Although I do enjoy occasional 14 hours long coding streaks from time to time, I have to admit that I am not a person who would enjoy studying for exams 14 hours a day for too long. I have to switch between studying and doing other things - playing the pipes, trying to paint bamboo and writing about tea (and drinking it, of course). I hope you won't mind my occasional babblings about tea in general - it is one of few ways how I can relax a bit. Today, I'll redirect the stream of my thoughts to a blog post - I'd love to hear more people's opinions on the discussed matters.
Thinking about famous aged teas one reads about, I realized how little I know about their origins. Occasionally, I read that an acquaintance of an acquaintance has said that they were quite nasty, yet they are good now. Now, we have pure old and/or wild trees everywhere. Did these famous older teas come from such material? I somehow doubt it, given the large quantities being produced. Even though they were of no great material from today's perspective, they are strong and energetic now. These days, we get a lot of tasty "premium" young tea. How is this tea going to age though? Some vendors have answer right away - their teas will age into something wonderful. I'll leave them to their fairytales and say - how can we know? Are the premium teas of today supposed to get to the "aged" stage at all?
It has been a great education to drink some aged tea, but their common factor was that the "original character" got somewhat lost (or I believe), at least from the perspective of taste. What is so good about the premium teas of today? Large part of their quality lies, in my opinion, in their enjoyable taste, which is admittedly backed by good mouthfeel and energy.
For me, the appreciation of young tea, "mid-age" (about 10 years) and aged teas are quite a different thing and I look for different features in such teas. Many premium teas are really nice when young, compared to the mainstream cakes. The best mid-age teas I've had came probably from a sort of premium material of that time (around 2001-2), yet they generally shone in taste mostly - their energy was not really that different from the energy of more normal mid-aged tea (I say "not that" - it was slightly better). I.e., I think that the energy/mouthfeel advantage of premium tea (which is obvious in young age) tends to become smaller in mid-age.
What is the situation like with truly aged tea? They have a great energy as they are. Will the premium aged teas have greater energy? When I tasted the aged teas from Essence of tea, there were differences in taste, however, was it because the tea was "premium" (from today's point of view) when young? I think that such a claim would be very daring to say the least. And, although the difference in taste was noticeable, it was not really principal. Will the advantages of young premium teas last even when the tea becomes aged? I do not know and I would love to hear relevant opinions!
I definitely do not dismiss premium teas, I just wonder if the attitude "this tea is premium due to x,y,z premium features, store it for 20 years, it will become a marvel" won't lead to disappointment of buyers. I, similarly definitely, do not want to sound as I think it is not important what material are we going to age - it is crucial, obviously - some "strength" is necessary and nasty young tea will probably became acceptable aged tea at most. I am simply not as sure as some people, that positive features of young tea will become positive features of aged tea. What do you think?
To draw a (possibly not too clever) parallel, let me sketch four different schematic people:
a) A handsome boy from rich family - had everything he wanted, did rather well in school, had many girls in his teenage years, everyone liked him as he was "fun to be with" (i.e., paying for others). In his 30s, he had a successful bussiness, fuelled by money of his parents. Then, a financial crisis came and he came bankrupt... as he had no money, everyone has left him, he could not do anything too well as he was used to being liked and not used to do that much actually. Died of drug overdose.
b) An ugly, physically not too able intelligent kid. Was laughed at by other kids in school, girls did not like him much as he was "the nerd" and "no fun" (did not enjoy throwing up on friends on alco-parties). However, he did well in school and when he got older, he worked himself up to a respected position, found a good and caring wife and lived a happy, inspired life.
c) An ordinary person - did "allright" in school, came from family of shopkeepers. After leaving high school, he took over the family shop. He eventually married a wife, had four kids and lived an unremarkable, but rather happy life.
d) A child of alcoholic musician father and a woman selling flowers. Was aggressive since childhood, which gave him a certain position between schoolmates, but when intelligence was needed (e.g., in high school), he failed wherever he set foot. Instead of school, he went to pubs with a company of like-minded fellows. He spent his life as an occasional cheap work-force, spending his money on booze and smoking. Married a worn-out prostitute so that he did not have to pay her anymore. She eventually caught HIV and infected her husband. They both died angry, cursing the world.
Many more people could be sketched, however, I hope that my point is clear at this stage... However, as it could be easily misunderstood, I would like to stress out the difference between "will happen" and "may happen".
The second matter of aging, not really related to the first matter is - how is it with the puerh's redness? The high inquisitor, revered Hobbesius has stated his opinion when burning reddened heretics on numerous occasions. I met some reddish tea which was fine, on the other hand, some (Guanzizai mostly) which had a nasty tint in taste - I found that that nastiness was shared by most nasty reddish teas I met.
Of course, some producers may oxidize their leaves on purpose, "making it more appealing" (to masochists?). However, as I have been given to understand, it is mostly simply a processing problem, not necessarily made on purpose. I have read in various sources that such an oxidation may commonly happen when a tea harvesting person stuffs his "tea bag" too much and the leaves at the bottom are pressed too much and start oxidizing. Or when a tea is shaken too much on its journey to the processing place, the leaves may break and start oxidizing too.
This leads me to a question - how "reddened" were the famous teas of earlier times? The production was probably massive and I am not sure if much care was paid to the leaves not starting to oxidate early. When we drink the nice aged teas, are they not what we now call "reddened" tea?
What do you think, dear readers?