Friday, February 24, 2006

Too tight for aging

What is Iron Cake? (Cut & Pasted from M&J's)

"This is Xia Guan’s newest old idea (let me explain). Many years ago Xia Guan (in the 50’s) used iron to press the teacakes it was an idea to improve the productivity rate by using a machine to press the cakes. After the results Xia Guan was not impressed with the teas result they said using the iron instead of the a wooden press by hand made the tea packed to tight and did not allow it to age properly. They stopped making the tea with the iron press and went back to the wooden press. Many years later they realized that the tea even though slower to age in this way turned out better then wooden pressed cakes. Years later they refurbished the press and made a limited amount of Iron cakes. A top grade limited Iron pressed cake is what you get that will only get improve with age."

Xia Guan cakes are painfully tight and require the utmost kkung kkung power* to pry off even a tiny amount of leaves. Does this mean tightly compressed tea ages better or is this nonsense marketing fluff to justify modernization and price cutting. Giant factories could not crank out the volume that they do in the old manner of stone pressings.  

*Kkung kkung. Koreans emote these sounds when struggling over anything physical.

What pu-erh will age well?

Cut and pasted from with my comments and questions.

"1. You may remember the 3 techniques to dry pu-erh leaves:
- Under the sun: this is the standard traditional technique. Such pu-erh has then the best potential to age well if the drying was well done.
- Frying the leaves on a big wok: this gives the leaves a smoky smell. This smell will gradually disappear over time. While not as good as the sun, for aging it shouldn't have such a big impact.
- Baking the leaves in an oven. This technique doesn't give the pu-er the smoky smell, but it destroys some of its aging properties. It makes for a very fragrant young pu-er, but this kind of pu-er will not improve, just decline over time, like lightly fermented oolong. To recognize such pu-erh, watch for a more reddish brew."

Does this mean Xiaguan is baked? Drats. Is my cigarette beeng a fried cake?  I've read you want strength and smoke in a cake to age well. The strength is not indicated by a knock out astringent flavor but something of the cha qi present in my HLH Banzhang.

"2. A normal ratio of white tips:
There is a fad in the current marketplace to sell very fragrant (baked) pu-erh. Because of this, some are even producing pu-ers with white tips only or a very large numbers of white tips. This is especially typical of plantation pu-er, since their leaves are regularly harvested in their young stage. I have also seen some cakes with pu-er flowers on top of them. The problem is that such leaves contain too much water and this creates acidity over time."

I love them white cakes for easy enjoyment but since they won't age well, I had better drink 'em up this decade.

"3. Strong, wild leaves have the best potential
The ratio of white tips for wild pu-er should be lower than for plantation pu-er. But they should not have disappeared completely either, otherwise it may be that the cake is made up of only old leaves. The very best pu-erh I have encountered are wild. They have the strength and potential for the longest and best aging. And if you like them young, then you should love them as they grow old.

What is the true meaning of strength? Is that fortitude of brew to last beyond the 10 brews? Is it fortitude of flavor? Or the cha qi? Could there be tea with extra punch cha qi but can last only a few brews?  Why is there more questions than answers in the pursuit of pu-erh.