Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Tasting an Old Vacuum Sealed Puerh and Famous Puerh in the West: Teamasters 2003 Spring Wild Raw Yiwu

Reason for Fame:  This was the first introduction to wild tea for Western puerh drinkers.  I remember the initial buzz around this tea in the mid 2000s.  Stephane of Teamasters Blog submitted this very tea in a tasting competition with other online puerh drinkers and it won.  The interesting thing is that samples of this tea are still available from Teamasters and that he has extensively documented the aging of this tea on his blog throughout the years. 

When organizing some of my aged tea I stumbled upon an old vacuum sealed sample of this that Stephane sent me in 2008 (when it was presumably vacuum sealed after 5 years of Taiwanese storage).  You can see from the package above that it still is completely vacuum air tight.  I remember that I wanted to sample some other wild teas together for comparison and education at that time but I had not acquired so many as they were harder to come by back then.  So, I saved this sample for a few months.  As time went on, I never ended up doing that extensive sampling of wild tea samples and this one somehow got lost among all my aged tea, probably in moving.

Vacuum sealed puerh is a bit of a controversial issue with Hojo first publishing this type of unconventional storage in English on hisblog many years ago .  The really interesting thing about this vacuum sealed sample is that you can compare it to the well documented progression of aging on Stephane’s blogin 2011, in 2013 (with retrospection), and in 2018.  Although, it should be noted that an old sample cannot represent an old full cake, having a look at this sample might give us a bit of insight into vacuum storage…

The dry leaf smells like oat straw, distant strawberries, creamy sweetness and dry sandy dirt.

First infusion has a dry woody and straw onset and mid-profile.  The sweet soft strawberry and barely muted cream tastes appear in the aftertaste before disappearing.  A long dry menthol taste develops then recedes.  A dry clean crisp distinct creamy sweetness returns for the minutes later aftertaste and swells up in the mouth.  The mouthfeel is slight stickiness.

The second infusion starts off woody and straw then develops a slightly sandy mouthfeel.  Then arrives the cooling menthol then a barely fruity taste.  The minutes later aftertaste is of nice talc and strawberries in the distance.  The mouthfeel here is sandy and barly sticky.  A relaxing qi starts to build up.

The third infusion starts off woody and straw then goes into a subtle sour fruity wood note almost vegetal like tomato.  The menthol is there then a long creamy sweetness.  The minutes long wild tea aftertaste with this tea is nice.  The mouthfeel is interesting with empty feelings, a slight dry roof of the mouth and sandy with more of a stickiness on the tip.  The throat feel like it is deep but not overly stimulated- nice for a wild tea.  The qi is a relaxing type, oh yes the head floats with this qi.  In the body it is felt more in the center, still subtly rough on the Stomach.

The fourth infusion starts with an empty, juicy taste with soft woody layers underneath.  The profile is now balanced between sweet and woody base here.  The long menthol aftertaste is beset by the climax of creamy minutes long almost strawberry sweetness.

The fifth infusion has a woody almost incense initial taste and base taste to it.  The minutes long aftertaste is really nice creamy, talc, sweet, barely fruit. The mouthfeel is interesting still sticky, sandy, dry roof.

The sixth infusion starts with incense wood, this infusion is less sweet and the mouthfeel is the highlight now with woody tastes, barely fruit nuances and creamy sweet long tastes.  There is a creamy sweet talc fruit taste throughout.  Qi still slightly rough on stomach, six infusions in, it is more obvious now. 

The seventh infusion has a nice dense mouthfeel and soft opening throatfeeling.  There are notes of distant pinapples and tomato and a soapy, talic taste.  The aftertaste is long supported by the throat feeling.

The eighth infusion has a dry autumn coppery leaf base taste the mouthfeeling is nice and stimulating.  The base taste is more empty now with no sweetness to counterbalance the tastes.  The aftertaste is also more dry wood, less menthol and creamy sweetness.  Even the minitues long taste is more creamy woody menthol.

The ninth infusion is mellow again.  A soft woody, dry leaves base taste with an almost metallic taste, methol, and creamy sweetness minutes later.  The initial taste has flattened out considerably.  The mouthfeel is stimulating and throat feel open at a deeper level.

The tenth infusion has a stronger menthol returning taste the sweetness is almost honey like now.  The dry wood profile is throughout.  The minutes long aftertaste is creamy, sweet, and almost metallic.

The eleventh infusion I add 10 seconds to the flash infusion and a metallic flat dry wood taste is the result with a mainly menthol aftertaste.

The twelfth infusion I add 15 seconds to the flash and get a woody taste, a muddled taste, almost metallic with long menthol finish.

The thirteenth infusion I go back to a flash infusion and it brings back the sweet creamy base taste of almost strawberry in this wild tea which I enjoy. 

The fourteeth is flash infused again and again as solid as ever a very enjoyable very sweet creamy strawberry taste over a nice soft stimulating mouthfeel.  This infusion has a nice mild wood to balance things out undernieth.

I flash infuse this tea for many many more infusions and highly enjoy its sweet, creamy, talc, tastes in a full mouth and deep throatfeeling.  The finish is consitantly menthol and the minutes long taste remains sweet.  “How many infusions am I on now?” 21, 22?  This is great tea, nice relaxing but offers a gentle concentration and care free feeling to my day.

Insight on Vacuum Sealed Puerh.  I was somewhat surprised by this puerh sample because even though I knew it wouldn’t have suffocated to death, I was expecting it to not be as vibrant and delicious.  The one negative was that the body Qi wasn’t sufficiently warming enough so it still felt a little cooling and rough in the stomach.  I think if it would have had another 2 or 3 years of Taiwanese storage before being sealed it would have turned the corner and the Qi would remain somewhat warming.  Currently, its Qi feeling felt a bit unnatural in a subtle sort of way.  I believe a 2018 Taiwanese sample would feel much warmer.  If a puerh is sufficiently bitter or rough on the digestion when young, I believe it needs humidity (and warmth) for its Qi to warm.

The vibrancy of the high notes which form the base of this tea and have great stamina even in late infusions- was a surprise to me.  I believe that the 2018 would have fermented some of these notes away by now and or at least deepened them.  I wonder what has happened to these notes in Stephane’s Taiwanese storage?  Maybe the result is better?

From experience I think a drier stored wild tea seems to do better, for my preference at least. Wild tea is all about the light sweet tastes, mouthfeel, and Qi and I think the vacuum storage did pretty good over the last 10 years.

The sampling of this 10 year vacuum stored sample confirms what I have previous stated about storage: puerh is resilient and can endure many aging conditions even extreme aging conditions and still taste amazing.  Of course it didn’t show signs of browning and deep fermentation, but many qualities that remain are excellent.  If you have a puerh that is quality, complex, enjoyable and drinkable while young, it will probably be enjoyable many years later but the reverse is no guarantee.  Sometimes the risk is worth the payoff.

I guess a comparison with Stephane’s current storage is in order…



TeaMasters said...


Thanks a lot for these detailed tasting notes of this puerh. It's indeed very interesting to be able to experience how this tea has aged since 2003. The one key point of your analysis is that high quality puerh is quite resilient. Aging it fast or slow is almost more a question of personal preference, since it already tastes great young. The advantage of vacuum seal is probably more the seal than the vacuum: even puerh leaves will pick up the smells from their surroundings. By sealing the tea, one makes sure the flavors remain pure.

Matt said...

Teamasters (Stéphane),

No doubt sealing a puerh airtight prevents outside influences from changing the character of the puerh. It keeps the humidity and air out but also damaging odours- I never thought of it this way before because in drier climates odours a lbit less of a concern.

Thanks again.