The tipping point is a phrase I’ve coinded to indicate the time when a raw pu’er tea brick has undergone sufficient ageing to be ready to drink. With puer tea, there really is no standard amount of time a tea must be aged, but rather, that tea is drunk by people according to the basic characteristics of the tea and personal preference.
Part one: not all puer tea is made the same:
Puer tea is a large subgenre of Chinese tea and has many different variations both in growing region and cultivar as well as workmanship. The tea can go from being very subtle and soft to strong and overpowering. It can also run the gamut from sweet to bitter, sour to salty and pretty much every taste in between. Puer is a big category and as such, how it is consumed varies greatly on regional standards, production and preferences.
Some people like to drink very fresh sheng pu’er and others don’t. To further complicate this, some types of sheng pu’er are very acidic upon harvest and need some time to mellow and soften.
A very traditional idea in places such as Taiwan and Hong Kong where puer has been popular for a long time is that it is better to wait for the tea to age anywhere between ten to forty years before drinking it.
The logic is that older teas become much sweeter as they age and also possess certain mildly tonical benefits which can invigorate the body and aid digestion among other things.
Obviously ageing tea for this long requires a great deal of patience and care, so the average price of old bricks of pu’er tea can be very expensive. This prohibitive expense has lead many people in mainland China to simply drink sheng pu’er within a few years of harvest or to drink it’s fermented sister, shou puer.
Many older people find fresh sheng tea to be a little too hard on the digestion, and it is not uncommon for people to collect puer over long periods of time, enjoying it in retirement.
Some sheng pu’er is also of a very high standard and tastes good directly after harvest. These teas are fairly rare and usually quite expensive, bit there are many people who exclusively drink these higher quality puer teas, usually coming from wild bushes. This is certainly the standard practice among yunnanese tea farmers I have encountered , as most of them have little interest in drinking aged tea.
Part two: how do I age my puer?
There is no final consensus on ageing puer tea, except that perhaps the process is different from ageing other types of tea. Most types of tea leaf will become saturated under normal open air climactic conditions and this saturation leads to a spoiled and undesirable taste. Puer on the other hand, because of its compact nature does not spoil in the same fashion. Some people I have met suggest ageing tea must be done in dry environments in order to avoid manifestation of mould over time, while others believe that tea should be kept in more moist environs, in order to allow it to gradually change into a more seasoned tea, somewhat like how cigars can be aged in a humidor.
Regardless of how you age puer, you should keep it out of direct sunlight, since UV rays can damage the tea.
How long you age it for is also up to you. It is a very common practice to buy several cakes of the same tea, drink one on the year you bought it, and then wait a few years between cakes, being able to taste the tea all through its ageing process.
Puer is a fascinating tea and there is lots to be learned about it while you engage on your tea journey.