24 February 2008

Beengs of Stone and Beengs of Air

Slovakia, country in the very heart of Central Europe has very dry climate. And as we know, too dry climate isn't good for pu-erh. Well, it maybe does not hurt our beloved tea, but at least stops it from aging. And the concrete buildings most Slovaks live in are especially bone dry.

So how can I help my pu-erh stash to age?

First of all, by carefully choosing the beengs. Some are more suitable to prosper here, some are not. As I see it, more compressed the pu-erh is, slower it age. The more compressed tea needs more humid environment.

Let’s have a look at this Xiaguan FT#4 beeng (sold by Yunnan Sourcing, reviewed by Hobbes). This is one of the hardest beengs I ever saw. Pure solid rock. Actually, I do not understand, why is pressed so much. Certainly, it is smaller, and maybe the tea changes slower, but still.

If you click the picture, you can see, how the hydraulic press used to make this beeng constricted the mao cha. Breaking the cake without damaging the leaves is impossible. Even if the borders are somewhat loose, the cake is a compound of tea leaves. By the way, Xiaguan is famous for it's stone-hard tou’s, too. The Chinese can use them instead of cobble-stones during citizen unrests. Don't forget the words of Edward Bulwer-Lytton "The pen is mightier than the sword and it is nearly as mighty as a thrown Xiaguan tuo cha".

Another tea, that surprised me with it’s heavy compression is 2005 1st SoutEast Asia Pu-erh Trade Memorial Cake (sold by Hou De, reviewed by Hobbes). As a flagship of Chang Tai I expected somewhat more loose cake. Please notice both the front side and the back of the cake.

As in the Xiaguan cake, the leaves are mangled together, the tea-drinker does not have a chance to separate the leaves. Maybe it is just an aesthetic problem, but it is still a problem for me. By the way, this is why I never judge the leaves in pu-erh samples – because the piece torn from the cake nearly never contains whole leaves, even if the cake itself has most of them complete.

As an example, I took a photo of 2007 Xi Zhi Hao Da Xue Shan – one of the most beautiful cakes I saw. If you check the photo bellow, it is exactly the same part of the cake, as the picture of Chang Tai cake above – the hole from the knob.

Where the Chang Tai cake has plastic-looking hole, Xi Zhi Hao has something that reminds me of a bird nest. While the cake is still compact, the leaves are with some care easy to loose just by hands.

Also, on the photo bellow of bottom side of Xi Zhi Hao cake, you can clearly see each one separate hairy tea leave. On Chang Tai cake you can see the imprint of the bag the cake was made in. The loose cake is full of air, and that's why I believe that it will age better. This tea can breathe. This tea feels its surroundings.

Fortunately, not only the expensive Xi Zhi Hao cakes are of loose compression – for example this Mengku Mu Ye Chun 001 cake is also beautiful (sold by Yunnan Sourcing) - and it’s much cheaper.

Classic loose stone-mould compression does not make good tea, but it can make good tea to age better outside of monsoon areas. Well, I will see in next 20 years, if it's true.


vojtěch said...

I have a sample of FT#4 beeng. Despite the hydraulic pressing I could find a few very large unbroken leaves (they were curled) in my gaiwan, but the most of the leaves were chopped.

vojtěch said...

Do you prefer all the comments in english or wouldnt you min if there were also any czech written comments? As you can see from my grammar, it would be much easier(maybe not only)for me.

Tuo Cha Tea said...

Ja s tým v zásade nemám žiaden problém, akurát sa snažím, aby sa dal blog čítať na celom svete.

vojtěch said...

fajn, rozumím a respektuju, bude asi lepší, když budou všechny příspěvky v angličtině, jinak by ta anglická forma trochu pozbývala smysl.