Tuesday, February 04, 2020

A tea from the 20s

The first teas from the 2020s, the Dong Pian Oolongs from Mingjian, have already been harvested and I will one to my selection this week. However, today's tea isn't from the 2020s, but from the 1920s!

On the left, you can see 1.5 gram of sheng puerh from the Hao era (the time when almost all puerh selling companies had their name finish with the character Hao: Song Pin Hao, Fu Yuan Chang Hao, Tong Qing Hao...) And if I mention all these companies, it's because this tea is a mix of several cakes from that time! A similar thing happened as with this 1950s puerh: the vendor who owned these antique puerhs decided to clean these aged tongs of puerh and collected the leaves that were falling off from the edges of the cakes. And that's how it became possible for me to purchase a few grams several years ago, before the price for a tong of Fu Yuan Chang reached 3,3 million US dollars!
Before the tasting, the question on my mind was 'why own a puerh from the 1920s?' At that time, the oldest puerh in my selection was from 1966, which is already older than myself! And I already had had the privilege to taste Oolong and puerh teas from the 1920s in tea class on a handful of occasions.
I didn't want to succumb to the vanity of rich tea drinkers for whom the age feels like 'dick contest' where the oldest, highest number wins. (Yours is 50? Mine is 90!)
Let's be very clear, the quality of a tea doesn't come just from their age, but mainly from the leaves themselves and then their clean storage. And with this tea, everything is outstanding: the quality (sheng gushu puerh), the storage (so clean that I didn't rinse the leaves!) and the age (90 to 100 years old). So, I didn't just buy some random old tea for the sake of its old age.
The first reason for this purchase was that the buying opportunity wasn't going to last (prices for such aged puerh increase dramatically as the supply dwindles with time). But the main reason is that this 1920s Hao era puerh represents the very best of tea. I can't think of any tea more mythical as this. And the great thing with tea is that you don't need to own a tong or a cake to experience its beauty. A couple of grams (here I use 1.5 gr) is enough, if you use a small teapot!
The color of the brew is so radiant and clear! The dry scents of noble wood are faint, but very much alive. And that's what one can also say about the taste. It has a sweet, soft start, recedes in strength and, before you start to feel disappointed by the lack of 'umpf', you realize that your palate sings and dances the most exquisite ballet. This calls for more stillness and concentration, making this a very inward experience and it's no wonder some find a spiritual meaning when that happens.
In terms of smell, I found this sheng puerh to have some similarities with this aged shu puerh. So, I brewed it below in order to compare it with the 1920s.
Sheng 1920s vs shu 1980s puerh
 The side by side tasting helped to identify the few similarities and differences. The shu's scents are surprisingly close, but they are much more one dimensional and less complex. And what's completely different is the taste: the shu is very sweet, but without real life in the aftertaste, while the 1920s has such lively and refined aftertaste.
Below are the spent leaves of the 1920s puerh:
This comparison is also another reason why I purchased this tea. Because I, as an enthusiast and as a professional, I want to learn what makes a tea great, what is top tea quality, how good it can get... These leaves also let me better understand the evolution of puerh in time. And I can then use this knowledge to select very fine puerhs (and other teas). And because it's amazing to taste!


g ma said...

are these legit or counterfeit/fakes(think I have a smartphone image, from 10yrs ago I took at only ~$1,888, that is a little more detailed...why the supposed 1960 image is so poor?) I thought I read where CNNP labeling started in the 1970s?


Can you compare that 1920s to any other older pu erh that you have tried, from memory? Say 88 Qingbing?


or red mark 1950s?


^difficult to see in the images you posted vs those on Clouds site, but that 50s red mark looks significantly darker until the 11th or so infusion, then it looks similar to the 1920 you have.

Amazon founder just bought 2 homes in Los Angeles area for $250Mil, few yrs ago, from Drouhin cellars, last few bottles of '45 Romanee Conti went for record $1/2Mil, rare whiskey for $1Mil+, all the toys of the very rich.

About a decade ago, on a blog from Chinese national living in New York, guy was ranting about some late 19th century puer his family got a hold of...biggest dickest competition. Also claimed he had tried puer from 1,000+ yr old trees, as well as Fu Shou Shan from the exclusive highest portion of the farm *above* 2,600+m...could be a BS'er.

I did a quickNdirty Photoshop adjust on the images using 'gamma' below links, because both yours & Clouds 2007 images are obtained using cameras that do not have much dynamic range-so detail is too dark to see on my screen at maximum brightness level, along with reflections from moisture on the leaves, makes it difficult.

It looks like a few of the red mark leaves on the right of the image opened up fully & are intact. Whereas your spent 1920s did not seem to open up fully, though I do not see any breakage/crumbling of the individual leaves...they seem intact, just did not open as fully?



With that much stems-to-leaf ratio, I would expect a tiny amount residual tannin even after a century? 'structure' (acid/fruit extraction/tannin balance) is what makes for long lived wines.

TeaMasters said...

Thanks for your interesting comment.
According to my knowledge, the English translation on puerh cakes wrappers didn't start before the 1970s...

The question of comparing the 1920s to puerhs from the 50s, 60s or 70s is very quite interesting. We know from top red wines that there comes a time when they reach a top for a certain time and then start to go down. Your question is: is a 1920s still getting better, same as a 1950s or already going down?
Well, this is also a matter of what one looks for in an aged puerh. Does the increased finesse and purity make up for the loss of power that comes with time? This may also be a personal preference (and depend on the puerh). Personally, I feel that my 1920s isn't that different from my 1950s and 1960s. And it terms of price value, a 1950s or 1960s (or even my 1970s) are so much better while not being that different.

The darkness of the color won't say much, because the concentration of the brew has a bigger impact than the age. And I brewed it rather light, I believe. Also, the spent leaves still had some flavors. I could/should have boiled them (as many do nowadays). Next time! And these leaves are the top of the bag. The broken leaves are at the bottom of my bag!