Maturing puer is a topic as huge as the range of varieties of tea in this tea subcategory. This article aims to layout the basic concept and to share our experiences. It is a topic that needs a lot more systematic and scientific studies to give a standard to, which is out of our capability at the moment. We hope this article help to stimulate some advance in this direction, and to let you have the basic concepts to experiment with.
Fresh puer teas, especially shengcha varieties, usually taste stronger, more astringent, more bitter and more pungent than other teas. Storage subjects the tea to continuous exposure to the environmental elements that cause changes to the nature of the materials in the tealeaves. This process may improve the gastronomic quality of some selections. When to a certain point of time there is optimal change in the tealeaves to achieve the best taste possibility of the tea, the tea is said to have matured. The storage for such a process is called maturing.
However, not all teas mature through extended storage. Some just deteriorate. They get old. For example, most green teas do not mature. Neither do some of the shengcha puers, especially those that have been blended in with green tea materials for nice looks.
Any teas can turn bad upon bad storage, so do puers. Storage conditions are important for a safe and successful maturing process. The general nature of puers is a bit different from other teas so the condition requirements are a bit different too. We shall look at the particulars of puers in this chapter.
This is one element that we have no solid conclusion on. Before we continue, please be alert of the concept of peaking.
The substances in the tea attain an optimum balance after they have gone through a certain amount of changes, when its taste quality is the the best of its potential. That is when the tea peaks.
When the tea is not consumed at that time, however, more changes continue and the balance is lost. The tea would not be at its best. That is why it is part of the maturing process to understand when a tea peaks.
HOWEVER, there simply are too many puers out there each with its own material differences. Each matures differently. Before a systematic study and a way of predicting maturity can be set up, it is important first to have an honest and factual labeling system for puer. Otherwise, one is not sure what kind of materials there are in any batch of tea to workout anything.
There is a belief going around that the older is the better. This is simply not real. It is the way investors want the market to believe so as to keep the price going up. The situation is the same as in wine collection.
For the producers and range of products that we are familiar with as a trader, we know that certain shu cha can be enjoyable even one year after production; they usually peak at 8 to 10 years, and exceptional ones can be as far out as 30 years. I have not found any taste worthy ones older than that yet.
Shengcha: a problematic group of varieties
Shengcha ranges terribly hugely. A large range that we have not dealt with do not mature. They simply deteriorate. Those that we have found potential in seem to continue to mature well, but we are still studying the duration for them to peak. We have records of taste-worthy batches between 3 to 12 years old but are not sure what a few more years would bring to them. In the market, I have tasted samples with claims for between 25 to 50 years and found them disgusting, especially the compressed ones. Some collectors claim to have tea discuses older than 100 years and I am not interested in tasting such thing at all, imagining the kind of storage conditions they must have gone through. Maybe there will be some people with ideas as to why to buy these antiques for.
The Need for a System
On that note, may I repeat a point that I have written before: compressed tea takes a lot longer to mature the tealeaves nearer to the core, while the leaves on the surface easily get stale if not mouldy. It is an exception to have one that is clean and well matured. If you are interested in maturing tea, you should buy newer and untouched ones to mature them by yourself.
This is a topic that need systematic study of scale before a systematic set of knowledge can be established for the development of the puer subcategory.
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