Wednesday, May 16, 2018
100 Year Old Liu An & 70s Puerh Cakes: Urban Legends Do Come True!
Everyone has, I’m sure, heard the story before…
Walk into a Traditional Chinese Herbal Medicine shop and start a conversation about old tea. Old herbalist goes to back of store and pulls out old basket, container, ect. In it is some puerh, liu ann, oolong, or liu bao that is 100 years old. He is unaware of the value of such things or doesn’t care about selling such things for prices that defy his logic as a practitioner of medicine. Think about it this way, would your doctor sell you medicine that is 1000x marked up? No, of course not, in some ways this breaches ethical behavior. So in the end you walk out with thousands of dollars’ worth of antique tea for very little money. If you are a puerh drinker or drinker of aged teas this could possibly be hitting the Holy Grail….
And, no word of a lie, this just happened to me!
Readers of this blog will know that I have hit a patch of bad tea luck as of late. Over the last month or so I have had an allergic reaction to seemingly delicious tea, I have had a few orders sell out just before purchase, and had an expensive, favorite teapot break. With this said, I knew things were looking up. But this… this is an extreme swing in the opposite direction.
I have actually frequented this old Traditional Chinese Medicine pharmacy before. This was the same shop that I got a nice haul from back in 2009 when I picked up some items in this post. Nothing too remarkable but good drinking 90s and early 2000s tea. I actually visit this shop fairly regularly and had developed a relationship with the very old Cantonese speaking herbalist there. I remember seeing two unwrapped, shrink wrapped, bings of puerh back in 2009. It looked a bit sketchy and the herbalist said that it doesn’t taste as good as the Xiaguan tou I picked up. I pretty much just forgot about it until I was in the herbal pharmacy a week ago.
When I saw the same two old bings again still with the $35.00 Canadian dollar price tags on them, I thought to myself, well they are at least 9 years old now and are still here. They are probably not legit but, why not try them out for fun? When I inquired about the two lonely bings the old herbalist said they are from the 1970s. I immediately perked up because they actually do look like a certain cake from the 1970s. He then tried to dissuade me, claiming that they taste bad like old puerh and old Chinese herbs. He instead tried to sell me the only other puerh in his shop- 1 of 2 generic wrapped 250g puerh bricks which he says are 50 year old and taste better. He is not a puerh drinker himself and after a bit of conversation he claims that he got these from his herbal distributor many years ago. They are the only puerh he carries.
I decide to pick up one of the “1970s bings” for $27.20… I mean what’s too loose at that price anyways?
I took it to work on a day that was extraordinarily busy- one of those days where you are basically running all day without sitting. I steeped it in a one of my Korean one cup steppers. Honestly, I was 99% sure this was not what he said it was. Although it was so busy I could not give it any attention, I got the impression that this was possibly a 1970s bing. A few days later, when I had a bit of time to give it some attention, I immediately confirmed that it is most likely a 1970s bing!
So as soon as I could, I went back to the old herb store and purchased the other “1970s” bing as well as one of the other 250g bricks. These bricks had not been at the store when I inquired in 2009 and didn’t even look that old, but after confirming the 1970s bing I wanted to find out for sure.
The old herbalist and I chatted for a bit and he confirmed that he didn’t know for sure if it was a 50 year old puerh brick but that is what the herbal distributor told him when he bought it. He couldn’t remember how long he had stocked the brick.
Then he asked me if I knew what Liu An tea was. I told him that I was a big fan of it. He emerged from the back of his store with an ancient looking basket sealed in an old, yellow tinged clear bag covered in a thick layer of dust. In talking with him he said that it was a 100 year old Lui An basket and could personally confirm its approximate age. When pressed about it he said it could be anywhere from 100-50 years old approximately. It certainly looks quite old.
I ended up paying $334.00 in total and walking away with 4 apparently old teas- 2- “1970s bings”, 1- “50 Year Old Puerh 250g Brick” 1- “100-50years Liu An Basket”.
I hope to post extensively about tasting and trying to authenticate these “old” teas in the coming days and weeks. I am sure some are not what they say but what if…..
I hope you will join me.