Monday, June 24, 2013

Tasting my way through the pumidor

I continue to bang through the tea cakes in the pumidor, often several a day, making note of what I find and endlessly fascinated by the whole process. When I started this endeavor a couple months ago the first thing I noticed was that the teas seemed to be weak and subdued pretty much across the board. I also noticed that the terrific aromas that used to emanate from the pumidor were now also subdued and quiet. The only difference I could find (aside from the passage of time) was a change in RH. When I first started down the path of controlled humidity I'd set the RH around 70%, but for reasons I've already covered here I dropped it to 55% many months ago. So, curious to know if the subdued character of the teas now might be related, I recently (slowly) bumped the RH back up to around 63%. Within a week (even with just a few degrees of change) the cabinet was smelling heavenly again. Still, the teas have yet to respond when brewed. I think this is due to the length of time it takes for the humidity in the cabinet to penetrate the cakes in the cabinet. I've noticed that it takes a couple of months for the humidity to stabilize inside the cabinets, so my guess is that the initial bump in aroma is due to just the surface of the tea cakes responding, but the interiors of the cakes will take some time to catch up. As always, time will tell.

You've probably noticed that I'm no longer dedicating whole posts to waxing poetic about specific teas. Lots of different reasons for this, but I'm going to break from that norm here. Might as well mention some of the teas that have impressed me as I taste my way through the cabinet. This is not meant to be a roaring endorsement or guarantee that you or anyone else will also find merit, it's just a mention of what I've been drinking (pretty much randomly removed from the shelves) and what I've been enjoying.

2005 Seven Sons on top, 2006 Douji on the bottom
A few years ago, a wise tea drinker with decades of experience with puer showed me some tea cakes that had staining around the edges of the wrapper. He told me this was a good sign and signified an active tea. Of the teas in my cabinet, this 2006 Douji Large Leaf sheng (pictured above) is the most edge-stained of all. I pulled it out recently to give it a taste. I admit I had high hopes it would shine, so was surprised to find the taste and aroma to be quite subdued (again, this could be due in part to what's mentioned above). But nearly every tea has it's strengths and weaknesses (some have no strengths at all, like a 1997 Feng Qing mini-tuo I sampled recently, and once in a rare while you hit on one that seems to have few, if any, weaknesses). Despite the subdued aroma and taste, this Douji impressed me with it's viscous silky mouthfeel and a deep, strong and spreading qi. Overall, it reminded me of what I've come to associate with truly old tree sheng, with it's subtlety accompanied with thick mouthfeel and deep qi. But the qi was short-lived and not as long lasting as some others I've had. This leaves me with questions -- how much of the character profile I've been attributing to "old tree" is really more correctly attributable to large leaf varieties? It seems another branch has sprouted for me on the path of learning puerh.

Another tea I enjoyed a great deal recently was a 2005 Seven Sons Wide Arbor sheng (also pictured above). It had turned the corner toward aging, exhibiting a terrific sweet woody aroma, good complexity and was full of vibrancy and strong activity, to boot. Really pleasant all around. I'll be looking to pick up several more of these if they're still available (this one was from Best Tea House in Canada). It'll be interesting, though, to compare the newly purchased cakes to the one I've been storing since first acquiring it a few years ago. As with most teas I sit with, I'm left with more questions to explore -- how much of the sweet aged character of this tea is due to how it's been stored here at my house? Will the new cakes I purchase taste the same and be as enjoyable as this one? It's another "buyer beware" scenario.