In my previous blog entry, one of my blog reader friend, Hektor asked me this question; "Wilson, do you think shu puerh improves much with age?"
In my opinion, yes. Here is what I think :
1. Price. Older ripe tea are more expensive than newer ripe teas. A new Dayi 7572 if you browse the online tea shop would cost you about $18-20 per cake. You will realized that the older 7572 cakes would cost more. As I had mentioned in my previous blog, the 2004 7572 cake is about 500rmb, thats about $82. Maybe more now. Tea wholesalers in Guangzhou, dealing with green teas like longjing will usually quickly sell off these green teas within 6 months. Yes, you can prolong the shelf life of green tea leaves by freezing them, but these tea dealers will usually reduce the price of the green teas if they are not sold within 6 months. Pu erh tea, ripe and raw as well as heavy roasted oolongs will be more expensive with age. Ripe tea drinkers are willing to pay more for older ripe pu as the tea taste better with age.
2. Ripe pu erh will develop an aged taste and becomes mellow to drink. In an earlier blog which I had written on ripe tea (link), Cloud, aka Mr Chan Kam Pong, a Hong Kong pu erh expert gave his take on aging of ripe tea. I reproduce his review below:
Pu erh teamaster, Chan Kam Pong from Hong Kong in his tea blog (http://www.cloudsteacollection.com/html/weblog/weblog_e.html), gave a tea review (9 nov 2008) of a 1990s purple sky ripe tea cake. Here is a short excerpt:
“The Purple Sky Ripe Tea Cake had a thick, mellow and sweet tea broth. It had extra smooth texture and finish. It was really a solid tea broth as one could feel it easily. Since it has been aging for more than 15 years, there was not much obvious earthy ripe tea smell left. During appreciation, one might not feel that it was actually a ripe tea cake. To a certain extent, the taste was somehow close to the "aged raw tea". Certainly, there was still differences in the tea broth between the aged raw Puerh and the aged ripe Puerh. Even though the aged ripe tea was so mellow that it was close to the aged raw Puerh, the ripe tea broth was too smooth without much vividness and aftertaste ("Huigan") when comparing with the aged raw tea cakes………All in all, if The Purple Ripe Tea Cake was judged by ripe tea criteria, its performance was extra-ordinary and fantastic as it had extra fine mellowness, sweetness, smoothness and texture.”
3. My opinion is that ripe tea will improve with age. I am no tea expert. Many of my readers of my blog know that I enjoy ripe pu erh tea and have consumed many ripe cakes these past 5 years. I am privileged to drink ripe pu from one to fifteen years old tea. Yes, new ripe pu erh may be unpleasant to drink but I had noticed most tea factories have now mixed in older ripe pu in the tea so making new ripe pu easy to drink. For older ripes, I sensed the tea is more mellow and the taste and aroma as more pronounced than new ripes. I could detect dry fruit berries, or strong herbal aroma and taste, or even a old book leather scent or old wood in older ripe pu erh.
Many tea drinkers tend to compare ripe pu with raw pu, since ripe pu was invented to resemble aged raw. However, I would humbly suggest that you do not compare ripe and raw pu erh together. Both age differently and have different taste and aroma profile. Sounds confusing? I apologize. Just try out the teas for yourself and make your own conclusion. Older ripe pu erh does improve with age.
I would like to add that you should break open a ripe tea cake or brick into smaller pieces, placing the tea in a tea caddy and leave it to 'breathe' for a week before you start brewing your ripe tea. The taste and aroma of the tea will be much improved than if you break a piece of tea from a cake and brew your tea.
1st pix shows a bundle of 90s CNNP ripe bricks. 2nd is the Dayi high mountain ripe. 3rd pix is a lao cha tou Dayi brick, considered a ripe puerh but made up of ripe tea leaves that had lumped together during the tea processing. Last pix is a Xinghai tea factory ripe pu that has a unique dry sandal wood scent in the tea.