03 October 2009

Would You Pay $3/month for Bliss?

Puerh.  I still don't drink a lot of it, but I'm starting to develop a taste for it.  It used to be that when people asked me what I thought about puerh, my answer was the same:

"I can understand that some people really like something about it, but I don't like it more than oolong.  I just don't get it."

I questioned the reasoning behind drinking a tea that tastes like a basement smells when there's so much other pleasant stuff to try.  Shiuwen at Floating Leaves would then patiently say to me that one day, I would try a puerh that would taste so good, like "silk water," and then "Bah!" I'd get it.

That happened when a tea friend served me a 1950s/1960s sheng puerh in August.  I admittedly know little about puerh, but my friend mentioned that the tea was similar to a blue label cake (藍印餅) from around that time period, though I wouldn't know which blue label cake or what that really means since I've never had any other examples of that age of cake before. 

The mouth feel of my friend's tea, though, was amazing. Soft and smooth, just like silk water.  The flavor was only mediocre to me, probably because it's so wildly different than anything I've ever had, but wow, exceptionally smooth mouth feel with intense sweetness that lingered.  It didn't have a hui gan like an oolong has, but a satisfying and deep sweetness that revisits not in the throat but as an airy flavor bouquet with subsequent exhalations.  My tongue felt limp and soft, and the inside of my mouth felt like it was coated with a light touch of oil.  Complete qi from the tea extended up to my crown and down again.  The experience and the energy from the brew was superb.

My friend told me that such a tea still costs nearly $5,000/cake, and that's if you can get a good deal.  Holy smokes!  But he explained that although this cake was very expensive, there are ones that are similar in style, from the 1980s, that may cost less than $1000 from a good source.

Expensive?  Yes.  But he put it this way:  taken as a whole, the tea leaves, environmental factors, human technique and cake quality were generally better in the old days.  It's his belief that in a hypothetical sci-fi situation where we could, right now, take a 1950s red label puerh (about 60 years old) and then time-jump to the year 2060 to taste the old red label against a premium 2000s cake, the one from the 1950s would clearly be better [his caveat was that he has been wrong about how a puerh cake's taste changed over time, so we just won't know how modern cakes will compare to red label until, well, about 2050-2070 or so.]

If you bought a good 1980s cake for $1,000, you could look at it like you paid about $3/ month for it.  Taking a good tea base that was pressed into cake form, you are essentially paying for the time it took to perfect the product.  If we have a stellar vintage sometime over the next 10 years, it's unlikely I will live long enough to enjoy it when it has softened to the extent of a famed 1950s era cake.  I have never had any other tea like it, so while it may be expensive, it's worth paying for so that I can experience it within my lifetime.

Very few teahouses will serve this type of tea, since very few people have it.  I remember seeing red label puerh on the menu of Wistaria Teahouse in Taipei.  I don't recall whether or not there was pricing for it on the menu, but I'm sure it would cost quite a bit more than the $100/pot aged Dong Ding (also completely worth the price).

A tea lover that finds, experiences and can join with the essence of an extraordinary tea will have a life-changing experience.  A stellar tea overwhelms the senses, enveloping the mind in delightful intoxication that one will never forget.  To experience the pinnacle of the art of tea craftsmanship and the beauty that can be created by a human's manipulation of leaves, heat and water is beyond magnificent. 

Drink good tea and enrich your life.

1 comment:

  1. It's so true that with Puerh the finer stuff can give an incredible experience. When I first got into Puerh, I usually had stiff shoulders from how my body tensed up as a result of the cheap green Puerh I'd been drinking. When I drank some higher-quality with silver-white tips mixed in, I was healed of the tension-reaction permanently. Now when I drink the cheaper stuff it doesn't bother me, as if I've passed that gateway and gone on to understand the tea with a softened perception. --Spirituality of Tea