Friday, April 26, 2013

The aging of a puerh drinker

It's no secret that my motivation for keeping up with this blog has pretty much fallen away. The near-daily tea practice remains though, and brings me much satisfaction. Been thinking of doing an update here, but just haven't wanted to get the camera out and do the work required to capture a few compelling shots. So, in lieu of a "here's whats up at my tea table" photo, I offer you this beautiful image of somewhere high up in the Alishan National Scenic Area of Chiayi County, Taiwan -- a recent Bing daily wallpaper, which I've become a huge fan of. With the enormously annoying barrage of advertisements, marketing ploys and deplorable news and politics on the web these days, it's truly refreshing to open the internet to Bing's ever-changing images of great beauty in the world.

My tea adventures have taken many turns. On the pumidor front, things are coming along nicely. My initial thoughts of wanting to perhaps accelerate aging (given that I'll be into my 70's by the time many of these cakes start to reach good numbers in years) have subsided. I'm of the mind now that there's no such thing as "accelerated aging," short of going shou (and even here I think it can be argued that shou is a whole different animal, merely an approximation of an aged sheng).  Teas do what they do, and take their own sweet time doing it. The controlled humidity of the pumidor does help to soften hard edges and tame aggressive tendencies, which I like and which (for the time being) keeps me committed to the pumidor idea (at least for my tastes in tea). I've adjusted the RH to a steady 60% (give or take a few percentage points) with the idea that I simply want to keep the teas comfortable and active. No more trying to push the RH high to make the teas "age" faster. That's nothing but a silly fantasy. But, upon researching the matter of enzymes, phenols, volatile aromatics and such, it's well-documented that environment plays a crucial role. So at this point I'm going for a not-too-dry, not-too-humid, not-too-cold, not-too-hot middle ground. Everything in moderation, as the saying goes.

Old trees in Alishan, Taiwan
Have been spending a lot of time drinking yancha, learning the ins and outs of how to brew and appreciate it.
That's been a lot of fun, and like puerh is proving to be a long but enjoyable learning curve. As for puerh, I've started to pull random cakes from the pumidor to taste and compare to my notes from years past. This has been truly interesting. Not surprisingly I suppose, many of those first cake purchases are positively unexciting now. But I'll keep them around to see how they continue to change. Not that I expect miracles, but it's just good education. I still don't know for sure if it's just a matter of uninteresting tea, or if it might be due to an awkward age (many are in the 5 to 7 year old range), although given that I purchased these early on when I was still focused mainly on taste and aroma and had only the faintest ideas of a tea's energy or activity, I'm guessing these cakes will never impress much. But we'll see.

Speaking of the age-range of a puerh, I've noticed that those teas which have crossed over into the 10+ year range have definitely made a significant jump from "young and green" to "okay, yes, this tea is definitely developing that aged character." It shows in the darkening color of the tea soup, the deepened and woodier aromas and flavors. Still can't say I notice any change in a tea's energy, but perhaps like those early cake purchases this will develop as I gain more experience tasting different puers as they age.

And... can it be? Am I really starting to develop that enviable ability to name a tea's origin just by taste and aroma (the ultimate party-trick at tea gatherings)? After tasting so many puerhs and taking copious notes, it seems this sort of thing just starts to happen. I've still got a ways to go (the specific character of Naka, anyone??), and am not the type for party tricks, but it lends a certain awareness of increasing mastery while sitting alone at the tea table each day. Another of the joys of this whole tea practice thing.

11 comments:

  1. Wow - I will be in Alishan in a few weeks. I can hardly wait!

    ReplyDelete
  2. What a great trip! I had no idea the Alishan region was so beautiful until finding these photos. Have a wonderful time there!

    ReplyDelete
  3. You may wish to vary the humidity a bit to simulate the seasons - nothing like the natural rhythm of the four seasons in aging the tea.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Excellent suggestion. I wonder also about varying temperature in the same way, or choosing a particular location to emulate.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I miss your blog updates! Hope you discover some new motivation!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Eugene :) There is no sweeter motivation than to hear such encouragement from someone like you. Soon... :)

    ReplyDelete
  7. How have you been my friend? I've wrote you before my China trip in April. It's nice to see your new updates! The good news is Jason's tea shop is finally opened. Please come in and join us, the store opens 7 days a week. I'll be there on Sundays ^_^ -Aqina

    ReplyDelete
  8. Beautiful pics and reflections I can relate to. "Not surprisingly I suppose, many of those first cake purchases are positively unexciting now" ought to strike a chord with anyone who has purchased puer.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Aqina - Nice to hear from you, and that Jason's shop is up and running now. I'll do my best to get there one of these Sundays to say hi!

    Twodog - so true, eh? Every fall I think of hosting a big bonfire where everyone sits around drinking tea and tossing the old nasty cakes on the fire ;)

    ReplyDelete
  10. This is great! I've recently been blogging about Mt. Ah Li. Thanks for the inspiration!

    ReplyDelete
  11. Thanks Josh! Nice to learn about your blog, too. Really great read! I'll add it to my blog list :)

    ReplyDelete