A Tea Addict's Journal

Aging takes… time

May 4, 2008 · 7 Comments

I pulled out a sample from a long time ago today — late 2006, when I first got to Beijing. I bought three samples of an up and coming brand back in the day called 12 Gentlemen. I remember I was only mildly impressed by their tea. Today I took out the 12 Gents “Arbour old tree” to try again, since I have a lot of it left. Wonder what a year and half has done to the tea?

Quick answer is… not much.

I’m sure something changed, but it still largely tastes like some very young puerh, with a greenish taste and some early promise of goodness. However, as the tea wore on it became very mediocre…. merely ok. Arbour tree? Maybe, maybe not. One thing worthy of note though is that the tea is very tightly compressed (despite claims of stone-mould pressed). I don’t know how one person stepping on a stone mould can get tea to come out like an iron cake.

Which leads me to the point of… it takes a lot of time to age a tea. I think anything under 10 years for aging a tea is really not much time at all, and just because old teas are not common this side of the Pacific doesn’t mean a tea is somehow more mature by being here. Unfortunately, I think puerhs are really not very good for drinking (if dry stored) until they’ve got maybe 15-20 years of age. Young puerh have their charms, of course, but those charms are really an accident and a bit of an acquired taste. It’s a tea that’s meant to be aged and drunk after some fermentation.

I’ve seen change in some of my teas, but not too many of them. Some have aged faster than others. This sample, having sat mostly in a plastic bag in Beijing and later Taiwan, has barely changed. I’ve had 15 or even 20 years old puerh stored in Taiwan that are only now beginning to be really drinkable, losing the harshness and the roughness that make young puerh difficult to down sometimes (not to mention bad for your body). I sometimes wonder if all this investment into cakes for furture consumption is really worth it, especially when it’s with cakes that are produced in large quantities and will still be available in large quantities in the future. Is it really worth bothering? It’s a lot of kilograms of tea to haul around for 20 years. Wouldn’t it be wiser just to stick the money in an index fund and harvest it 20 years later to buy tea?

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7 responses so far ↓

  • ancientteahorseroad // May 4, 2008 at 1:56 am | Reply

    Of course most pu-erh collectors come to the understanding that it will take an investment of time on their part to see any return on their patience. And of course one could also invest and buy tea much later. However, I believe that to truly understand tea you must be able to see it, taste it, feel it, smell it at all stages. Most who drink and store pu-erh do it more than just for the taste, it is a passion and one that takes commitment. I see no difference in buying young sheng to store than someone buying cases of wine to drink for later consumption. They too can take 20 years before they are ready to drink. Same thing.


  • Wesli // May 4, 2008 at 2:57 am | Reply

    Such sad words!

    I see my buying of young pu-erhs as a sort of adoption. I meet them, and get to know all their natural characteristics. Then watch them grow and develop over time. Eventually, they become mature, and ready for their “Second Harvest.” Then I get to bask in the fruits of my labor (or lack thereof).

    In whole, it is a wonderful journey. One that takes longer than the usual things we adopt into our lives. We get to look back through the changes of a certain tea over time, and relate them to the changes in our own development. Eventually, when we begin to dissolve in our own old age, we are given the chance to look back on our journey through pu-erh, accompanied throughout by the “special cakes,” and see this journey as one that brought true happiness to our lives. The love of tea; the love of the land; the love of the transformations of life.

  • PuerhShop // May 4, 2008 at 7:57 am | Reply

    It’s just as much hassle to buy good aged tea that is hard to find, difficulty to bargain down the price.

  • MarshalN // May 4, 2008 at 12:31 pm | Reply

    Bill: Of course it requires own storage to learn about the teas. However, large scale purchase of teas without really having the conditions required and the level of raw material necessary for proper aging can lead to a lot of broken hearts 20 years down the road. I do hope that will be avoided.

    Jim: I believe that teas that are currently new will NOT see the same spectacular price rise that “famous” cakes from the 80s or 90s have seen. There’s just too much of them.

  • davelcorp // May 4, 2008 at 2:22 pm | Reply

    Wouldn’t it be wiser just to stick the money in an index fund and harvest it 20 years later to buy tea?

    I don’t think any of us got into this because of wisdom. I personally enjoy the irrational aspect of obsession. If any wisdom is t be gained, it is from decades of learning to strike a balance between the rational and irrational.

  • MarshalN // May 5, 2008 at 12:50 am | Reply

    Dave: Very true, which is why I am sitting on tongs of tea waiting for them to ferment. Although, in my case, I’m lucky enough to have storage space in Hong Kong so I don’t have to lug it around as I continue my nomadic lifestyle.

  • blazingnada // May 7, 2008 at 9:04 pm | Reply

    I too was curious about how tightly pressed the 12 Gentlemen Bings are and took the opportunity to question them about this. The reply was that they are not seeking to have bings that will age quickly in a few years, but are trying to produce bings that will turn into masterpieces given patience and time. If you’re storing your tea in Hong Kong for some time, perhaps in a few years you’ll be glad of a tightly pressed bing or two. I can see that folks in Arizona, might have a different take on the matter though.

    Having met them face to face and got a feeling for them as people, I do believe their claims of wild arbour. They oversee the selection and processing of their productions personally and, while they may not be the most modest of tea producers, I do believe they are honest and straightforward about their claims.

    As an aside, I was speaking with them yesterday regarding a 2008 bing they intend to produce containing some taidicha. Their take on this was that it was fine, so long as they labelled it honestly and priced it accordingly.


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