2007 Yiwu Gaoshan (易武正山乔木七子饼茶) 400g cake - November Tasting
You could say that Yiwu Mountain Tea began with this 2007 cake made from pure Gaoshan material as it was my first introduction to 'real' tea. I was sent a whole case of this cake not long after I moved to Guangzhou with my wife. It was with this cake that I learned about ageing Puer and how I started high-quality tea.
Back in 2007, the leaves were still extremely bitter to my inexperienced taste buds. However, beyond the bitterness, was a strong, clean 'tea' taste which lasted on the tongue, throat and stomach. My younger self was not used to such a strong, powerful, lingering taste, especially growing up on the cheap restaurant teas which were ridiculously bland in comparison. Aroma has never been my main attraction to tea, especially with my nose allergies. However, the natural, sweet aroma really opened my nose up to understanding pure natural aroma vs. the artificially enhanced Tie Guan Yin I had also learned about just previously.
As much as I liked the after-taste of the 2007 cake, I could never really get used to the bitterness at the time. My wife said that it would get better with age and I didn't really understand but nothing to do but wait and trust her. After all, I'd already heard that aged Puer cakes were selling for small fortunes, so nothing to lose either way. So over the years, every few months, my wife and I opened up our sample cakes and grandfather-brewed another few cups here and there. Thankfully, I stuck with it!
It was around 2010 by the time I really noticed a difference. The bitterness was still there, but very much reduced compared to what I could remember. Later that year, with a visit from my father-in-law, we also started using gongfu style brewing much more often at home, not just while in Yiwu. The gongfu brewing further emphasized the positives as the brews were much more palatable than before. I noticed an extra fullness in the flavour, smoothness of the tea and I could better feel the cha qi. It was this period that I knew that I had matured in my tea-tasting abilities as much as the tea had matured in flavour.
About five years ago, at the end of 2012, we had already opened our shop, and the five years in Guangzhou had really matured the tea further. It had a already mellowed to the point where I was able to gongfu brew the leaves and enjoy the early steeps as much as the later steeps. I still struggle with bitter teas to this day although I can cope with short, light bitterness.
This tasting highlighted cooling effect and medicinal notes much more than before. The liquor is very vibrant in colour and soup is thick and almost sticky. It still has some of that light bitterness that fades into super sweet mouth feel and huigan. I've tasted enough teas to not be overwhelmed by the complexity of this tea but it brews bucket loads of it over the many steeps. I'll thermos brew whatever is left for a morning treat.
I'm no longer surprised as to why it was a very popular cake. We sold most of it in our first few years in Guangzhou and very little remains today. There's still a hint of that bitterness that reminds me of my journey into Yiwu Puer tea. There's now something very soothing about the flavour of this tea. It shares a history with me, reminding me how I got started in China and how far we've both matured.
It's this story of Puer and the depth of flavour that makes it Puer special to me and many others. The matured liquor shares a wisdom to those who make time and space to listen. It also makes me consider what will happen in the next ten years. My father-in-law thought so too, so I'm very lucky that he saved an extra tong of this tea for us at home, stealthily wrapped with white wrapping paper. It's the tea that we'll revisit every few years with family and friends and continue to share this wonderful story of fantastic Puer tea.
What was your first 'real' Puer cake? How well has it aged? Do you still have some of it? I'd love to hear your stories so please share with me and the tea community.