Thursday, December 05, 2019

The holy grail of tea

Nobody believes in miracles anymore. As aged puerh is getting rare and increasingly expensive, who could have imagined that a puerh from the 1950s would still be lying around in an antique shop in Taiwan? As the famous red label (hong yin) or green label (lu yin) cakes from the 1950s sell for over 100,000 USD per cake in auctions in Hong Kong and Beijing, who could have predicted that similarly old leaves could still be had at a large discount? Ten years ago, when I selected it, I already felt that I struck gold with this 1966 loose gushu puerh. I didn't think it possible to find an even older puerh 10 years later. And yet, the impossible has happened! My Christmas came early! Here are some leaves of 1950s gushu puerh and I could even get enough to make them available in my selection:
1950s puerh
The question you may be wondering is how do we know the age of these leaves? Aged loose leaves should point to the cultural revolution (1966 to 1976) when the work in the factories was greatly disturbed, not to the 1950s! Indeed, and that's why this other batch of leaves I also acquired is estimated as from the 1970s. However, if we closely look at these leaves, we can notice that they are flattened, because they were once pressed into cakes! So, these are leaves that came off old cakes and were collected by the tea vendors that were purchasing and storing them in Hong Kong before 1997. In those times, it was their habit to dust of the old cakes of the leaves that had come naturally with time. That's the main reason why, at auctions, these red and green label cakes from the 1950s weigh about 310-340 gr instead of 357 gr.
The other way to ascertain the age is to compare this tea to the loose gushu from 1966 or those from the 70s. The taste considerably is rounder, calmer. And the aftertaste feels more refined and warmer. This is consistent with the way puerh ages according to my experience.
Using my gold plated silver teapot enables me not use all the (expensive) leaves I have photographed above. I must have only used half. And thanks to the high extraction rate of this teapot, this was already enough to produce wonderful brews! That's another reason why aged puerh becomes so precious. The scents turn to ginseng, old wood, incense and the taste is so soft, long and pleasing that it feels more akin to a spiritual encounter.
The record prices set by 60 to 90 years old puerh may seem crazy to non puerh drinkers. But if you're a serious sheng lover then you may understand that aged puerh is simply the ultimate tea experience, the holy grail of tea. No other tea ages so well, no other tea is so powerful, no other tea is surrounded by such interest! And no other tea seems so unattainable (100,000 USD for a cake)! But this changes if you can purchase just two or 3 grams and if you're a group of 3 to 6 people! Then, this luxury becomes as affordable as a ticket to a show on Broadway or a top bottle of wine. It's not something you enjoy often, but at least you can say that you know the feeling!
For me, it feels like Christmas! A perfect tea, old but still feeling young, so naturally sweet that you don't want to eat anything with it, because it's light tinkling is so enjoyable and goes on and on!
The spent leaves of the 1950s gushu puerh
As I often say, the tea experience isn't about quantity, but quality. Why? Because you can only brew a few grams of tea at a time! And on a special occasion it's just fitting to enjoy a tea that defies time!

No comments: