Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Pumidor update: 90's Small Yellow Label from Essence of Tea

(photo courtesy of Douglas King)
So far so good with the pumidor storage experiment.  Too bad I can't upload aromas to this blog.  You'll have to take my word for it that the smell in that room is incredible. Soon I'll go in to do a thorough check for signs of mold, but I do check individual cakes frequently and all looks well.

Recently I was presented with a great opportunity to do a taste comparison of the 90's Small Yellow Label puerh that Essence of Tea carries.  Although I've kept some teas out of the pumidor to do taste comparisons with (those which I have several cakes of) I haven't done this with the older pricier cakes.  But at a recent gathering at Floating Leaves Tea it was discovered that another attendee had this same cake, purchased from Essence of Tea at around the same time (about a year ago).  He's kept his cakes stored in his house without added humidity, while mine has been kept in 70% RH (75-80 F temperature) for the better part of the last 7 or 8 months (initially the air tights bins, then moved to the pumidor).  We arranged to each bring our cakes to a tasting session at Floating Leaves for a comparison.

(another great picture by Doug King)
I didn't know what to expect.  Seven months is not a long time.  Would there be a difference?  As it turned out, there was.  First, the cakes themselves showed a difference in color, with the pumidor stored cake being slightly but discernibly darker.  The tea soup, as well, showed the same slightly darker hue.  But the most pronounced difference was in the taste.  The pumidor stored cake was smoother, deeper in flavor, with less of the edge that the drier stored cake showed.  All seven of those who were present to taste it were in agreement.  The difference was clear.

(Doug, thanks again for letting me use your great photos!)
But while I took this as a good sign and a welcome affirmation for all this pumidor stuff, there's still the possibility that other factors may have played a part outside of the humidity component.  After our group tasted the two teas there was some good discussion about it.  It could be that our two cakes were from different tongs, perhaps even with a different storage history, acquiring variances in taste long before they came into our possession.  Unfortunately we can't turn the clock back a year to taste them when they were first bought by us.  There were also questions about whether my cake might have acquired some flavor nuances from being stored next to other cakes in my collection.  Another good point to consider.  In the end, while the comparison was an interesting one and might seem to affirm the value of controlled humidity in storage, it's ultimately inconclusive.  But it does warrant more comparative tastings, and it definitely prompts me to bite the bullet and break off a (small!) chunk from a few of my nicer cakes to set aside (removed from the pumidor) for future comparisons.

Finally, thanks to Shiuwen and Floating Leaves Tea for hosting some truly fun and educational tastings, thanks to a great group of tea lovers who come to be part of the fun and be treated to some very good tea, and thanks especially to Doug, the man behind the camera.