worth it. Due to past recommendations of this tea by others there must be many people out there who have sampled it. Is there anyone else out there that has experienced allergic type symptoms? Maybe I'm just allergic to good puerh? Hahaha...
Tuesday, April 17, 2018
I am a believer that, as a general rule, people often prefer their own puerh storage over the storage of others. You can position yourself on either side of the argument as to what the most optimal puerh storage is but in the end it comes down to past experiences and personal tastes. There is an adage in puerh circles that “if the puerh is to your taste, then it is good puerh”. This is just as true for the effect storage has on puerh as it is for the qualities we select in fresh puerh.
Recently, a wise puerh drinker suggested that you should probably get at least a few cakes of a puerh that you like because once you age it in your own unique storage, you will never be able to get that exact puerh experience from even the same batch of puerh ever again. You may be able to get similar, if you are lucky, but never exactly the same. Wise advice, I can personally relate to.
I can speak to my own personal experience here when restocking my puerh. A lot of puerh I drank away is gone forever even if I had owned a tong of it, or a few cakes of it- it is gone now. I noticed this effect when restocking the 2007 Boyu Manludashan and 2008 Mengku Wild Arbour King. Of course there was nothing bad about the storage, some could even argue that it represents “better” storage, I suppose. The problem was that it was not my storage- that’s it.
I feel that because puerh tea is so closely linked in our minds to our past experiences and memories of it, we automatically select this puerh storage over others. Really, I think we are partly selecting our past memories and associations not necessarily the storage itself. Of course, there are going to be examples of going for other storage conditions especially storage that are harder to replicate at home like Maylasian or Taiwanese for myself.
For the people who have amassed tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of pureh, who will admit to their storage actually not being good? This is essentially devaluing their investment if they wish to sell or liquidate their puerh.
In the future, I think famous puerh personalities’ storage will create value. “Cwyn’s famous crock storage”, “James’ famous Pumidor Storage”, “Shah8’s famous natural storage”. Every time I read Marshal’N post about what do with bad puerh I can picture hundreds of people with their hand up saying, “Me please.” To drink someone’s puerh is to know something deep about them, I think. It’s to consume a part of them. Even if to drink puerh that a famous puerh person once thought was worthy of buying but now thinks it is rubbish says something about that person.
“MattCha’s famous wrapped storage”…. HahahaI like that.
Tuesday, April 3, 2018
Did you know that there is a real debate within western puerh circles about what is considered the most optimal home storage for puerh? (here and here). This debate is especially relevant because unless you live somewhere that is warm and/ or humid chances are you will not be optimally aging your puerh naturally in the open air, such as on a shelf in your home or in a cupboard. I suppose there are endless ways you can store puerh but, in America at least, the pumidor (puerh humidor) seems to be the most popular these days. Have you ever wondered why?
I think the first I heard of the pumidor was around 2009. I believe it was a reaction by some of the early puerh drinkers to previous advice from those storing puerh in very different climates in Southern China which even recommended putting the puerh in a cardboard box in a place with good airflow. They gradually found out that this advice was not optimal for the mainly stronger factory puerh that they had accumulated in the drier and cooler climate in the West.
In this 2012 post titled “Ideas of Tea Storage” by Marshal’N, most of the discussion is around the pumidor. In the comment section, Bev, is discussing considerations in building an optimal pumidor which she later posts in detail about on her blog in the following years. What I find most interesting is the almost complete lack of discussion of sealing/Ziploc bagging/ shrink wrapping storage from this time and earlier on English blogs/ forums. I think this lack of discussion, challenge, and vocal opposition to the pumidor during this time lead a lot of people automatically going this route especially those who started drinking puerh at this time (around 5 or so years ago).
What I find most interesting is that puerh storage using shrink wrapping was a common thing in many parts of Asia at this time and years before. There is an argument that says that people who live in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Malaysia don’t have a similar climate to Western climates so their option on shrink wrap does not carry the same weight or does not apply to storage of puerh in the West. But what about other climates in China that are closer to ours in the West such as those in Northern China and Korea? What do they consider optimal storage for puerh in their much cooler and drier climates?
It was my personal observation that the more North you travel in China the more you see sealed puerh storage. Surely, I must have come across numerous pumidors in those drier more northern climates? Nope- not even a single pumidor. Shocking, I know. I guess those people in China know very little about optimal puerh storage… maybe they should take a note from those in America who know a lot more about storing puerh optimally? Who knows, time will tell. Maybe someone in America will design the perfect pumidor and market it to the people in China and make a killing? Possibly. I haven’t been to those parts of China in a while, maybe it just took them a few years to realize that their sealed storage is failing their puerh and they have all converted to pumidor? I don’t know this.
What I do know is that Bev who is located in the Pacific Northwest and has one of my all-time favorite tea blogs, Listening to Leaves blog, did make a beautiful, and well thought out pumidor and famously documented it on her blog. She also began to wrap all of her puerh cakes in Saran wrap (aka Cling Wrap, plastic wrap) and place them in her pumidor. She tasted them and made notes on them and documented this. She came to the conclusion that it was the wrapping, not the pumidor, which was most optimally aging her puerh. In the end, despite her great effort, she abandon the pumidor for the wrapped approach. It saddens me that she recently blocked her blog from public view. She is someone whose pallet has developed a very high level of sophistication when it comes to puerh and she has amassed a very large collection of very fine aged cakes, I think.
Personally, I remember watching Mr. Kim, a tea teacher/ teamaster in Korea wrapping up tongs of sheng puerh so many years ago. I remember when I first saw him do this, it was perplexing to me at the time. Why would you want to cover a beautiful traditional looking bamboo tong full of puerh cakes in natural paper in oh so unnatural plastic wrap? This was especially unusual for a man who seemed to do everything the natural and traditional way. I remember the conversation that followed…
I asked him if he was wrapping the puerh to protect it. He said it was to both protect and age it. He explained that Korea’s climate was to cold, dry and very different then South China and that he had to wrap it to preserve the biological environment of the puerh. Sounded reasonable enough to me. So I too wrapped my puerh tight without questioning things too much and that is how most of it stayed for years.
Then at some point when living in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada I unwrapped some of the puerh to see how it was doing. I wondered if it would age better in a type of pumidor storage. At the very least it would be much more accessible than the eyesore which is plastic wrapped puerh… And I could appreciate it more sensually by smelling it and savoring its beautiful fragrant aroma and viewing the beautiful packaged tongs and natural papers. This brought me much happiness.
The pumidor set up I had was pretty basic. I used a sealed chamber in the massive, built-in, hundred year old, natural cedar wood desk in the study and I added my puerh along with a few glass mason jars of water which I rotated. I noticed that this puerh set up was still aging my puerh adequately but the cakes that remained wrapped in plastic wrap seemed to contain more aroma, essence, vibrancy, and depth of taste. The pumidor cakes seemed more mellowed, more spaced out, softened. So, I, just like Bev, concluded that wrapping my puerh would be more optimal storage. Additionally, I was hearing stories of puerh molding out in other peoples’ pumidors. I have never heard of puerh molding out in plastic wrap, have you?
But if you wrap your puerh you are going to completely kill off and suffocate your puerh! You can only seal your puerh for a few months or years tops then you are pretty much just killing it off. The suffocation argument does not hold weight, people who claim this obviously have no long term experience with this sort of storage. Besides why would they have a long history of wrapping/ sealing puerh in some countries if it was detrimental? This argument could also be reversed… Pumidor storage will completely wreck your puerh! If it molds that’s a completely different story. If it doesn’t mold out, its probably going to do alright in pumidor storage. Puerh is resilient, it has more lives than cats. I’m pretty sure that pumidor stored puerh is going to turn out just fine.
With this being said, I suppose, you could even make a case for the pumidor. Its everyday accessibility is much better. There is something so cruel about having something so beautiful and something you enjoy so much that is wrapped up in many meters of plastic wrap! So ugly looking too… This is also rather inconvenient to wrap and then unwrap… so annoying. However, it is also very exciting, a delayed gratification to unwrap a puerh that has been stored that way for months or years- like the excitement of opening a gift or opening a letter from a good friend. The pumidor’s accessibility comes with the convenience and ease of looking, smelling, and checking and enjoying the sensual aspects of its aging- the esthetics of this is quite appealing.
The pumidor fridge is another thing… so American… almost like a beer fridge. It kind of has this appeal I think… “Honey I’m just going down stairs to grab a bing from the fridge”. It has this convenience factor built in. But what if your collection outgrows your fridge? Two puerh fridges and then moving these fridges from place to place, house to house… now it seems more inconvenient than convenient to me. To me I would also be concerned of the exposure to foreign bacteria’s, molds, fungus in an old fridge even if thoroughly disinfected. As mentioned in comments and previous posts, maintenance of the original mirco environment is a very important part in aging puerh and I feel wrapping it does the best job of this.
Another negative to wrapping storage is that it can’t add humidity that isn’t already in the cake before wrapping it. But this can be remedied somewhat by other means like bringing the humidity up before wrapping. Once wrapped it stays that way. Pushing the wetness of storage is something that makes the pumidor appealing but I think because it can’t preserve the micro environment as good, it’s not worth the tradeoff. Plus the risk of mold- not worth it.
Then there is the “time is money” argument. Is a puerh that is tended to meticulously worth more than one that is wrapped and basically forgotten but tastes better? I don’t think so but maybe there are some out there that do. Certainly, there is something to be said about someone who puts their own love, their own Qi, into their tea. Can you feel the love? Certainly loved puerh must taste better than neglected puerh?
In the end though, if you are aging puerh in an environment that is too cool or dry for the improved drinking experience then sealing your puerh with plastic wrap is the way to go. If you value the peripheral esthetics surrounding the aging of puerh, the excitement of checking your puerh everyday, the convenience of accessing your puerh quickly and easily, and if you like thinking way too much about temperature, humidity, and mold then maybe pumidor storage is best for you.