The New York Times recently ran an article on the appearance recently of white dog whisky on the market. It seems like some hardcore fans of whisky think this is a sacrilege — that maturation is what makes a whisky whisky (after all, they’re not allowed to call it that, at least not the scotch variety), I started thinking about our little favourite here, puerh.
After all, there are parallels here. We talk about aging puerh as an essential process that makes a puerh, well, puerh. It’s not pu if it’s not aged, or so some will argue. Others, usually newer school drinkers, will contest that young, raw puerh is still puerh — it’s just not aged. I think the parallel here with a white dog whisky is quite apt, and in some ways, much more so than wine. A young wine, while it is not quite the same as an aged wine from the same vineyard, will share many resemblances with its older counterpart, whereas there are fundamental and crucial differences between a new make spirit and matured whisky, to the point where a newcomer to the drink will not even recognize them as being the same thing, sans 10 years difference in the cask (said drinker will probably think it’s just some really nasty vodka).
Puerh, I think, belongs to the latter category — no one of their right mind would think that a 15 years old puerh is the same thing as a new born cake. They look different, taste different, and even feel different. The aging process is crucial, and with that, where and how it was aged are also extremely important. I just bought a few things from Taobao, and tried the first of these cakes today — a Kunming stored Yiwu from 2003. It was not very inspiring, and leaves me with a lot of question marks. I know, however, that Kunming is not a particularly good place to store tea for the long haul, and I think I should probably avoid buying Kunming stored tea from now on if at all possible. If I want a new, fresh puerh, I can drink that, but in the end, I find the aged variety much more enjoyable. Some would argue that drinking the unaged cakes will educate you about their future and what the baseline taste of puerh is, but I find that to be a bit of a red-herring — the taste of the tea changes so much over just even a few years of proper storage that it becomes almost unrecognizable. Which is why, again and again, I think only mouthfeel and body ultimately matters in the evaluation of younger puerh.