Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Learn to distinguish old and fake old raw puerh

Puerh, I'm looking at you!
William's first visit was too short (a whole afternoon!), so we scheduled another meeting last Friday. William isn't just blogging and selling puerh, he's practically engaged to the daughter of a Jingmai tea farmer, and aims to become a ea farmer himself! That's why he's studying agriculture in Taiwan right now. He has already a lot of experience tasting fresh teas from various tea regions in Yunnan (and beyond). So after Oolong last week, I proposed, and he accepted, a class about aged puerh.

The aging potential of puerh has done wonders to the fame and reputation of this type of tea. The auction records for old cakes of TongQing Hao, Song Pin Hao... have attracted the attention and money of new investors, famous writers (like Yu Qiu Yu, 余秋雨) and rich tea drinkers in China. William confirms that Yunnan is quickly changing and modernizing thanks to the wealth created from high quality, old arbor and wild puerh leaves. Taidi, plantation puerh, is stagnating or is even being replaced by other cultivations. A big reason for this focus on quality is, I think, that puerh drinkers understand more and more clearly that it's only the best leaves that age well.
3 different aged puerhs. Can you tell the difference?
But there's still confusion about old puerh. High prices have also increased the number of fakes. So, this class' purpose is to teach William how to identify 3 types of aged puerh. But instead of looking at wrappers, which can be easily forged, I taught him to look, smell and taste the leaves.

We brewed the leaves in a gaiwan, using a similar amount of leaves and time. The next 3 pictures show that the color of the brew was quite similar. What changed the most were the scents and taste.
1. The fake: a mid 2000s mix of sheng and shu leaves. (It is sold as a mid 80s aged puerh.) It's already 10 years old now and starts to be aged now. It's interesting to see how this mix of leaves combines the energy of sheng and the sweetness of shu. The color of the brew is just slightly darker than the other puerhs.
2. The 1999 Menghai Tea Factory '7542'. This classic raw puerh has a scent of humid storage. This type of storage develops storage smells that we typically associate with old puerh. Some people like this smell very much. Others will choose to air such leaves before brewing them (I belong more to this group). What's important is to feel the level of energy in the taste to conclude that it's raw.
3. The mid 80s raw, unblended, loose puerh. These leaves were stored in a drier environment and the open leaves look still quite young. But the color of the brew is more brown. And while it still has a wonderful energy, it feels somewhat more mellow and rounder in a subtle way. It feels this tea still has lots of potential to improve (while the first felt more limited).
This comparative tasting is a good way to learn about the differences in age, in storage and the risk of fake aged puerh. Slowly aged puerh has a pure and light energy (chaqi) that provides a unique experience. So, I have creaed a sampler of these 3 puerhs so that you may also learn to identify what's the taste and scent of genuine old raw puerh. Such teas can also be used as benchmarks to evaluate other old puerhs.
Taste, learn and master!

No comments: