hop_goblin wrote:...Both tea and pu-erh have microbes ...
Ummm - Did you mean to say "Both cheese
and pu-erh have microbes"?
I'd agree that one wants to avoid the Adagio Pu-Erh (tho', really
, I do
like most of the black, oolong & white I've tried).
But how does one know what might be good? From what little I've read, a raw Pu-Erh can be okay in 5 years, with an additional 3 being the next plateau ... etc. Is that a decent benchmark?
As stated, Pu-erh tea does have microbes. The microbes found in pu-erh tea include Aspergillus Niger, Saccharomyces, and Penicillium. The microbes contribute to the taste and health benefits of pu-erh tea. As for your question regarding green/raw pu-erh, pu-erh can be drunk at any stage. However, collectors tend to wait until it is aged a bit. The object is to wait until you decide when you like it, and you may find out that a green pu-erh will be enjoyable from the moment you recieve it.
It is virtually impossible to determine if a pu-erh will be worth the time investment of aging without first trying it. Buy a sample and brew it. If after a few brews you determine that the sheng's (uncooked) leaf grade, taste, color and infusion capibility (doesn't cashout in only 3 infusions) and you feel that it is worth the time and investment then buy a few cakes, bricks or even a tong and store it and try it again in a year or two. From what I have gathered, 7 years to 10 years is around the time that one can start tasting and seeing definite and measurable differences. This or course is not to say that the taste and color will not change annually, but around 10 years the pu-erh can be referred as "aged", and the mellowness and tasting notes start seducing your palate.
Furthermore, it would be nice to buy a few cakes that are already 4 or 5 years old to start your collection in conjuction with new vintages so that you can start to have a collection worth drinking right this moment. These cakes wont be much more than new vintages and will cut your time to wait drastically. My own personal collecting rule is to buy atleast 3 of the same vintage and factory, and recipe. This way I can have a cake to drink now, another to divde in two halves and try one half in a couple of years, and the other half in 4 or so years. And one whole untouched cake to either save for investment or to taste in 7-10 years. In the mean time, buy samples of good aged stuff and good ripe pu-erh to hold you over until your collection starts to pay off. I hope this helps.