What Pu Erh Should I try First? (an answer)


One of the intentionally aged teas, Pu-Erh has a loyal following.

What Pu Erh Should I try First? (an answer)

Postby trent » Jun 29th, '08, 16:20

Many TeaChatters (including me) are just beginning to venture into the world of pu erh, so I thought that it would be helpful to post this article by Stephane of Tea Masters (a reputable source).

http://209.85.171.104/translate_c?hl=en&sl=fr&tl=en&u=http://teamasters.blogspot.com/2006/11/questions-dun-lecteur.html#comments
(it was originally in French, but I translated it with google)

He suggests first exploring:
- Young Sheng (under 5 years old)
- Shou (3 - 10 years)

I definitely trust Stephane's advice, so I'll begin to develop my palate by tasting young sheng and slightly aged shou. This way, I can fully appreciate the aged stuff once I get a chance to taste it.

Also, I would recommend that everyone (experienced and inexperienced alike) read through his blog entries. I've read about 3/4ths of his already, and have rapidly learned so much about tea.
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Postby scruffmcgruff » Jun 29th, '08, 16:36

As much as I dislike the idea of siding with tenuki :), I think he is right. Try aged sheng early. If you don't like it, cease puerh exploration immediately. The only reasons I'd suggest getting some shu first are 1) cost, and 2) getting an idea of how to brew, instead of wasting a sample of aged sheng on misfires.
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Postby trent » Jun 29th, '08, 19:34

I'm not starting a feud, but I still disagree.

Just an anecdote to illustrate why:
The first time I visited my local teashop, I tried some aged sheng. To my inexperienced palate, it tasted like sandalwood, nothing special. Why waste money on expensive samples when you won't be able to fully appreciate the nuances?
Later, I tried some young sheng and paid close attention to pick out the different aromas&flavors, this time I appreciated it much more. (plus, it's alot cheaper to buy young sheng)
The next time, I tried some aged shou (1996). I used this experience to further develop my palate, at a much cheaper cost than trying aged sheng.
Once I try aged sheng again, I'm confident that I will be able to appreciate the nuances.


And I should correct what I have said in my 1st post: I have tasted aged sheng, but not very much of it.
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Postby scruffmcgruff » Jun 29th, '08, 19:57

I didn't mean to imply you should only buy aged sheng at the start, I just meant you should try one or two samples so you know what you are getting into. You don't need to appreciate all the nuances, you just need to know if you are going to like it or not.

You could also start out with some quality shu, as I mentioned in my previous post, since it's cheap, tastes decent, and is a bit like aged sheng. On the other hand, ordinary young sheng tastes terrible (come on, admit it! :D) and very little like aged sheng, which I assume is the tea most prospective pu-heads imagine drinking one day. I think you would waste more money if you tried a lot of young sheng before learning whether you like good puerh.

My own beginning puerh experiences started with cheap shu, which I hated. Then, hop_goblin recommended an aged sheng and a young sheng for me to try. I tried the young sheng, hated it, and didn't try the aged stuff for weeks because I assumed it would be just as bad. Of course, it wasnt, :) but how was I to know?

Anyway, I don't mean to get into a feud either. I suppose the order in which you try shu, aged sheng, and young sheng doesn't matter so much, as long as you don't completely ignore any one category early on.
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Postby brandon » Jun 29th, '08, 20:04

I agree with everything Brent said.
FEUD ON.
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Postby hop_goblin » Jun 29th, '08, 20:10

scruffmcgruff wrote:As much as I dislike the idea of siding with tenuki :), I think he is right. Try aged sheng early. If you don't like it, cease puerh exploration immediately. The only reasons I'd suggest getting some shu first are 1) cost, and 2) getting an idea of how to brew, instead of wasting a sample of aged sheng on misfires.


Well, I do agree with the notion that pu-erh is mostly enjoyed while aged, I don't agree with the idea of suspending any further exploration as a consequence of disliking aged pu-erh. Although, aged pu-erh is much enjoyed through out the world for its transormations, and ripeness, I believe it is fair to suggests that many people enjoy young green pu-erh. In fact many of the Chinese minorities drink pu-erh in this form more than the others. Green pu-erh after all is just really 'green tea'. Why not live a little :D However, I think it important to mention that green sheng should be enjoyed in moderation as it can affect health if drunk in mass quantities.
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Postby tenuki » Jun 29th, '08, 21:17

Having tried some of Stephane's puerh I can say that trying _his_ young shen and aged shu would probably be a good start. ;) I don't think you can apply that advice to all vendor's puerh though...

btw, Stephane's blog is one of a very very short list (3) of tea blogs I follow. I am always interested in what he has to say, he's a serious student of tea and very willing to experiment and question himself.
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Postby trent » Jun 29th, '08, 21:18

Scruff, what I mostly disagree with is:
Try aged sheng early. If you don't like it, cease puerh exploration immediately.


Not all aged sheng is great, you could try a bad sample and be turned off to it. Or you could just "sorta like it" and not be able to justify getting into puerh for the high cost. So... you could try some aged sheng for the fun of it, but I don't think it's worth wasting when you won't appreciate it.

On the other hand, ordinary young sheng tastes terrible (come on, admit it! Very Happy) and very little like aged sheng, which I assume is the tea most prospective pu-heads imagine drinking one day.


Bad young sheng does taste horrible, but good young sheng tastes amazing. Good young sheng has a fruity sweetness, bad (non-sundried) young sheng tastes like cigarette smoke. Also, when i talked to the guys a tmy local teashop about old/young sheng, they stressed the point of view that neither is "better," just different. Try some of their young sheng (I would recommend the square brick tgat Dave just picked up on his trip to yunnan from a small grower) and I think you'll agree.

Also, I don't think there's a specific order that you MUST try pu erh in, just that it's s good idea to concentrate on (HIGH QUALITY) young sheng and (5-15 year old) shu until you develop your palate more. By all means, try some aged sheng if you wish but don't waste time & money concentrating on it yet.
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Postby tenuki » Jun 29th, '08, 21:21

trent wrote:I'm not starting a feud, but I still disagree.

Just an anecdote to illustrate why:
The first time I visited my local teashop, I tried some aged sheng. To my inexperienced palate, it tasted like sandalwood, nothing special. Why waste money on expensive samples when you won't be able to fully appreciate the nuances?
Later, I tried some young sheng and paid close attention to pick out the different aromas&flavors, this time I appreciated it much more. (plus, it's alot cheaper to buy young sheng)
The next time, I tried some aged shou (1996). I used this experience to further develop my palate, at a much cheaper cost than trying aged sheng.
Once I try aged sheng again, I'm confident that I will be able to appreciate the nuances.


And I should correct what I have said in my 1st post: I have tasted aged sheng, but not very much of it.


This experience is exactly what I would recommend to my friends. I'm not advocating only drinking good aged sheng, just that you should have exposure to it before drinking your way through a lot of young sheng or cheap/bad shu.

You _started_ with aged sheng, that is my recommendation, not that you drink exclusively aged sheng. ;)

And take my recommendation with a grain of salt, after all, I'm only a few years into my exploration, I had my first real puerh 2 years ago or so. But I can tell you what has accelerated my learning. First, I quite reading (most) blogs and buying crap (the two are provably linked for me). Second I found a couple of local puerh heads that have been at it for years and years and figured out what bribes they needed to share their knowledge ( surprisingly little), and thirdly I slowed down, spent the same money on fewer, higher quality samples and spent more time getting to know each sample and thinking about it in relation to my tea teachers guided 'high quality' experiences.

Just another amateur opinion (JAAO™). :D
Last edited by tenuki on Jun 29th, '08, 21:30, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby trent » Jun 29th, '08, 21:22

One more thing, slightly unrelated.

Scruff, while you're still home for the summer, definitely make a pilgrimage to Chaikhana Tea Culture in Santa Cruz. I commute the hill every day of the school year, and it really doesn't take that long. They don't have the best selection of oolongs or japanese stuff, but they have great pu erh, chinese greens, and some yellow tea. The owner is really knowledgeable, and regularly travels to china for tea related matters.
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Postby scruffmcgruff » Jun 29th, '08, 22:46

trent wrote:Not all aged sheng is great, you could try a bad sample and be turned off to it. Or you could just "sorta like it" and not be able to justify getting into puerh for the high cost. So... you could try some aged sheng for the fun of it, but I don't think it's worth wasting when you won't appreciate it.


Well, you could get turned off by any bad sample, so I don't really see how this is different from trying a bad sample of young sheng or shu. Also, if one lost sample is a significant financial loss, you probably shouldn't be getting into puerh, heh.

trent wrote:Bad young sheng does taste horrible, but good young sheng tastes amazing. Good young sheng has a fruity sweetness, bad (non-sundried) young sheng tastes like cigarette smoke. Also, when i talked to the guys a tmy local teashop about old/young sheng, they stressed the point of view that neither is "better," just different. Try some of their young sheng (I would recommend the square brick tgat Dave just picked up on his trip to yunnan from a small grower) and I think you'll agree.


Sure, but good aged sheng tastes amazing as well, and even mediocre aged sheng tastes a lot better than mediocre young sheng, and you are just as likely to bad examples of either, I think. Fair enough, I will concede that neither is objectively "better," but I doubt many people are storing their young puerh in sealed containers so they don't age, ya know?

trent wrote:Also, I don't think there's a specific order that you MUST try pu erh in, just that it's s good idea to concentrate on (HIGH QUALITY) young sheng and (5-15 year old) shu until you develop your palate more. By all means, try some aged sheng if you wish but don't waste time & money concentrating on it yet.


I said the same thing in my previous post; the order doesn't matter so much, as long as you taste some of everything. I also never said to concentrate on only aged sheng, just to try it early.

I really don't think we're disagreeing all that much; I just think one should try aged sheng early. I will concede defeat on the point that some people may prefer young sheng, though. :D

Also, yeah, I have had Chaikhana's address bookmarked ever since I saw the lovely cup you now have in your avatar! I have heard great things about it from other people as well, so I will get down there soon.
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Postby trent » Jun 29th, '08, 23:13

I really don't think we're disagreeing all that much; I just think one should try aged sheng early.


Yeah, the part of my post that you quoted was the only thing that I really disagreed about. I think only being able to talk in delayed chunks of text makes it sound like we disagree alot more than we actually do :lol:
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Postby Salsero » Jun 29th, '08, 23:24

trent wrote:
I really don't think we're disagreeing all that much
... we disagree a lot more than we actually do

Well, you lost me quite a ways back there.

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Postby tenuki » Jun 30th, '08, 15:00

trent wrote:
I really don't think we're disagreeing all that much; I just think one should try aged sheng early.


Yeah, the part of my post that you quoted was the only thing that I really disagreed about. I think only being able to talk in delayed chunks of text makes it sound like we disagree alot more than we actually do :lol:


What's wrong with disagreeing? I learn a lot more from people I disagree with.
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