Ripe Puerh Epiphany

The Zhongcha 55

On April 7th I had a ripe puerh epiphany.  It happened with the first infusion of the Zhongcha 55, where I detected that medicinal numbness characterizing some raw Wuliangs and Bulangs.  Until today, I had been tasting dried fruit, minerals, lotsa chocolate and cardboard, leather, and varying degrees of mintiness in the aftertaste.

Lately, I’ve been testing my stash based on rigorous measures of amount, infusion time, durability, clarity, aftertaste, and effect, i.e., “qi.” These measures have had me tasting ripes side-by-side.  What I primarily notice is sweetness or conversely tannins and thickness.  Some productions have the vaunted camphor taste, but claims aside all but a few have fleeting camphor effects or none at all.  In any case, that particular camphor taste though rare is not new the object of my epiphany nor is the taste of certain medicinal herbs.  Here, however, we have to distinguish between medicinal types.

One of the medicinal types is ginseng.  This taste is slippery and rooty.  Another is more of a spice, anise, which is also slippery but with a sweetness .  There are other spices like cinnamon and clove but which are very rare.  Then there is the “chlor-AH-septic” medicinal.  It numbs and tingles the mouth.  I can’t say that I haven’t experienced aspects of this before in ripes, but not to the extent where I could taste it in the broth only in the aftertaste.

This epiphany is a likely result of tasting productions side-by-side.  Such an approach allows for the differences to come into sharper contrast than banking on memory alone.  I’ve started tasting others for this taste and effect, ascertaining therefrom something about the quality of the raw material, its age before being fermented.  Frankly, I don’t know if young material can produce the same effects as old, whether the “aging” of the material from wet-piling can produce the same effects of aged material. Methinks not.

I can’t decide if some raws are so loud in their youth that it is difficult to detect this particular effect or if it is some effect that emerges as a result of age.  Could it be both?  In any case, since not all raw puers, in particular Lincangs and Yiwus, have this taste irrespective of age, it isn’t reasonable to project this expectation upon all ripes.  However, this particular effect may at least somewhat figure in what type of material makes the best ripe.  The verdict is out on all these counts.

by Yang-chu