Tasting 1980s Green Yinhao Puer

Dry leaf of 1980s Yinhao PuerI had an interesting experience a couple of weeks ago that I’m only now getting a chance to write about. I should start out by saying that what I like about tea is strongly weighted in favor of factual information. That’s not to say I don’t like drinking it or whatever, but I don’t have a super-fantastic palate and I read other tea blogs that are of the “tasting journal” variety more to glean data than to try to figure out what particular nuances their authors are finding in a particular tea. I should also say that I’m more of a wulong kinda guy than a puer lover. Puer is very interesting and I enjoy drinking it, but it doesn’t make me light up like a new kind of wulong that I’ve never heard of before.

Liquor of 1980s Yinhao PuerThat said, I’d often heard (and occasionally repeated) that if you taste a cooked (or “shu”) puer next to a naturally aged green (or “sheng”) puer, the natural aging process would win out over the “forced” aging process of the shu puer. Well, I finally buckled down and did the experiment. On two different occasions, I tasted an old green against a young cooked puer. The green was a Yinhao sheng puer tuocha (or for those puer beginners, a bunch of naturally aged and fermented tea leaves pressed into the shape of a bowl or bird’s nest) from the 1980s. It was also my first sheng puer of that age…most of my puer experience is of ones made in the last 10 years or so.

Infusion of 1980s Yinhao PuerThe first cooked was a Menghai Tea Factory bing from December 2005, and the other bing was one that I don’t have any information on but was a similar kind of decent-quality cooked puer.

And my experience was that the cooked puers had a “bigger” flavor, and that the flavor seemed somehow “damp.” Puer is going to be earthy no matter how you cut it, but the shu/cooked ones tend towards the fall leaves / fresh soil / basement kinds of flavors.

Liquor of brewings 1, 3, and 6 of 1980s Yinhao PuerThe Yinhao, though, was certainly of a different breed. My first and strongest image was that of being several floors above the basement, in some kind of old manor-house library or historical archive. It was a dry-earthy flavor…delicate, like old books, but also with little hints of things to discover by flipping through the (if you’ll forgive me for mixing metaphors with a single word) leaves.

The side-by-side comparison with the unknown cooked puer happened to be at an introductory puer class. The general consensus amongst the puer beginners was that they liked the cooked one better than the aged green. My guess is that it was that the stronger, more basic flavor of the cooked tea was easier to “get” whereas the aged green was something you’d not pick up on unless you had some more puer experience under your belt.

Or, it could just be that cooked puer tastes better to most folks and it’s that us tea geeks think the aged greens are supposed to be better so our minds play tricks with our experience. Who knows…but if you get a chance to repeat my experience, I encourage you to take it, and to let me know about what you noticed.

P.S. — I got 14 or 15 brews out of the Yinhao, whereas I didn’t get nearly as many of the other two. So the aged green had more staying power than the two particular samples of cooked that I used. The picture to the right shows steepings #1 at 30 seconds, #3 at 50 seconds, and #6 at a minute and a half. And yes, it really did get darker and then lighter again.

The PSCS Tea Class is Awesome

PSCS students taste keemunFor the last four years, I’ve been teaching a tea class at a unique and cutting-edge school called the Puget Sound Community School. The class meets once per week and I cover some aspect of tea–sensory testing, culture, history, processing, geography, chemistry, biology, or (as we did a couple of weeks ago) just sitting around in the library drinking tea and watching Wallace and Gromit with crackers and Wensleydale.

Students have come and gone over the years, but they’ve developed quite a bit of tea skill and knowledge, if I do say so myself. When I challenged them with a blind taste test of several wulongs and had them guess (by taste only) the general level of oxidation and general level of roast of each tea, the basic consensus amongst the students was pretty accurate.

I brought in three Keemun teas (a congou, a mao feng, and a hao ya) and brewed them according to the ISO sensory test for black tea guidelines–without milk–their average scores for each tea clearly ranked them in order of quality. This tasting is what’s shown in the photo.

And I’ve already written about the comparison I did in my Dragonwell tasting post and the followup I did at PSCS in my Dragonwell at PSCS post. If you’ve been following along, you’ll recall they nailed that one as well. Who knew junior high and high school students would be able to so accurately determine price and quality of tea just by taste?

They do me proud.