Smokiness is a common thing in younger puerh, especially teas that were made a few years ago or earlier. In recent years, I’ve found that processing has generally been done more carefully to avoid smoke — for good reason, because intense smokiness tends to drive down the price of the tea.
Smoke is a by-product of the processing of puerh, generally attributed to older frying techniques with pans and not-so-careful management of smoke in the fire, etc. I remember back in the day, friends with far more experience would tell me that the older teas that are now worth thousands, such as Yellow Label, were intensely smokey when new, in addition to being sour, bitter, and generally quite nasty. Since those turned out well (partly thanks to traditional storage, I believe) smoke was sometimes seen as a good thing by these friends, because it’s another additional character that adds substance for the tea to change over time. With the advent of dry storage, however, I’m not sure if that mantra holds true anymore.
I had a mix of two teas today, because they were samples running too low for an individual sitting. The two teas are a 2006 Yongde Organic from YSLLC, and a 2002 CNNP Bingdao from Puerhshop (no longer available). I remember trying them a long time ago, but I don’t remember much about them. I’m pretty sure neither were earth shatteringly good. One, though, was clearly quite smokey, because it still is as I drank it today. Both teas I’ve had for a few years now, sitting in small plastic bags in my samples box. As airing-out goes, these samples are pretty aired out. Yet, when I brewed it, the smoke persists. It’s not as strong as it must have been, once upon a time, but it is still there, very prominent, obvious, and distracting.
Smoke eventually goes away, in the right kind of environment, but until it does, the tea is rarely enjoyable. Since only about 1/2 of the sample I drank today contained smokey tea (I’m pretty sure only one was smokey, not both) it is important to note how they do, in fact, linger for years. One tea is from 06, the other 02, so five years in North American storage did very little to the smoke. It is a good reminder of how this works.
The tea is otherwise quite good — and because they have been blended as two components, I think the mouthfeel is quite full and luscious. The tea has strength, and given some more years, will probably turn out to be quite decent. On the downside, they are still quite young tasting, and are only beginning to show some age. Dry stored teas require a lot of patience, and even then, the right environment. Only engage in it if you’re ready and willing to enter a long term relationship with the cakes you buy.