Thursday, January 05, 2006

The puer teas striptease

My latest puers bare it all. I bought them 2 days ago with my Christmas cash gifts. But this time, instead of choosing very expensive or very teas, I chose more affordable and ready to drink puers of very reputed makers and good quality. They all come from the China National Native Produce & Animal By-products Import & Export Company Yunnan Tea Branch (CNNP Yunnan Tea Branch), the State company and one is even made by the famous Menghai factory.

1. 1990 raw Fang Zhuan (square brick) from the Menghai region (not the factory). This brick contains leaves of all grades.
Here is the view in the bamboo leaves wrapping 3 bricks together:
It reminded me very much the smell of tree leaves in the fall, when they are still moist and dry on the ground in misty, foggy woods. It has some fresh taste as well and a strong qi. The mix of grades creates a tea that feels very broad and difficult to grasp. That's why I say there is fog in the forest.


2. This small Gong Ding Cha Zhuan is a lightly cooked pu er of 1988. It's made with tea buds of first grade leaves. That's why it's called Gong Ding, imperial gift. The aromas and the brew are of very high clarity and finesse. After 18 years, the fermentation smells have greatly diminished. The brick is very hard, but once you're able to break the first piece the rest comes off more easily.


3. This is a cooked tuo cha of 1990. I bought it before Christmas, but didn't have an opportunity to introduce it yet. It is quite special because it's not only made of first grade leaves, but these leaves were harvested from wild trees. This one smells like a very old raw pu er. After 16 years, the bad smells from man-made fermentation have disappeared and it tastes very round and calm. For me, it's the best cooked puer I was given to taste, even better than the Menghai factory cooked puer from the same time.


4. This Yunnan Pu Er Cha Zhuan was made in the year 2000. It contains cooked pu er leaves of grade 5. After 5 years of rest, it starts to be drinkable, says my pu er importer. We tasted it together on the very same day and I found it still has a very strong camphor taste (but without the freshness). The taste of fermentation is still very much there, which I don't find very pleasant. But the astringency is completely gone. It is very round and becomes mellow. I guess it will improve as it ages further, but can also already be drunk now in a large teapot. The low price makes it also quite attractive to start with cooked puer.

It wasn't the first time that my merchant told me that cooked puer also need to 'age', so I asked Teaparker about it. He told me that cooked puer's purpose is to make puer that be drunk quickly (as opposed to raw puer that ages slowly). The 'problem' is that nowadays the factories use more water than before for this process. This increases humidity and mold in young cooked puer. That's why it's best to wait 4/5 years. Another trick from my vendor is to wash the leaves with tea a first time and even a second time. This pu er can last many infusions anyway!

5. This is the famous '7542' raw qizi bing cha from the Menghai factory. This one from the year 1999. The dry smell amazingly already displays nice aging, but it could probably age longer. I haven't tried it yet. It's also the most expensive tea on this post.
Here's a view of the top:

And one of its bottom:

11 comments:

David said...

Stephane
As usual, your photos make evrything look so beautiful. Tea worthy of displaying -- as well as drinking.

I am surprised to see you purchasing cooked puerh. I have not known you to talk about it before; what do you look for in a cooked cake? What kind of flavors should stand out?

Stephane said...

David,
There are no taboos in tea. Cooked puers are very suitable for everyday consumption, when you don't have the time to make a delicate brew. It's like listening to Mozart in your car. You don't get the intricacies, the subtleties, the passion you feel in a real live concert, but it's still beats the latest top 10 pop crap.

So, in black cooked puer you just look for the basic stuff, the basic earthy, wood, leather... smells one finds in old puer. And instead of being rough and astringent, your cooked puer should be round and mellow.

Then, there is one thing you want to avoid: the off smells from the fermentation. That's why it's best to also take cooked puer with a few years of age. But old cooked puer is no guaranty for an absence of bad tastes. You still have to choose them with care and pay attention to the factory, tea leaves grades, storage...

Stephane said...

David,
There are 2 other smells I try to avoid in puer: dry straw (for the dry leaves) and cigarette butt (for the brew) smells. My experience and my mouth tell me that such puers (cooked or raw) are of inferior quality.

Imen said...

I want to share my experience in China a year ago at a tea store, the owner who also runs a tea farm. He recommended a 6 years old cooked puer bing cha, which he "washed" with boiling water 6 times. I tried the 6th brew, I could still taste a heavy earthy, fermentation flavor; however a hint of sweet under tone taste stayed behind afterward. By the 7th brew, the sweetness became apparent accompanied with a clean and smooth body after 6 washes lifted the earthiness. The flavor was a very subtle lingering nutty aroma that I felt vaporizing through the top of my mouth, and eventually through my scalps. It was a spiritual experience I might say.

Since then, I wash puer at least 3 to 4 times before I find it drinkable. This might be my own preference, I find that drinking puer in a small tea bowl instead of a cup taste better as well. The flavor and body fullness of the liquor matures as the temperature reduces.

Stephane said...

Thanks for your comment Imen.

I have also made this experience with a couple of puerhs. But, in general, this is more an indication that the tea is not fully matured (too harshly green)and not of the best quality.

The really good puerhs I own (Yi Wu 2003, Jiang Cheng 1989, for instance) can be enjoyed from the very first brew.

Danica said...

I purchased two of the Menghai bricks, knowing that I liked this tea very much already. It flakes easily, and the leaves are large and well aged in a humid environment (they are darker than other puerhs I have seen from 1990). I am at work so I will write my taste experience from memory, and not with precision. Brewed in a zhuni pot, 4 oz, approximately 3.5 oz of leaves maybe less (I didn't measure with a scale), I used a new technique of less than boiling water and longer steep times to brew the tea, taught to me by Roy Fong of Imperial Tea Court. I boiled the water first, as per Stephane, to open it. This technique brings out a rounder, more floral quality in the tea. The first cup is mild but extremely flavorful, needs a longer steep. New dimensions appearing in the second and third brews. The impression is of drinking a very fine tea, woody and some earth but also a softness and lingering sweetness. The wood becomes more floral as the brews progress. Does not taste like a yiwu, I'm not sure what mountain the leaves are from but it's flavorful! I don't feel guilty drinking a lot of this fine tea because it's affordable and I can always drink more! I stopped at seven brews because I didn't want to wait the length of time it would take to draw out more flavor from additional brews. As usual, this selection from Stephane does not disappoint! THANK YOU.

Bill said...

I'm drinking the second infusion of the 1990 Menghai Region Fang Zhuan brick.

This has been a somewhat enigmatic tea for me. The first few times I tasted it, the tea seemed to resemble a high end cooked puerh rather than an aged raw tea. My impression was of a round, slightly sweet, full-bodied tea with little bitternes. The nose seemed slightly funky and vegetal. I missed the high, spicy notes and a bit of bitterness to balance the sweetness. It seemed somehow a bit disjointed.

Now, brewed in a little 50 ml gaiwan after a heavy Indian dinner, it seems like an entirely different tea! The spicy, resiny camphor notes are there. The mouth feel is full but not heavy, and a pleasant slight bitterness balances out the overal flavor profile. The finish is long and rich. I've finished a third infusion as I wrote this. Gotta get back to the kettle!
Bill

Anonymous said...

Any idea how can it be stored well?
I have a few Puer brick of 18 years old that i've bought few months back. It starts to grow mold on the puer tea. What should I do? Any recommendation to get rid of the mold?

Stephane said...

A puerh merchant told me that when mold develops, he stores his puerh in a drier environment and that the mold will go off by itself. You could try that. Otherwise, Teaparker recommends mostly that the storage should be clean.

Karen said...

I agree with both Stéphane and Bill re the enigmatic quality of the 1990 Menghai Region Fang Zhuan. Rather than risk it to clay, I used my gaiwan with a high leaf-to-water ratio. I taste camphor and a nice sweetness (none of Bill's bitterness, though), but I can't put my finger on an overall impression beyond "pleasant." I only rinsed it once and have had a good six infusions since. It makes me wonder how more aging would affect it.

Antoine said...

Stéphane,

J'ai récemment acheté une brique pareile à ta petite brique rectangulaire "Imperial Gift" pour... 4,50 $ U.S.! La vendeuse n'avais aucune idée d'où elle venait. Elle l'avais achetée d'un amis chinois. Quel est le nom de la compagnie qui les produit?

L'emballage est pareil, mais j'imagine que ça ne veut pas dire que c'est le même thé ou la même année. Après 8-9 infusions concentrées, les feuilles sont toutes comme "hachées" et on n'y trouve pas de bourgeons. Je t'enverrai une photo de la brique.

Aussi, je me demandais si une brique mi-cuite pouvait être sujette au viellissement?