Monday, April 30, 2018

“Mid 60s Raw Wild Loose Puerh” from Teamasters and Advice on Brewing Very Aged Puerh

Shortly after my beloved Yixing pot broke I looked for something to console myself.  Surely some old aged puerh will bring up my spirits.  I pulled out this sample of wild puerh from the 1960s gifted to me from Stephane of Teamasters or included in an order, I can’t remember which but I am very very grateful.

I actually think it was included in an order just to put me in my place about my alternate view of “wild puerh”.  I heard it from a few vendors when I posted that it really doesn’t feel like puerh to me.  There were groans heard around the tea world I’m sure… hahahah.  I have never had aged wild tea before so this was going to be a real treat.  There is no greater joy for a puerh drinker (or wild tea drinker) than to drink tea that was produced before they were born...
Dry leaves smell of old dust and dirt.  I close my eyes and smell deeply and if I didn’t know I was smelling puerh I would probably think it was just dust and dirt.  But I know its very old puerh so my mind seems to think I smell some old woody leathery notes under the almost exclusive old dust and dirt smells.  It smells like you are in an attic that hasn’t been open in decades or opening a hundred year old book in the old part of the old library in town.

I have a predicament.  I don’t have a pot that is small enough for this sample to ensure the proper grams/volume.  The solution- brew it in your smallest pot that you have and add just enough water to hardly cover the leaves (I really need to get me some more yixing fast!).  For this pot it means only half full of boiling water, just enough to barely cover the leaves then pouring it out of the pot immediately with flash brews.  If I tried to just steep these leaves in the whole pot, I would have pretty much wrecked these priceless puerh leaves.  With old tea, my limited experience and observation of teamasters is that you need to push it pretty hard.  That means boiling water, lots of dry leaves, maybe even longer infusions if it starts to show weakness.  Otherwise what’s the point?  Watered down aged puerh- to me that’s crazy.  Don’t do it.

I quickly flash rinse the leaves.

The first infusion is a very light woody aged slightly dusty with edges of a leathery taste.  There is a taste in here that only very old puerh has but I fail to explain it better than earthy-woody-almost raisin. Yes, there is still that returning coolness in the aftertaste and throat.  The mouthfeel is watery and viscus with a thin sandiness in the mouth.

The second infusion starts with almost flat dusty woody earth aged taste.  Then it switches back to a cooling returning sweetness. There is fruit taste almost like a plum that turns quickly to dried apricot and lingers for a long time in the aftertaste.    There is a note of leather underneath it all.  The dried apricot aftertaste is quite distinct, not a just one of those faint hard to recognize things, it’s quite obvious.

The third infusion actually tastes much the same.  I don’t know what I’d add here.  The mouthfeeling and throat feeling has just a slight comfortable astringency.  The feeling in the mouth and throat is full and is coated in a thin veil of sandiness like that from a very soft beach.  The qi is profoundly grounding, euphoric, optimistic, soft.

I stick my nose and waft deep odours from the wet leaves in the pot between each infusion.  Prizing every moment with this gift.  The wet leaves just smell very similar to the dry leaves- primarily dusty, earthy, old aged taste but more wet smelling like when the first rain hits after the snow melts and all the dust and dirt from sanding the icy winter streets seem to take on the spring air.

The fourth infusion has more of resinous wood feel to it.  The woody dusky earthy initial taste begins with it and it tails itself into the aftertaste.  There is still long dried apricot but it is a touch less apparent as before.  The qi is very big in the head.  It has a mild cozy lightness and barely warmth in the body.  It makes the body feel limber and expansive.  There is a cool menthol like taste on the breath 5 minutes later.  Breathe in.  I feel really high from this.  The head feels clear but the world moves slowly around me.

The wet leaves start to develop a menthol like odour and smell more of wood and menthol and less of dust and dirt.

The fifth infusion the initial taste of wood is more dry and crisp although still carrying a bit of dust like aged taste.  The resin taste of wood seems to be gone and the dryer crisp taste of wood seems to have replaced it.  The apricot taste seems stronger than the fourth infusion.

The sixth infusion has more of an earth-dirt-dust dominating taste throughout.  There is wood underneath, of course, cool menthol returning sweetness with that same sweet dried apricot taste.  The cool menthol returning aftertaste is stronger here.  I’m still just flash brewing this.

I had to leave this tea for a hour or so then when coming back I resumed the session and in the seventh infusion it tasted more of creamy subdued woody- dusty –earth.  The cooling aftertaste was less and so was the long apricot aftertaste.  The mouth and throat feel is more of a chalkiness now rather than a fine sand.

The eighth infusion has another flavor profile emerging… there is an almost spiciness just before the apricot comes in.  The apricot aftertaste is back strong.  Yummy!

The ninth infusion the mouthfeel and throatfeel are amazing and continue to improve.  Its this dense but light chalkiness which I love.  In it are aged tastes, slightly cooling aftertaste, and apricot aftertaste.  Nice.

The tenth infusion is much the same.  The mouthfeel continues to really fill out.  The energy is very nice.  I burn it off with a 5 KM run then back to the tea table.

The eleventh has a thick, whisky like woodiness now. There are also salty notes probably just generated from my run and the resulting change in mouth chemistry.  The aftertaste is significantly less apricot and more smooth wood.

The twelfth is more of this richer woody aged taste.  The mouthfeel is nice and chalky very mildly astringent. Beautiful Qi.

The thirteenth and fourteenth offer that aged woody camphor taste.  A new note, a floral one seems to emerge faintly recognizable but welcome in this mainly woody aged taste profile.

The leaves sit dry overnight and I resume steeping the next morning with a few more pots of tea.  I add 10 seconds or so to the flash steeping and it pushes out mainly just aged leather and camphor tastes with a slight returning coolness in the aftertaste.  The high note nuances are gone.

I push this into longer infusions now 20 minute and longer to push something more interesting out of the predominating aged flavor.  Otherwise you are just pretty much just dragging out the inevitable.  Doing this guarantees some nice autumnal leaves taste, aged camphor, woody, dirt tastes in a soft chalky mouthfeel.  There are just glimpses of fruit on the breath.

I put it to overnight infusions and a rich obvious nutty taste is dominant in aged tastes.  Yummmy.  There is still significant mouth feeling so I put it under water for another night.

I am still steeping this, think it’s been underwater for about 4 days now and have to get back to it tomorrow.  I will probably be boiling these leaves down over the stove when they seem to be giving up.


I get back to this one after 4 day long steeping and it gives off a watery aged leathery wood base taste with soft fruity notes in a little bit of a funk fermented taste.  The mouthfeel is pretty light here and the taste is a bit watery.

I throw the leaves into a small stove top pot and decoct them at a boil for a few hours.  The resulting brew is exquisite!  It is reduced into an very thick, viscous and oily liquor of thick sweet maple-syrupy-molasses like sweetness in a leathery aged taste.  The dense and heavy sweetness is long and very thick in the mouth.

I have a cup of this at the very end of a very busy work day.  The qi sensation is like nothing I've felt before.  It completely revitalizes me and expands my head through the clouds- big Qi.  It feels as if I consumed a few shots of espresso without the jitteriness but with profound mental release.

I think its safe to say that I've had a great week.


Friday, April 27, 2018

2003 CNNP “Small Green Mark Iron Cake” and Steeping Puerh by “Keeping the Root”

Dear Scott Wilson,
I just wanted to thank you for being the powerhouse you are in the Western puerh scene.  I think it would be hard to think of another person who has had greater influence.   Since I started drinking puerh you and Yunnan Sourcing were there and you are still there stronger than ever.  Even though I was away from purchasing puerh for a long time, upon my return I have felt that Yunnan Sourcing still had the same basic philosophy and feel to it despite the obvious rapid pace of change.  This says a lot.  You have stuck to your principles while still managing to evolve to the always changing puerh tastes and fads.  Nowadays, you can virtually find any type of puerh, any type of storage, from any area at Yunnan Sourcing.  Thanks also for your efforts at empowering buyers with as much information as you can pass on about the tea you sell.   I really appreciate it.
I purchased this one from Yunnan Sourcing ($85.00 for 357gcake $0.24/g ) a month or so ago along with the 2005 CNNP “Big Yellow Mark”.  Like the Big Yellow mark, this one has no date stamped on it.  It also has no neifi either.
Dry leaves smell of clean dry wood with a very mild sweet pungent odour.
First infusion is full interesting cherry blossom florals and plumby, mainly sweet, subtly sour cherry.  There are even salt tastes as well as a dry bark wood taste as well.  This tea is a tasty one.  There is slight astringency in the mouth and the tongue.  This first infusion is fragrant and lasting.
The second infusion has more of an oxidized wood taste up front the sweet notes are secondary and linger in the aftertaste and build into a very sweet burst of returning flavor.  The lips and mouthfeel are slightly chalky.  This tea has that cotton candy cottony mouthfeel and lingering sweet aftertaste.  There is not too much depth to ground it.
The third infusion is much the same tastes really.  The plumy, cotton candy returning sweetness is very nice.  The mouthfeel has that light chalky, talc taste and feel which I value in puerh.  Both the sweetness and woodiness are more pronounced in this third infusion as the iron compression slowly comes apart in the pot.
The fourth is much the same with the dry wood bark taste becoming dominant across the profile of this tea.  This flavor is simple but just enough to give it something to anchor the resounding high notes that are much less in this infusion.
The fifth starts off woody, dry bark, slight astringent, kind of sour, almost dry before it traverses to chalky, dry, astringent sweet cotton candy plum.  The dry wood taste and feel is throughout even in the aftertaste now.  The breath is a sweet cherry plum taste.
The sixth infusion has a thinner sharper quality to it with a division of tastes between dry woody in the initial and base, and sweet plumy aftertaste.
The seventh infusion still has a nice progression of taste.  It starts dry wood then slides into that sweeter, barely talc, faint cotton candy-plumy sweetness.  It is less obvious but the progression is still here in the seventh infusion.
The eighth infusion is of almost dry earth and dry wood base tastes there is only a little left in the aftertaste resembling the sweetness and fruitiness in the first infusions.  There is a slightly bitter wood taste throughout.  The mouthfeel isn’t really dry, just sandy slight dry astringency.
The ninth becomes watery and light in its initial taste.  Then it slowly develops a dry woodiness which turns into a sweet barely plum aftertaste.  The tenth infusion is much the same.  It’s still there but faded.
The tenth doesn’t leave that much left to enjoy faint watery tastes, barely there.
Overnight infusions are vibrant and fruit still so I do a few of these and really enjoy them.  The qi of this tea is very light a mild relaxing feeling that’s about it.  You feel the mind relax and the head float just ever so slightly.  In the body you can ever so slightly feel it in the belly.
Bravo for Scott at finding a solid iron bing to offer us.  On the site it states that this was Shanghai stored and is somewhere between wet and dry stored.  I would say it’s much closer to dry stored but that’s just my evaluation.  This puerh is interesting for a few reasons.
First, it offers puerh drinkers in the West a chance to taste fragrant aged dry storage.  I think there are few cakes for sale in the west that offer this.  The reason is because this taste profile is highly valued in China these days and is a sign of both good storage, age and dryness.  As a result, often cakes that display this profile are usually quite expensive and out of the price range of the average buyer in the West.  I think only because this is a generic CNNP without verified date or region can it be offered so cheaply.
Secondly, it offers a nice example of how the higher notes can really age so nicely in the tighter compression of an iron bing.  Although, this iron bing is not really pressed super tight it still offers the best of an iron bing as far as the high notes go.  It isn't a CNNP "Blue Mark" but this CNNP "Small Green Mark" has something to it.
So, I must have stocked up on this cake then right?  While, I am sitting with just one of these and feel OK with that.  It’s quite a simple tasting tea in some ways, really, but it still has enough going on.  It has a certain dry purity that I enjoy but it is not overly complex beyond its incredible fragrant fruity high notes.  I almost feel like the price is almost worth it for these notes themselves and the age.  Yet, even these notes start to fade after the first few infusions.
I sometimes steep teas that fade quickly by “keeping the root”.  It’s a phrase used by teamasters to describe a type of brewing where you always leave a bit of the last infusion in the fair cup.  It can also describe the technique of always leaving a bit of tea in the drinking cup or even in the actual teapot.  I use this technique with puerh that fades or drops off fast to maintain these fleeting notes.  I just leave ½ the tea in the fair cup before steeping the next infusion.  It works amazing for some teas.  This one really benefits from "keeping the root”.
When reviewing puerh on this blog I never do this sort of thing because I want to be more clear on how a tea is actually preforming from infusion to infusion.  However, after this first tasting I’ve been steeping it with the root and enjoying it.


Monday, April 23, 2018

Broken Luck or Lucky Broken?

It’s always a bit awkward when someone breaks one of your most valuable teawares right in front of you.  Sigh….

This happened just this morning.  But I have been mentally preparing for this momentary blip for the last few months and years.  So, I think am okay with it.

I am of the philosophy that you should use and fully enjoy your best teawear every day.  The Art of Tea is a living art, a daily skill, a performance, a meditation.  It would be a greater shame, I think, to have died and not exhaustively used and enjoyed such a pot.  Because if it had just sat in a china cabinet or worst in a drawer how could you have enjoyed it to its fullest?  Would you be more happy being buried with it?  Or it being boxed up and sent to a thrift shop?  Or inherited to someone who is incapable of such appreciation?

And man, have I ever enjoyed this big one.  Look at its patina, luminescent like the sunset.  You can’t put a price on a patina like that… just beaming radiance!  Unfortunately, I no longer have the financial expeditiousness nor means to replace such things.  I think it might surprise some readers that because of my minimalist view point, I actually own very very few tea pots.

It had a good “Last Supper” at least.  It was filled full of Yang Qing Hao… If I was a teapot, I think that’s the way I would want to go… hahaha

Well, the last two weeks I have had horrible, horrible tea luck.  I have had developed an allergy to only a select yummy teas, had some sell out just before purchase, and now this.  There is a saying that bad luck comes in 3s so hopefully it’s up and up from here.  I think I have needed something to bring me down, to humble myself, in the tea world lately.  Don’t you think?

But really, if these are my tea problems, then I actually consider myself quite lucky.

I have made the decision that I would rather have my tea table accessible to my very very young children and enjoyed communally, as a family.  Then to have things tucked away, off limits, exclusive.  Sharing tea with my family, the properly delicious gongfu way, has brought me more joy than this very very expensive teapot.

I had always thought one of the little ones would smash it by pulling the teatable on to the ground or by picking it up and dropping it or throwing it.  Would have never thought the very pregnant member of the family would find it too uncomfortable to bend over the teatable so as to pour the tea out of the pot while standing over the hundred year old hardwood floor not the bamboo tea table.

When the lid hit the ground there was an awkward, “I’m sorry!”

But my reply was, “It’s Okay. Really, it’s Okay.”


Friday, April 20, 2018

Online Puerh Shopping and The Deal That Got Away

I think this must have happened to a number of my readers by now but it’s the first time it’s happened to me with online puerh shopping...

Spot a real deal… probably at least ½ the going market price on this cake.  I figure it’s, at least, tastes twice as good as the asking price.

Line up your next puerh purchase (however you do that).  For me it included a few other purchases on for the ride.

Then just as you plan on sealing the deal and putting everything so nicely in the cart you go to the site and … Boom! It happens…

Sold Out.

At first I was kind of angered.  Felt like swearing out loud… like when I stub my toe.

Then I kind of pouted for a bit.  “Fine then, I will just scrap my order then”.

Then I come to the realization that, sure, I will never get a chance to get this tea that crazy cheap again but other puerh retailers have it (differently stored).  I will have to pay fair price for such things but hey maybe the storage will be twice as good as the sold out?  I start to justify even though I know I would have probably preferred the sold out storage much more.

Then I start thinking… I am supposed to be going after some higher quality stuff not this cheap factory puerh.  This was what I told all of you.  Perhaps this is all for good after all…

But man that was a great deal… and I can’t resist such things…

Over the last year I feel I have been very fortunate at snapping up great deals on some factory cakes that, with the rising price of puerh, will not ever be had at this quality at such low prices ever again.  I have had my old puerh eyes on a lot of different sites to nab up these forgotten bargains but this was the last one I spotted and it is now gone.  So now, my bargainbasement, clear out puerh strategy is no more.

It ended with this last one that got away… for better or for worse…

Then with my confidence up I decide to spend the purchase on one really nice cake, which I have been eyeing for a while.  I was hoping to purchase one in a few months’ time, for a special occasion.  Now, with the bargain basement order failing to go through I have freed up enough to finally justify this big purchase.

So, happy in my decision to go all in with one cake, I go to the site to drop one of these gorgeous cakes into the cart.  Once again I was meet with a big “Sold Out”.

Hahahaha…. Just my luck.


Thursday, April 19, 2018

CNNP = Scary For Me! The 2005 CNNP Big Yellow Mark

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...

Darn CNNP…



Tuesday, April 17, 2018

People Prefer Their Own Puerh Storage Best

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”…. Hahaha
I like that.


Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Pumidor Puerh Storage VS Sealing/ Shrink Wrapped Puerh Storage

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.