Friday, April 11, 2014

Mixed feelings about blended Puerh

The reason I decided on this topic is because I feel like it adds to the sampling post I made previously. I’ve ran into the problem of getting mixed experiences when comparing the samples from a blended cake to the actual cake bought later. Hopefully, this will make you aware of what you are getting when you consider buying a blended cake. 

The objective or goal behind the practice of blending is to ‘harvest’ the traits/characteristics and even aging potential from the desired  mountains, regions and plantations to enhance less renown, sought after and even young plantation material. This isn’t a bad thing, the problem lays in the practice, not the theory. So many competitors want to shine in the tea market that they buy raw material from renowned places to enhance to their cheaper (not necessarily lesser) material and make what most people would consider a descent cake or just more marketable cake.

Repeating what I said before, the reasoning behind blending is to ‘harvest’ those traits from the desired mountain, including longer term storage potential; although some, if not all are meant for immediate consumption(not aging). Most blended tea use a very low ratio of the prime material to enhance their Puerh… take into consideration that most cakes are usually 357-400gm, using 10-20% of prime material (very common ratio, about 35.7-71.4gm), the premise that this is enough to change an entire cake is almost absurd, at least in my experience. This doesn’t mean that a blend is not enjoyable, you just have to be aware of what you are getting when you buy them, so you it will meet your expectations.
'09 "Ban Zhang" - Departed from name/possibly a fake.

If you are looking for a Cake that is to drink now (blended to show the favorable traits from each region used and/or just provide an enhanced experience), then you need a cake that has enough of the prime material make a noticeable difference, here that 10-20% is ‘O.K.’ since usually the prime material chosen is usually known for apparent/active traits that are enough to ‘enhance’ your experience (examples: pleasant bitterness, fast huigan, thickness, cha qi, etc.; usually blended to reach a balanced experience with little or no harshness).

If you are interested in aging, mostly want a distribution that has a higher prime material distribution usually around 40-50% (above this percentage the price is high enough to encourage just sampling a pure prime material composition). This doesn’t mean the distribution I mentioned for the ‘for now’ cakes won’t age, but rather that it will be least likely to hold the traits desired. Aging cakes that are not blends is already somewhat of a gamble (you can’t foresee the final result), this is in my opinion far more true for blends.
Sampling is STILL key, but it has a flaw; when sampling blends or even recipes with several grades of material, you won’t truly know what the cake is like until you’ve tried the front, back and middle of the cake. And believe me, sometimes it feels like you are drinking completely different cakes.

2009 "Bu Lang" - Nice blend, only minor changes around the cake
This doesn't mean that you can't age a low distribution ratio cake or that you can't drink the higher distribution ratio cake now, rather that my experience with the two 'types' have been enjoyable when I consider the distribution against my goals. I only mentioned blended cakes referring to a cakes that use two different raw materials; a 'prime' material and a 'cheaper' material because I feel like once you go into a three or more regions blend, you are definitely acquiring something blended to be drank now, since the blends are usually done balance each of the materials' traits and make a pleasant drink right away; this to me minimizes the 'harshness' that allows for better aging. 

When looking at blended cakes:

  • Use the descriptions – reputable vendors will disclose if the cake is blend, it will include a rough estimate of the ratios of the material used and even if the grade of the material might be inconsistent throughout the cake (usually lower quality in the back and/or middle). Tip: a cake labelled with a famous name on the wrapper, but lacking information about the material/source is a sign to inquire for more information (prime material is usually a bragging right when describing the cakes, if they avoid it, maybe there isn't much to brag about).
  • Research! – Sometimes gathering information will help you determine if it is even worth trying to obtain Puerh made of a specific material. Some areas are highly sought after, this combined with a limited supply opens the doors for 'close enough the location' material and even fake material.
  • Contact your vendor – Vendors carry several types of Puerh to satisfy different types of consumers, as such they usually can recommend based on your current goals.
  • Trial and error – Even undesired results from purchases bring something positive; a learning experience. As you continue your journey you’ll define and redefine what you prefer and even your goals. Don’t dwell on bad experiences; use them as tool for better judgment in the future.
2006 "Ban Zhang" Spent Leaves - This one was an obvious blend, even before buying. Its taste and aroma was far departed from the title claimed. The leaf distribution isn't bad but the experience was almost heartbreaking. To me a reminder that 'bargain' prices sometimes are too good to be true; don't be pessimistic, but remain skeptic when buying Puerh.