I went to meet some guy from the Taiwanese tea forum t4u today. He just posted an open invitation for anybody in the Taipei area to come. It was supposed to be a 3 people affair, but I was the only one who showed up at his place, so it ended up just being me and him.
The original focus of the meeting was to drink “Big Tree Tea”, referring to puerh. When I got there, we weren’t sure if the other person was going to show, so he offered to make some Taiwanese shuixian first. This is Wuyi varietal planted in Taiwan (these are mostly gone nowadays). It’s been aged about 20 years… and it’s a very good tea. I quite liked the complexity in the taste, and since I’ve been dabbling in aged oolong these days, it was an interesting contrast. I’ve met a tea or two that tastes like it.
The other guy was still a no show, so we went on to an aged dongding. This is a very different kind of aged dongding than the one I bought. It’s not as heavily fermented, and the agedness is lighter — it has a mild fruity sourness that is interesting instead of revolting. I think I prefer the style of the first instead of the second — not that the second is bad at all.
Still no show, so we proceeded with the puerh. I brought three samples, which we tasted in quick sucession. Nothing too interesting there, with one he thinks more like an old tree tea than the other two, which were more plantation-esque. It’s always nice to exchange views with somebody else on tea, especially youngish puerh. So much tea out there are called “old tree”, but yet very few actually are. I haven’t really devoted much thought to this problem recently, but now that I think about it… one of these cakes is indeed aging faster than the other two, obviously so, in fact. Aging faster in the first few years seems to be something that big tree tea is supposed to do. Maybe that gives me the explanation I needed… not that it really matters either way.
The other thing that we ended up agreeing is that the big tree teas are often less interesting initially — they can be very subdued things that only gradually show their true worth. They’re not teas that will wow your mouth — that’s the work of plantation tea. Instead, they are subtle but strong. The subtlety though can be mistaken for weakness. I know people who routinely think that these are crap because they seem weak.
Will it be better in the long run? This friend (let’s call him N) thinks it will. N thinks, from his experience of drinking teas from the 70s or before, that this is more like the sort of thing that was put into the old cakes. He thinks early spring puerh are a bad deal (the really buddy ones), which I concur as well.
We moved on to two more teas (that’s 7 for those of you who are counting). The first is a 2002 Yiwu which he has and likes… and tastes quite similar in some ways to the Yisheng tea that I bought a few of in Beijing, but only more aged, since the Yisheng is 05. It’s a nice tea, very mellow. The second is a 1996 Purple Dayi… a little more “big factory” ish. N thinks it’s mixed in with some (not a lot) big tree material. Perhaps, although the big factory taste still dominates. At today’s prices for this sort of thing, I’m not sure if it’s all that worthwhile. Interesting stuff though.
I was a bit high on caffeine at the end, but not too terribly so. Still, it was nice to meet somebody new who’s obviously interested and engaged in tea, and has that sort of intellectual curiosity in exploring different things. I wish someday I can throw a tea party for all the people whom I’ve met (and whom I haven’t met, like you lurkers out there), but alas, I’m not Toyotomi Hideyoshi.