pátek 18. května 2012

Some thoughts on modern tea and its aging

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?

8 komentářů:

  1. This was an interesting read. I'm new to your blog, but so far I like your thoughts. I agree that it does seem like aged teas today have more "mysterious" origins. It will be interesting to look back in 10-20 years and say "Those teas didn't turn out the way we thought".

  2. It is hard to imagine an insipid, weak tea getting stronger as it ages. Some overly strong teas can, even after 15 years, still be incredibly aggressive and difficult to drink. I've just had one recently, and the time investment necessary for aging this thing is not something that makes me think is worthwhile. So, just working off the principle that strength only diminishes, one should seek out teas that are strong in some way, whatever it is you're looking for.

    I think the whole "redness" thing is way overblown - just because some leaves show some redness doesn't really mean anything at all, and some of the teas which exhibit this trait (of which there are many) have gone on to age just fine. Also, there are plenty of oolongs, for example, that brew a neon green. Nevertheless, they're oxidized tea. So, colour or some perceived "red" taste are, in and of themselves, very unreliable indicators that have little predictive value, and some regions produce teas that are inherently "redder" than others. The idea that all puerh produced should conform to some standard colour/taste is rather disturbing given the diversity in ecology as well as the human intervention required for such production. If anything, overly green puerh are even more dangerous.

  3. MarshalN: Yes, that's what I ment - strength is necessary in any case if one wants to age a cake. What I said was that I was unsure whether good features of young tea will become a good features of aged tea.

    I agree the redness may be overblown. Many teas with some red leaves are very nice, I have no problem with that. However, I found a certain subset of teas which were reddish and they had a nasty part of their taste - and this negative feature was shared by all these not nice teas (from different regions, it is not a problem of a single place).

    Still, that's what I proposed - that we maybe should not be too afraid of a certain degree of preoxidation in tea.

    Trevor: Thanks! Yes, I'm also looking forward to reviewing the teas which are good by today's standards.


  4. I can't comment intelligently on redness in pu-erhs as I haven't experienced enough of them... With greens, however, I don't mind a couple reddish leaves. Even my 2012 first flushes that just came in had a couple red leaves in it, and the tea tasted gorgeous. I think a little bit of oxidation is not only inevitable, but unavoidable.

  5. Dear Jakub,

    What a dramatic post! I did not expect literary drama in the middle of a pu-erh post but I enjoyed it enormously. I'm wracking my brains to match up your stories...

    a) A XiZhi Hao that was well stored in a luxury home and then a hurricane sadly destroyed the roof of the house, causing all the cakes to get wet, grow mold and had to be thrown out.

    b) A cheap twiggy shu brick made of lowest quality bug eaten autumn picked leaves, got roasted in Taiwan, and turned into something quite interesting!

    c) Ordinary Haiwan LTZ - did "allright" all around.

    d) A cheap sheng made of lowest quality leaves laden with pesticides was put through Pen Shui, got too moldy, got sold but was thrown out because it made the drinker ill.

    In about 10 more years or less, I think the world will definitely have more concrete evidence of what "premium young cakes" did manage to prove their worth. But speculation is also fun no?


  6. Ahoj Jakub

    You are around puerh tea for a couple of years and I would be interested how do you store your tea. Central European climate is bit dry for aging, so do you have some place with controlled temperature/humidity? What are the results? thanks


  7. Hi Norbert,
    I store my puerh in cardboard boxes in the study at home - occasionally opening them and letting some air inside.

    I guess I'm lucky to live in a weird building - living room has 60%, study has 70-80, depending on ventilation and bedroom can get up to 90% if not ventilated - so I have no issues with lack of humidity I guess.
    All the best,

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