A Tea Addict's Journal

First impressions are deceiving

March 25, 2009 · 4 Comments

I’ve said this before, but I’m reminded of this issue again today. I think one of the easy mistakes that newcomers to tea make is an over emphasis on the first few infusions. This is especially true of puerh, particularly the aged or wet stored type. I am reminded of that today as I drank some supposedly 30 years loose puerh from Hong Kong. It starts out a little bitter, wet stored, with a strong taste of some Vietnamese tea mixed in. After a while, however, it mellows out, turns sweeter, and gives a rounder body to the taste. Then, even later (we’re talking 10+ infusions) it turns very sweet, mellow, and still very fragrant, with an almost perfumy taste/smell.

It’s very clear that the best was at the end, not the beginning. My friend has told me how puerh drinking really only STARTS at the fifth infusion. Everything before can be discarded. This applies mostly to her stuff of 30 years old or so. While it’s certainly a waste to, say, dump five cups of Red Label down the drain, it is equally wasteful to stop too fast because of either a lack of immediate interest or a lack of stomach.

This is true also for the evaluation of newer teas. While it is not the sole criteria for determining the quality of a tea, how long it lasts and how fast it dies is an important indicator. I drank some younger puerh recently that will always yield an extra cup no matter how far I’ve gone, while some others completely give up after maybe 10 infusions and give you nothing but water. Longer lasting tea is always better than the ones that die. If it’s weak now, what does it have to give you after aging?

Which also brings into question the size of the vessel you use to make tea. If the pot you’re using is too big, for example, so that you can’t drink more than say 7 cups before feeling totally exhausted by the tea, then you should perhaps consider something smaller. This is a particularly acute problem in the non-Asian world, as the norm is to drink alone, not with company, making a long session of tea harder to achieve. If your pot is too big (say, 150ml) you might be drinking a litre or more of water and still be nowhere near the end of the tea if you’re on your own. It’s definitely something to consider.

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