Tuesday, June 23, 2020

I’m the King of Dirt: Understanding My Korean Puerh Influences

There has been two recent blog posts that have made me reflect more deeply on how my taste in puerh was influenced in the mid 2000s in Korea.  At that time in Korea 100% of the aged and semiaged puerh (1970s, 1980s but mostly 1990s) which I regularly consumed came from moderately humid Taiwanese storage.  This is what all the puerh tea houses in Korea stocked.  This recent post from Marshal’N of A Tea Addicts Journal shares a research paper titled The Authentic Taste of Puer Tea and Transnational Interests which clearly explains why all the puerh tea I consumed in Korea, although came from Yunnan, China, was imported from Taiwan and had Taiwanese storage.

I have often joked that Korea was probably not the best place to learn about puerh tea.  For one the prices were often inflated being that the price factored in the Taiwanese to purchase from China, stored the puerh in Taiwan, then sell them from Taiwan to the Korean Teahouses which in turn sold them to us customers.  The aged and semiaged puerh would usually go for hundreds of dollars.  Cakes that in today’s market, of course, now sell for thousands or ten thousands but at the time it was still more expensive to purchase puerh in Korea vs other puerh drinking markets.  I now realize after reading that article posted by Marshal’N that this likely had to do with Taiwan’s strong unchallenged influence or monopoly on puerh tea in Korea at that time.  It also explained why so few of the cakes I consumed weren’t Malaysian, Korean, Kunming, Hong Kong or Guangdong storage.  I believe at least some of the puerh I consumed in Korea at this time was once stored in these locations but all the information the puerh teahouses in Korea could pass on to me at the time was that these were Taiwanese stored.

Secondly, the puerh that did make it to Korea wasn’t the top of the line like what I image you would have been able to access from Taiwan at the time.  There simply wasn’t the developed market in Korea at the time where you would be able to sell these famous aged puerhs.  As a result, I had never tried any super famous, over the top antique puerh from these Korea puerh teahouses.  Of course, I did have much more exposure to some of the more famous 90s cakes specifically Menghai Tea Factory and stuff and, yes, some of the puerh I tired from the 70s and 80s would be quite expensive in today’s market but still likely not the cream of the crop for that era of puerh.

The second article that really got me thinking about how my puerh tastes were shaped in Korea is this article my Marco in Late Steeps.  In this article Marco postulates how some puerh cakes develop dirt tastes or geosomin or beet like tastes (I’ve often referred to them as earthy tastes).  The article looks at trying to remove the dirt tastes from a humidly stored cake that was then dried out at very low humidity.  The taste was eventually removed with adding both humidity and heat long for a long time by the way.  This had me thinking about why all aged cakes that I consumed in Korea had the dirt taste. 
It makes sense in that Korea imported cakes from Taiwan which is much hotter and more humid.  It is likely that these aged puerh developed the dirt taste from exposure to cool and less humid Korean storage after a longer period of hotter and humid Taiwanese storage.  But the most interesting thing about this story is how Korean puerh tea drinkers basically became connoisseurs of these dirt (geosomin) tastes in puerh as they were often attached to famous cakes of the 80s and 90s.  Basically, dirt taste = great authentic aged puerh in Korea at that time.

To this day my wife and I still absolutely love the geosomin profile in puerh.  It is of note that we also generally love eating dirt covered carrots right out of our garden and beets tend to be one of our favorites.  Strangely others Westerners also have emailed me telling me that they too appreciate the dirt profile.  However, recently it has been brought to my attention that people who have very good taste in puerh do not like the geosomin flavor at all.  Then it got me thinking that maybe I actually value something in puerh that others basically feel is a flaw.  Am I the Bud Light connoisseur of puerh?  Hahahha…

Anyways, my taste is my taste, puerh is unique in this way with different regional tastes or ideas of what “good puerh” tastes like.  For me though, I don’t mind my older puerh tasting like dirt and perhaps there is a whole country who feels the same way.  If there are some people out there who have tongs of dirt tasting aged puerh from the 90s who now are thinking that it’s no good… please don’t throw them in the trash- send them my way!

I chuckle to myself and shrug... I guess I am puerh tea’s King of Dirt… hahhaha



  1. Replies
    1. Cwyn,

      We should always question why we do the things we do and like the things we like. There is always a reason.


  2. Perhaps the cuisine one is brought up with predisposes the palate to certain tastes? Here in Southeast Asia, the "dirt" note is prized for the earthy dimension it brings. The buah keluak nut is a great expression of this in food, while the luo han comes to mind wrt a traditional, earthy beverage ingredient. It had not crossed my mind that geosmin was such a bad thing either. Thanks for the post.