If you’ve ever tried any puer tea, you have no doubt heard people discuss its age and storage conditions. You’ve probably also heard that real aged puers are expensive and hard to come by, which is true, unless you’ve got a well-connected supplier like TeaSpotting.
Pressed in 1996, Raw Vintage is by far the oldest tea in our collection. It’s quite a beast: it smells a lot like forest earth; it has a rich woody flavor with a background of sweetness-stripped dried fruit; its leaves are unusually dark and somber; it’s ridiculously durable and quite pleasant once you open up to it and let it grow on you.
Why we like it?
Aged puers are exquisite yet strange, at least to an average western tea drinker. In China, aged puer is a drink of choice for many business owners and government officials. Old shengs are always offered in top-level Chinese restaurants, and aged cakes from famous locations have long been used as luxury gifts at weddings, birthdays, and other important festivities.
Beware though, the very reasons why Chinese people like aged sheng so much are the ones that could drive you away from it, at least at the beginning. So here’s a list of things you should expect from Raw Vintage.
First of all, the tea soup is really dark, much darker than your average sheng, so you need to scale up your color/strength standard. Second, this tea unmistakably smells of earth. Although the earthiness diminishes significantly, its traces will be present even after ten brews. Third, the tea is a bit bitter at early brewing stages. The bitterness is not unpleasant at all and it dissipates within seconds, but it’s there. Finally, this tea is meant to be steeped multiple times.
Perhaps the best thing about Raw Vintage is to watch it transform during a one-hour steeping session. Brew it long enough and you will see the mellowness of huigan come out to the forefront and tea leaves shed their brown tones and turn dark green as they swell up recovering their original shape and texture. Brewing Raw Vintage is a wholesome, aesthetic experience. It requires an open-minded approach and an adventurous audience.
Roman’s personal score: 97/100
Miha’s personal score: 95/100
The scores above represent how the Daoli co-founders Miha and Roman feel about each particular tea. The ratings are given on 0 to 100 scale and absolutely subjective. We simply translate into numbers our first impression about this tea.
Basic facts about puer
There are two kinds of puer tea: shu (ripe, cooked, heavily fermented) and sheng (raw). Shu puers undergo an extensive (several months to a year) fermentation process, whereas sheng puers are not fermented at all. Shu puers produce dark brown infusions quite similar to black tea. The color of sheng puer tea may range from lime to intense yellow – the spectrum typical of green teas, but that’s where the similarity ends. A typical sheng puer has a pronounced bittersweet flavor and a lingering mellow aftertaste called huigan (回甘) or liugan (留甘) in Chinese.
Some people are discouraged from exploring puer teas because of erroneous perceptions that all puers taste like earth or have other unpleasant qualities. This only applies to low-quality puers that were either made of bad leaves, processed in a wrong way, or stored under inappropriate conditions. Brewed properly, good quality puers may seem unusually strong to an inexperienced palate, but they should not feel disagreeable in any way.
Shu puer tea is often divided into supreme (gongting), extra, 1st, 3rd, 5th, and 7th grades. Sheng puers are sometimes classified into extra, 2nd, 4th, 6th, and 8th grades, but this system is far from universal. The grade of puer tea is primarily determined by the buds vs. leaves ratio, as well as the size and shape thereof. Supreme-quality shu puer (aka gongting), for instance, is supposed to be buds only with each bud averaging up to one inch in length. Extra class shu is 50-60% buds and 40-50% leaves. First grade shu puer is approximately 30% buds and 70% leaves. Third grade has leaves that are larger in size and the bud content is accidental. Fifth and seventh grades are almost entirely made up of leaves, the main difference being in size, thickness, and texture of tea material used. Shengs follow a similar pattern, but, again, standards vary significantly among manufacturers.
General steeping suggestions
Tea can be steeped in a tea pot, gaiwan, or a strainer placed right in your cup. Feel free to experiment with time, temperature, and quantity. If tea feels a bit strong or bitter, just use less leaves or steep it for a shorter period of time. The purpose of the first brew is to rinse the leaves, so it shouldn’t last more than five seconds and should be discarded. Pour the hot water again. This time, steep it for longer periods. Avoid leaving the leaves soaking in water between brews, because it makes tea taste bitter and steals a lot of its flavor. If used properly, about six grams of tea leaves can yield several middle-size cups of excellent tea. Chinese people enjoy the original taste of tea, so they never use milk, sugar, or lemon.
Steeping suggestions for Raw Vintage
Start with this, then experiment:
- one serving: 6-10 grams
- water: ~ 75-85 °C, 100-250 ml (~ 170°F, 3-9oz)
- time: 20-45 seconds
- number of infusions: 10-15
- discard the first brew
Have you tried this tea? Do you have any comments? Please use the space below to share your thoughts and ask us questions.