March 20, 2009

1999 Menghai 7352 from Jing Tea Shop

I...might've glid before...

More sheng pu-erh! This is a sample of Menghai's 7352 recipe purchased from Jing Tea Shop. It dates from 1999 and, according to its brief description, it's 'dry stored,' which could mean any number of things. Perhaps more informatively, it's been dry stored in Guangdong province, China, which we can assume means something different from 'it's been dry stored in Phoenix, Arizona,' probably in a good way. There's so much debate online about the proper storage of aging pu-erh, especially from a humidity perspective, that this tea is even more interesting to try from an academic perspective. Most of the aged pu-erh I've had the opportunity to try has been supplied via Taiwan, which comes with certain biases regarding ideal flavor, storage, which cakes achieve popularity amongst the booming afficionado market etc., so it's especially informative to receive a more diverse example. Considering the cupboard I've got full of pu-erh cakes, I'm already invested in this debate, so it's with bated breath that I try and learn just how dry and cool a storage environment can be without destroying a cake's chances of aging. I consider this cake a key piece of information in the spectrum of different storage styles and conditions.

The leaves of the sample are already well-separated, which doesn't really bother me (as long as they're not powdered), though I probably prefer larger chunks. They're still looking pretty young, but not excessively so--they're darkening and looking just a bit frosted. Rinsed in the pot, the aroma has that dusty sweetness that I have come to lovingly associate with the few delicious dry-stored aged pu-erhs I've had the privilege to enjoy. The leaf aroma also betrays a healthy remnant of smokiness. I'm happy that it appears to be diminishing, leading me to wonder how many more years until it's gone completely.

This tea is in a transitory phase between the young, raw characteristics I'm very familiar with, and the aged maturity that is less readily available in quantity. Somebody in one of the Art of Tea magazines said that teas of this maturity aren't fun to drink, but I have to disagree--if the aging characteristics were only very slight, I might concur, but here it's really straddling the line, which I find quite pleasant. I have to admit that I have found myself a bit bummed that some of my favorite characteristics found in young sheng have been nowhere to be found in some of the aged pu-erhs I've tried, and it's nice to taste that light, airy quality that makes the tea very active in the mouth. The first couple of infusions are healthily bitter, but the bitterness recedes and partially sweetens in the aftertaste. The liquor's color surely shows the aging progress, and that mist on top of the cup is always fun to take in. The smoke is quite subdued in the flavor, and what's more prominent is a mushroomy, sweet wood flavor that sweetens more with air and as the tea cools. Astringency is still potent, though pleasant--could be my proclivity for yen cha, but I don't mind a bit of saliva when I'm drinking tea (as long as it's my own). The aroma in my tea pitcher is definitely less engaging than the last tea I tasted, leaning toward the smoky and sharp side, kind of an emphasis on that mustardy smell I mentioned in the last notes. Interestingly enough, the final, long and mellowing infusions are where this tea's aged qualities become most pronounced and a thicker musty sweetness becomes the dominant flavor. I don't know anything about this blend (it seems not to be one of the very top blends from Menghai) but this tea drinking experience is on a really promising track.

If the aging of this tea continues the way it has, I could see it being really dynamite in another 10 years--no more smoke, no astringency, and no bitterness, and it would be just like that delicious 80's 7542 ching bing that Hou De used to have samples of. From a personal perspective, since this tea has very definite aging progress and very definite room to complete its maturity, I should be able to monitor its progress (or lack thereof) fairly accurately as I try to determine firsthand whether or not pu-erh can actually be aged in the Pacific Northwest's climate, or if I should stop buying young pu-erh. Let the hand-wringing continue.


Anonymous said...

So how is it now after 4 more years? :-)

Elliot Knapp said...

I last tried this one a couple of years is really tightly compressed and aging at a pretty slow rate, especially compared with teas I have that started with a more humid storage environment. I think this tea has potential to be clean and energetic as an aged tea, but at the rate it's going I probably won't even try it again for at least 5 more years; it's still in that bitter phase and is too rough around the edges to spend time drinking. Time will tell if my storage environment can help it turn the corner!