Monday, September 08, 2014

Fifteen Flaws of Poor Puerh

When you enjoy your tea, your spirits soar.  You can shoulder all the world's burdens drinking such tea.  When a puerh royally disappoints, it merits some investigation as some shortcomings can be overcome. Really, if you have an entire cake of something disappointing, you had better figure something out.  A poor brew could stem from flaws inherent in the source material, or defects introduced during the processing or storage stage before it reached your teapot. Let us consider the many and various ways a tea can land you in regret city.

1. Undesirable off flavors -  deal breakers include residues from  pesticide use and gag worthy mold taste from poor storage that for love or money you couldn't rehabilitate.  Cigarette smoke and metallic aftertastes are lesser offenses that may respond to airing out or repeated rinses.   We'll just consider barnyard flavors in shu as an artifact of the processing and not an actual flaw as such although being a shu is a flaw in it of itself is it not...

2. Harshness - Kick in the face and/or a kick in the stomach, it burns your pipe all the way down. It could be a kick in the nuts but I wouldn't know. Why do some drinkers seek out that kind of abuse? It's not like the world generally recognizes masculinity or strength in those who can down an entire pot of aggressive young BulangBut most importantly will aging tame the harshness? 

3. Wrong kind of bitter - Without the redemption of huigan, there's no point in enduring bitterness that ends in just more bitterness. 

4. Weak - Autumnal productions are often lacking the vigor of their spring counterparts but plenty of productions labeled as spring picked have pooped out in just a few brews.  There's seemingly okay teas that peter out after a few brews and there's teas that brew weak-ass all the way.

Strangely, I've had weak teas that were still strongly offensive - watered down manure is still potently gross.

5. Thin - you need not chew your tea but a good puerh has a full-bodied viscous mouthfeel that coats your throat.

6. Flat  - actually the world is full of monotone single note teas, that's why we drink puerh.

7. Sour - a little lemony citric tartness could be charming in a young tea but too much sourness can mar a tea session.  From the bannablog,  I found this informative tidbit:
"Sourness (Suanwei 酸味): can arise if, after rolling, the tea was not dried properly and pressed while still wet, moisture develops and it becomes sour."
8. Dry/Astringent - Some XG fans might not consider mouth-drying powers of a tea an actual flaw.   The medical uses for such tea have not been fully exploited.  They use botulinum toxins(Botox) to control drooling for conditions like Parkinsons but a brand new Xiaguan tuo probably would be twice as effective, cheaper and less invasive.

9. Stale - all tea have an optimum window for consumption, and there's no regret like letting a tea go stale.  Even puerh is not immortal and there is debate over the shelf like of shu.  I've got a 2002 Feng Qing ripe which just doesn't taste as lively as it did even a few years ago.  Stale tea can be the cause of thin, flat, weak tea. But no shortage of non-stale tea can also share in these qualities.

10. Over-processing-  Sometimes when Hobbes gets riled up about suspicious red brews from over oxidized sheng that taste like hongcha, I wonder what he is going on about.  I've personally have never gotten my panties in a twist over shengs that taste like hongcha but I kind of like hongcha.   I however have run into way-over roasted oolongs where you might as well brew lumps of charcoal. Shus are particularly prone to over-fermentation where the brick is best employed as a compost a kick starter.

11. Finicky- perhaps the tea is amazing but it requires condensed Wuyishan dew heated to exactly  174 degrees over a bamboo charcoal fire brewed in a zhuni pot then served by enticing maidens.

12. Overpriced- Insult to injury if your sucky tea was procured for a goodly sum.  It feels even worse if the terrible tea came to you as a gift.  Value for money mediates your disappointment as some flaws are tolerable if purchased for a beggarly sum.  I have no shortage of dirt cheap beengs that are boring and for the price, I don't hold their utter mediocrity against them.  

13. Fake - White2tea has an excellent post on the vagaries of misrepresentation in puerh.  Personally if the tea is good, I don't care  as much unless I paid a premium based on the false claim.  But it's nigh impossible to avoid some marketing upcharge in puerh.

14. Overhyped - While you cannot avoid some level of gushing from the vendor,  when every blogger and their teapet are yukking it up with the tea du jour, it's worse to have your raised expectations be floored.  You think to yourself, was it your poor brewing? Did you just get a bum sample?  The web is a diverse enough environment where your contrarian experience can be confirmed, but it doesn't erase the sting that others are having a grand old time while you lurk in the shadows of discontent. Of course you might be exactly the kind of person that revels in dissing a popular tea.

15.  Well- I leave that up to you. I hardly could have found all the dirt on puerh.

Despite such grumblings and grousings on my end,  wading through the minority of sucky puerh is worth all the trouble and more.  Truly atrocious puerh is rare and I challenge you to find a tea which embodies all 14 flaws.


  1. This is a great list!

    1. Dear Steph,

      I am surprised. You happily live in the sunny land of satisfying teas. I scratch my head wondering how to get there.