Sunday, June 23, 2013

Airless Aging the Mandarin's 2005 Menghai Anniversary Cake

I had saved Tim's sample from the 2006 Live Journal Tasteoff as a future experiment in sealed aging.  This tea is a special edition 2000g Menghai monster of which only 999 cakes are in existence.  I marvel at the kind of man who would unflinchingly buy a new 2kg beeng of newborn sheng.  That's confidence!

I was going to wait ten years til 2015 to open this sample, but this morning, I just went for it.  Perhaps the supermoon yesterday subconsciously compelled me.  As I snip open the bag,  I'm kicking myself for not inserting a hygrometer probe to determine the humidity inside the bag.  This tea pressed in 2005 has spent 7+ years in this plastic bag. I sniff and note this tea has aged perhaps a tad more than my own cakes but this could be due to the fact that samples just age faster due to greater surface area exposure.

After reading Sandor Katz's Art of Fermentation recently, some light bulbs went off in my head.  Puerh aging is not just oxidation but the effect of active lactobacillus fermentation. Lactobacillus bacteria usefully employed in yogurt, cheese, saurkraut and other fermented foods are aerotolerant- meaning they do best in anaerobic conditions but will tolerate air.  Hojo Tea's article on vacuum sealed aging does not mention bacterial fermentation (probably they don't want to drive away potential germaphobe Japanese drinkers) but notes that the anaerobic conditions inside iron beengs from the sixties produce fruity notes without the "undesirable" earthy notes which they attribute to "unwanted" oxidation.   Some drinkers prefer the earthy notes but I can see how clean fruity floral notes unladen with forest floor notes to be more matched to the Japanese palate.

Larger beengs are reputed to age slower but this goes against my logical thinking. If the lactobacillus prefer an anaerobic environment, shouldn't larger compressed beengs provide better anaerobic conditions to age faster?  I can see in the moist environs of Hong Kong and Guangzhou, puerh must have good airflow or risk mold.  But for aging in drier climes, should vacuum sealed aging be preferred?  I may gamble on a few cakes as my current dry conditions are taking me nowhere. 

My ipad camera and lighting makes the tea look shockingly green even without any filtering.  I put it next to a naturally Taiwan aged 2005 CGHT to show you the Menghai is slightly less brown.

The brew is sweet and tastes more aged than the 8 year olds I've aged in my tea cabinet but it's not  ready yet.  Despite reading that sealing puerh will halt/drastically slow the aging process, I can definitely confirm that airless conditions does not deter aging at all.     

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