In terms of teas I drink these past few days, nothing’s been really exciting. I had more of my rougui (the 2006 version) in the pot yesterday, and it turned out better than the first try. Maybe my intense seasoning effort paid off last time (the tea sat in the pot for a whole day). Maybe it’s just that I messed up the first time, I don’t know.
Then today I had bits of the brick I bought. Didn’t come out as well as last time. I wonder why… it’s got some qi, but the flavours are a bit lacking. I think I am more confident in saying that this was a not-very-well-stored puerh. It’s got a bit of a cooked flavour. Now when I smell it it’s no longer got that nasty mouldy smell. Let’s hope it stays this way.
On the other hand, I was studying the cake I bought a few days ago a little more, and noticed some things
The parts I circled are all leaves that are yellow/light green. From what I’ve been reading the past few days on Sanzui (Chinese), there are, supposedly, two kinds of teas that are now making their way into puerh cakes. There’s the Yunnan Green (dianlu), and there’s the Yunnan Dark Green (dianqing). YDG is the stuff you want in puerh — it is what makes puerh “go”, so to speak. YG, on the other hand, are more or less green tea.
So what’s the difference?
I think they differ mainly in the processing. YDG is processed at lower temperatures duing the shaqing (literally Killing Green) process. That’s when the enzymes and what not are destroyed and the oxidation stops for the tea. Green tea, as we usually know it, is proceed at a high temperature where the shaqing takes place rapidly, thus preserving the green colour of the tea and stops oxidation quickly. White tea, as we all know, is processed more naturally and thus the leaves are actually a little oxidized. YDG, then, is processed more like white tea, I guess — where temperature is low and they should be naturally dried under the sun. They are what should be used for puerh.
So why add YG?
YG adds flavours — nice aromas and that kind of thing. Adding YG to the cake makes it more palatable NOW. There are lots of people who buy puerh not to drink 10 years from now, but rather to just drink it now, and YG makes the tea nice, smooth, mellow, drinkable, with good aromatics and lack of bitterness that makes YDG nasty to drink now, sometimes. YG’s colour is lighter — greenish, yellowish, whereas YDG is darker green, more like a forest green than a leafy green. We’ve all seen the difference. So YG being added to cakes is really a matter of how the market is moving and what people want from their puerh.
This, of course, leaves many questions unanswered. YG supposedly ages poorly, because it basically decays like green tea does over time, and instead of enhancing flavours, it loses it. Supposedly, the tea’s colouring rapidly changes and before you know it, you’ve got a brown pack of tea that really doesn’t taste very good. YDG, supposedly, doesn’t do this and ages like a normal puerh should/would.
But does this mean we should look for the nasty tasting cakes? If the 90s Xizihao cakes are any indication, then no. They seem to age decently well, although, admittedly, I worry about its tastes another 10-15 years from now. But then, those cakes obviously do taste just fine now, and probably will taste quite nice 10 years from now.
I’ve also heard theories that wilder tress/older trees/arbour trees tend to produce tea that are more palatable, not as bitter, etc. Are those just YG in disguise, where a dishonest merchant is trying to cheat me of my money in goading me to buy crap tea? Maybe the merchant himself is being misled? Or is what I read completely wrong?
I’ve been reading things that say that lots of the processing of raw leaves for puerh is extremely unscientific, and when you think about it, sun dried tea, by definition, has to be unscientific. If you plucked the tea today, and luck has it that the weather turned quickly and starts to rain in the evening when you’re trying to lay out your tea for drying — what do you do? You use the oven to dry it instead of leaving it outside. What if it’s cloudy that day? What if the weather is especially cold? Lots of things can happen, and can really affect the tea that is made.
I am starting to think that I need to apply the shotgun method — buy lots of different things, and hope that some things turn out good. There are cakes that do seem to be poor prospects for aging, like this one that I bought recently, but then, does anybody really know? Maybe it will turn into a reasonable cake in 5-10 years, and that given the initial cost, becomes a decent investment. I honestly don’t know the answer, and I’m not sure if anybody really does.