Friday, December 04, 2015

Advent Day 4, a leftover from the TeaMasters puerh class

A new day should mean a new tea, but today, exceptionally, I'm drinking a puerh I started yesterday afternoon and that had still a lot of flavors to give. Before I speak about that tea, here's a summary of yesterday's puerh introduction class.

Puerh is a tea from Yunnan. It belongs to the black tea (hei cha) catergory. This category includes both the manually fermented teas (shu, cooked, wo dui puerh) and the raw (sheng) puerh that will ferment naturally with time.
There's a great variety of puerh tea trees: camellia tachangensis, camellia taliensis... Most have big leaves, but not all. We can distinguish 3 types of puerh:
1. Plantation puerh (taidi)
2. Old arbor from ancient plantations.
3. Wild trees that have grown without the help of man. This last type has the more natural characteristics. Growing on its own, without pesticides, means that such trees had to learn to defend their leaves against insects. That's why their buds are protecting one or even 2 buds. This explains the exceptional energy and power of wild puerh. It also explains why such leaves have a very long aging potential.

The oldest tea tree in the world is a puerh tree of 1700 years that is 34 meters tall. But there is no evidence that puerh tea was invented during the Tang dynasty. At that time, green tea was pressed as cakes (with a hole in the middle in order to attach many cakes together with a rope). According to Teaparker, there were 149 different green teas during the Tang dynasty (618-907), but none of them was puerh coming from Yunnan. Puerh might have been used by the local tribes as a herb, but wasn't prepared as tea then. However, we find records of puerh sent as tributes to the emperors of the Qing dynasty (1644-1911).
Because high quality aged puerh can sell for a considerable premium, there are a lot of fakes on the market. During this class, we brewed 3 puerhs claiming to be from the mid 1980s: a loose shu, a loose sheng and a Tuo cha consisting of a mix of sheng and shu puerh. (You can find these 3 teas and my 1999 '7542' in this sampler). And while the appearance of the dry leaves and the color of the brew is not very different, the taste is much more alive and young with the sheng puerh of 1985 and the leaves are returning to their original state.

The side by side comparison helped clarify what a 30 years old sheng puerh should taste like.
Shu vs sheng puerh

What's unique with puerh is the fact that we can find some very old trees and even some wild trees in the mountains of Yunnan. (Plantation tea is not necessarily bad if the plantation is well managed, but it's not what makes puerh special in the tea world).

To demonstrate the unique taste of wild puerh, I flaked a few grams of my 2006 wild Lincang sheng puerh cake. Since it has a very high ratio of buds, the best is to use a silver teapot to have very hot water going to the heart of the leaves and extracting all their flavors.

My 3 students agreed they never had had such a pure, sweet, harmonious and powerful puerh! We enjoyed 3 amazing brews together.
And I continued to brew for this 4th Day of December.
It's 9 years old already, but feels completely fresh. There are no traces of humid storage or basement smell. It's just getting deeper, sweeter and finer. This shows that it still has a very long aging potential.
Excellent tea always lights up the day!

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