Sometimes I wonder why we bother at all with young puerhs.
I’m attending a conference these next few days, and today during lunch with some current and former colleagues, the topic of tea came up. Eventually it got onto the subject of puerh, and aged puerh, and other aged foodstuffs, and one person asked “can’t you just buy a bottle of scotch and age it too?” Well, you can’t, because you need to buy a whole barrel of the stuff to age to make it even drinkable, or something like that. I have never heard of anybody drinking raw whisky.
And in some ways, this is more similar to puerh than the usual analogy of wine. After all, a fine Bordeaux is still, from what I understand, very drinkable now, even when new. It just gets better with age, but it doesn’t need age to be a good drink now.
Puerh, however, is not quite like that. Sure, there are some puerhs that are decent to drink now, and I think generally speaking people are acquiring more of a taste for younger puerhs, but the fact is that the drink is designed to be aged — it’s the aged stuff that you’re after, not the young stuff. Many of us who buy young cakes are not buying for the “drink it now” category, but rather the “let it sit and get better” category, and it dawned on me that in some ways, it’s rather absurd. This is not like buying a case of wine and let it sit at home. Rather, it’s more like buying a raw barrel of whisky and hope that in 10, 15, 20, 30 years, it will get better with age and become a great barrel of whisky (yes, I know, that’s only the minimum age of the whisky in the bottle). The young product, with a super high alcohol content, etc, is not really what you will call whisky. The law, at least, governs that scotch needs to be aged for at least 3 years, and generally more…
Now…. the difference is that nobody ever buys full barrels of whisky or wine, take them home, and age them in their own rooms. That’s insane — the costs, the trouble, and the risks. Yet, we do it all the time with young puerh cakes. We run all the risk, and we don’t even know for sure, in many parts of the world, whether this stuff will age well at all. A Hong Kong tea merchant told me that he’s sold a container of puerh to Australia before, and within a year he took it all back, because the tea’s quality went down… it got worse over time in the rather dry climate there. Lots of people from Hong Kong believe that a tea only ages well in a wetter environment.
Who’s right? Who knows. People in Beijing think that maybe in 10 years, in addition to HK storage, Taiwan storage, Malay storage, we will have things like Beijing storage with a distinctive taste to it. I’m just afraid that Beijing storage might be bad, dry, rough young puerh with funny tastes. I’ve had one or two of those, and I’m afraid of seeing more.