Old teas

A pretty good day drinking tea with L and J (the reader of my blog in Shanghai) today.

We went to the home of one of L’s many, many friends.  That friend, a certain Mr. Y, is a lover of old puerh.  He has quite a bit of stuff, but not having had outside, independent verification of his collection, I am sort of brought in as someone who’s tasted a bunch of older stuff.

The first tea we had was the Red Label, ostensibly from the 50s.  It’s an iron cake — tightly compressed.  There are as far as I know many batches of the Red Label during its production run, and some are iron cakes and some aren’t.  The cake in question (he has two tongs) is starting to loosen up on the edges, but still rather tight in the center.  He opened up a new cake for us today, basically, and the wrapper and packaging look pretty prestine.

The tea looks good though.  Big tree leaves, thick, heavy veins, looking like the real deal.  We brewed it up… and it tasted like the real deal.  Not exactly the same kind of taste as I got from YP’s Red Label, nor is it the same as the one I had at Hong Zaotou, but nevertheless, the effect was immediate.  It was the first time for J to taste something like this, and she commented that the tea is more intense after you drink it than before.  Once you’ve swallowed it is when the tea gets good… you can feel the sensation of coolness/pleasantness traveling down your throat, and after about two or three infusions, the qi is hitting your whole body.  The taste is a mellow, plum like taste.  Sweet, old, and quite subtle, it is not a wow tea, but the qi and the feelings are unmistakable.

Having gone through more than 20 infusions of that, we moved on to something else.  By the way, even at around infusion 30, the tea was still tasting like tea — very subtle, very light, but it’s not plain water.

The second tea was something with a bit of a story.  Basically… it was gotten from some rural family where they have an old house that was about to be demolished.  They found, in the attic, a well wrapped paper bag, with tea in it.  The wrapping said Guangxu 7 (1882).  So the tea is probably from that year, or thereabouts.  It’s not puerh, it’s something else, most likely Huizhou tea of some kind (famous for Liu An, but this wasn’t packed in the usual Liu An packaging).

There were a few different kinds of tea in that bag, and we tried one — a mix of some old tea leaves with I think the shell of the tea fruit.  It’s something that is kinda weird — slightly bitter.  Mr Y brewed it while throwing some 1998 Menghai tuo into the mix.  The resulting tea is very interesting…. and obviously very old.  The qi was strong, and I really felt it going up and down my back.  The flavours were not remarkable, but when you drink stuff like this, it’s not about the flavour at all.

The last tea we had, after dinner, was a 7532.  It’s probably from the early 80s, I think, and slightly wet, but still, quite pleasant.  After the food though, the taste was not so obvious.  It was nice, sweet, aromatic… but since we had such superior teas early on, it was no match.

All in all, a nice and educational experience.  Mr. Y is really generous with his teas, and we spent 6 hours drinking three teas…. quite a feat in itself.


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