For the last couple months I’ve mostly been drinking young Raw/Sheng Pu-Erh Tea fresh from factories or distributors that is less than a year or two old.
However, there is another element to consider, which is the aging of Pu-Erh Tea.
To go back over the basics.
All tea comes from varieties and species of the Camellia plant, usually Camellia sinensis or Camellia assamica.
Most Pu-Erh tea is made from varieties of Camellia assamica.
Tea is made by picking the young leaves and buds of Camellia bushes and trees.
After the leaves and buds have been plucked they can be processed by simply drying them relatively quickly. The result of this is what is called “White Tea”.
If, instead of simply drying, you first steam or shock the leaves in a wok, the green color will be fixed, and, after drying, the result is “Green Tea”.
For Pu-Erh Tea, the leaves and buds are allowed to wilt slightly, shocked, (as with green tea,) and then dried. The result is a product called “maocha”, which can then either be aged as it is or steamed slightly and formed into various solid shapes for ease of transport and aging. The most common shape is a disk shape, commonly called a “bing” or “beeng” which will weigh between 100-500g, (357g being the “traditional” weight for a full size bing) . These Bing are usually wrapped in paper and then further wrapped in bamboo leaves in groups of 7, (7, traditionally, but sometimes more or less). This package of 7 tea cakes is called a “tong”.
Pu-Erh collectors and enthusiasts highly prize Pu-Erh which has been stored well for many years.
As you might imagine, the weather in the area where the tea is stored, and the exact conditions of the warehouse it is stored in, affects how fast it matures and the character it takes on.
“Wet Storage” Pu-Erh comes from warehouses in areas like Malaysia, Hong Kong, and Guangdong, which are quite warm and humid in the summer months. In these areas where aging proceeds relatively more rapidly, a 15 year old Pu-Erh might be considered “partially aged” or “aged”, depending on the exact conditions of the warehouse.
“Dry Storage” Pu-Erh is stored in areas where the humidity and temperature are lower in summer and it might be cooler in winter. An example of a common dry storage city in China would be Kunming. Tea stored for 15 years in a dry storage warehouse would still be considered relatively young Pu-Erh.
While it is not intentionally infected with mold spores, (some other Chinese teas are intentionally infected with types of mold,) “Wet Storage” Pu-Erh can take on flavors that resemble mold or mildew, depending on your sensitivity to those flavors. Some may even show mold visually. Some people like those flavors, some do not.
A tea friend of mine is super enthusiastic about wet stored Pu-Erh, so I thought I would give them a try and see how I felt about them.
Conveniently, Yunnan Sourcing offers a Guangdong Aged Raw Pu-Erh Tea Sampler. The teas in the sample are all at least partially aged, most having been stored in Guangdong for around 15 years.
One of my favorite parts about Yunnan Sourcing’s listings for aged teas are warnings like this, “Wrappers may be bug bitten from humid storage conditions. If you are squeamish don’t order this tea!” and this, “Wrappers have disintegrated a bit due to bamboo worms that eat the bamboo leaf tongs. It does not impact the taste of the tea!”
So, consider yourself warned!
Initial impressions in scent are of smoke. No real Wet Storage Funk, the YS site notes this was stored in, “dry Guangdong conditions”. Presents fairly bitter in early steeps. As the steeps advance changing the smoke evolves to leaf tobacco and finally leather.
Be careful with the steep times on this, or you may find yourself in a little over your head. This is a STRONG in every sense of the word tea, burly and a little harsh, both in flavor and in buzz. I can’t say I find it entirely pleasant.
Fairly leafy, stemmy cake, not very bud heavy.
Pleasant, mildly bitter tea with some astringent notes similar to a black tea. No detectable funky “wet storage” flavors. Lingering complex camphor, herb, and fruit character in the lengthy finish. Strong, clean, fast acting head buzz.
A very well balanced and drinkable tea, especially for the price.
Oof, I have a hard time with this one.
If you want a good example of funky camphor/mushroom “wet storage” raw Pu-erh flavor, this one has it. And from what other people write about this tea, this isn’t even that funky. Not sure I can deal with really funky wet storage, if this is mild!
On the other hand, whatever is growing on it, has transformed the later flavors of the tea into an interesting thick brown sugar-like flavor. No bitterness or astringency. Strong, warming, chest centered buzz.
Early flavors remind me a bit of black tea, but with very little bitterness or astringency. Some mild smoky character. Lengthy sweet aftertaste reminds me a bit of roasted chicory. No musty wet storage character to speak of.
Another very well balanced tea, with a very interesting aftertaste. Might be my favorite of the sample group!
A little smoke in the nose. Mild, well balanced complex flavor with only slight bitterness and astringency. More floral and herbaceous with lingering tobacco, freshly cut wood. No sweetness, but a nice camphor and herb lift in the later steeps.
A very, very good tea, but a completely different experience from the other four.
As an exercise, I find drinking these well aged teas to be a fascinating exercise. But as I contemplate their flavors, I am not sure I find the taste of “Wet Storage” to be my favorite at this point in my life.
Out of the five, two I don’t really enjoy; The Big Yellow Mark is just too rough for me and the “Wet Storage” character of the Big Snow Mountain is just not enjoyable for me. 2 I find intriguing enough that I will enjoy the rest of the sample, Gu Pu-er Cha Ma Gu Dao and Pasha Mountain Gushu. Finally, one I find enjoyable enough I might buy a cake, the Feng Qing Jia Ji Er Deng.
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