Friday, February 18, 2011

2000 No-Name "Yunnan Wild Old Tree" tuo cha (raw)

I recently made several purchases from a small Hong Kong seller on Ebay.  He (she?) doesn't have a virtual store front like the more well-known Ebay vendors, but is listing plenty of puerh, almost all of it between $0.01 and maybe a couple dollars at most.  The shipping costs (between $7.99 and $9.99 per cake) are really all you're paying for these teas.  For as strange as this sounds I've been wanting to taste some particularly bad puerhs as a way to further my knowledge.  Then again, who's to say a cheap puerh is necessarily bad?  (or that a $219 cake is good?)  Who knows.. I might find a gem among these penny-puerhs?  Not much different from taking a gamble with a random tea listed on Taobao.

I got my box of tea cakes yesterday.  This seller shipped them relatively fast and did a good job of packing them with enough care to insure they wouldn't get damaged or wet.  I don't know the story of why he's selling so much for so cheap.  I'm guessing it might be the liquidation of a tea shop gone out of business, but I don't really know.  All I know is that he's been pleasant to deal with and returns my inquiries quickly.  Most of the tea he's listing is less than 5 years old, but now and then he lists something a bit older.  Today I'm trying a mini tuo cha that was listed as a 2000 Yunnan Wild Old Tree raw puerh.  Not a bad looking little guy.

I did a 20-second rinse and then took in the fragrances from both a wenxiangbei and the newly wetted leaves in the gaiwan.  The wenxiangbei was the most nuanced (as usual), starting off with a solid tea smell, followed by strong plum, then sugar, and finally lingering off with a dusty dry pollen smell.  The leaves in the gaiwan, on the other hand, instantly transported me to my grandmother's closet.  Old clothes and shoes and maybe a box of prunes in the corner long passed the shelf date.  Although the wenxiangbei smelled promising, the aroma of the leaves in the gaiwan was enough to prompt me to do a second rinse.

10-second rinse this time -- ahhh better.  The grandma's closet smell was gone now and the fragrance was all soft but indistinct fruit.  I thought I smelled some banana, which struck me as unusual.  Feeling emboldened I went for a first infusion, starting off gentle with 7 seconds.  The aroma continued with the theme of "indistinct fruit" (I know... not very helpful) and again I'm thinking I smell some banana in there.  The color of the soup is promising, a clear and soft medium orange.  Taste?  Not much going on.  My first impressions were a tingling sensation in my mouth, followed by a pronounced drying of the mouth.  To be honest, I found myself wondering how much I was taking in in the way of pesticides.

I have to admit I was expecting a bad tea.  Yes, it was the price I paid for it and where I bought it.  Just like my high expectations for the YS $219 cake, I found myself wanting this tea to be bad.  I watched my thoughts on this matter and found myself asking, if this humble little tuo were offered on, say, Essence of Tea's website for a much pricier sum, would I be finding more merit with it now?  I wondered, but as the session wore on I knew this was no special tea.  I quickly bumped up the infusion times in an effort to get more taste out of it.  Wood flavors came forward but they were weak compared to other teas I've had.  The strange tingling in my mouth continued and if I didn't have first-hand experience of true hui gan I might have wondered if that's what I was sensing.  But I *do* know hui gan and this was something else.  Something not entirely pleasant or reassuring.

By the third infusion the leaves had lost nearly all fruit-related aromas and what remained might best be described as 'plain old tea.'  The taste was 'kind of watered down wood.'  I don't know if this could be called a bad puerh.  It certainly wasn't overly bitter or sour (I have yet to taste a puerh that has a sourness to it, though I read about it now and then).  Aside from the mouth tingling, which decreased with each steeping, there wasn't anything particularly unpleasant about this tea.  But neither was there anything that stood out to command my attention as a particularly fine aspect.  If I were to rate all the teas I've experienced thus far, with 1 being the worst and 10 being the best, I'd probably give this one a 3.  I've definitely had worse (the worst tea I ever had smelled and tasted as though it'd been grown, processed and stored at the bottom of a bus stop ash tray that hadn't been cleaned for far too long).  I picked up quite a few of these penny-puerhs, though, so maybe I'll find something yummy.  Or not.  :)


  1. I know which seller you're talking about, although never bought anything from him. What do the wet leaves look like? I'm very curious about these tuos as well, although the price is really a case of "too good to be true/good"

  2. There you go, MarshalN. Plenty of stems, plenty of chop, but also some whole leaves (smaller yellow ones and larger darker ones that were much stiffer in feel) and an occasional tip. I'm curious to know what it is you look for when examining the wet leaves. I'm sure you could teach me a thing or two :)

  3. Wet leaves say a lot about storage conditions., as well as the condition of the leaves, and is far more useful than a shot of the dry leaves, which basically tell you nothing. I mean, in this case it looks like the tea has been dry stored just from the liquor, but it's interesting to see how some leaves are really burnt looking. Is that colour contrast among the leaves normal in what you brewed, or did you pick out the ones with the darkest/lightest colours?

  4. You say the tea looks to be dry stored just from the liquor. Am I correct in assuming that a wet-stored tea might be darker in color (more deeply orange)?

    About the leaf color -- yes this tea had a greater variety in the wet leaves than I usually see and what I pulled out to lay on the plate (individual components). My aim was to portray a representative cross section of what I found in the cup, minus the general 'fill' of chopped leaves, which I tried to show in the second photo, of the leaves setting in water. That's why I pulled out so many stems and only one tip. There were plenty of stems while the tips were few and far between.

    As for the darker leaves, there were a good many of them. They were invariably the largest leaves and had a 'crunchiness' about them. It hadn't occurred to me that this might be due to some sort of heat application, like cooking. In addition to be stiffer and 'crunchier', they were also more tightly rolled and wrinkled up, staying that way even after many infusions and requiring me to carefully ply them apart to get them to lay flat on the plate. I'd love to know what that tells me about this tea. Were these leaves cooked or are stiffer leaves indicative of the age of the tea tree, or maybe they're simply leaves that were picked further down from the tip of a stem? If they are, in fact, more 'cooked' what would that contribute to the general flavor or mouth feel of the tea?

  5. A traditionally stored tea would be dark - dark brown, or black. Wet leaves would be brown, although in this case since it's floating in water with white balance tilted strongly yellow, it's really hard to tell.

    The stiffer leaves - the most likely hypothesis here is that they were burnt in the frying process.