The best part of being part of a tea community are all of the samples that are traded. Sometimes you give and sometimes your receive. I consider this practice my favorite part of my tea experience.
Lately, there have been discussions about humidity and its effects on pu-erh - Too much or too little; what is optimum for storage; wet stored vs. dry stored etc. Most know that humidity will either make or break pu-erh and can certainly cause any long term goals of producing great pu-erh to drink futile if humidity is not taken into serious consideration.
What is also surprising are the number of pu-erh novices who consider "wet stored" as inferior. Although wet stored pu-erh may not be as fragrant or nuanced as a dry stored pu-erh it can be just as enjoyable. In fact, many pu-erh drinkers actually purchase wet stored to drink and some even prefer it since it mimics, to some extent the taste of well-aged pu-erh. However, let it be said that there are degrees to wet stored pu-erh and different qualities that drinkers should be aware of. For the most part, wet stored pu-erh should only be purchased if it is "mild" to "medium" wet stored only. Heavily wet stored pu-erh can be hazardous to one's health and should never be drunk. Nevertheless, wet stored pu-erh is as much of part of the pu-erh world as dry stored pu-erh, and in fact in many ways, even more.
Today, I decided to drink two samples that were sent to me by my tea friends. What makes these two samples interesting however is that neither of them contained any information and was left up to me to decide what they are. This is where the wet stored part becomes relevant to this post. I decided that both samples (sent to me by Salsero, who is an active member of TeaChat and MarshalN who really needs no introduction of the tea blog A Tea Addicts Journal) are both wet stored.
Salsero's Sheng Sample
I have know idea where Salsero received or found this tea. In fact, he knew very little about the tea as well but was willing to offer me any information that he had. I kindly declined as I thought that it would be more fun to taste the sample first and then receive any data.
The leaf really didn't appear to be anything special. It did appear to be very clean, in fact, from the dry leaf alone whether it was wet stored at all. However, after sniffing the leaf I smelled a profound dampness confirming my sentiments that this was indeed of the wet stored variety. Not bad looking really. I believe that it may even contain a few buds which have turned gold in color.
The pu tasted very damp. It had petro notes laden with heavy balsa wood. In fact, the wood notes were very over powering which didn't let much of anything else come through in terms of flavor. However, the liquor was clear with a lovely color.
I was quite ambivalent as to whether I enjoyed this tea. The tea was confusing in the sense that it did have a pleasant taste right at the beginning of each sip, however, as the liquor rolled over all of my taste buds, the bad parts of the pu became piercing and simply unpalatable. On a good note, the later infusions were slightly better which is generally the case. The taste was somewhat suprising sense the dry leaf looked so clean, and of higher grade. Possibly as a consequence of bad storage during the dry stage.
The leaves look to be "big factory" appearance. Although, I am not convinced that they are. The leaves are not as dark as some of the wet stored I have experienced. Perhaps it was only stored at high humidity for a short time.
MarshalN's Sheng Sample
To be honest, I have already received conformation that this pu is indeed wet stored from MarshalN through and internet conversation that we subsequently had. Although, from the look of the dry leaf, it is very easy to tell that it was wet stored. If you look closely at the picuture, you will notice an almost grey haze on the surface of the chunks. This "frost" and dull surface is very indicative of wet stored pu-erh and for the most part should be a dead give away.
I decided to wash this sample twice as I would do with shupu as it appears to be a little more 'dirty' than the other sample. In fact, it helped very much with the infusions as the chunks were quite hard and not allow the water to penetrate the leaf very easily.
This liquor was much darker than Salseros. The sheng also had an unmistakable dampness as with Salsero's sample, although, this is where any similarities end. It was woody but not overpowering and not as robust. It had notes of butter and pine wood. It did have a nice throat feel with a nice clean flavor but severely lacked in sweetness.
Update - MarshalN had informed me that I perhaps used too little leaf and suggested that I use more. I took his advice and it indeed made a world of difference. It was much more fragrant, darker in color, more silky and a bit more sweet. Quite enjoyable!
Dark and clearly wet stored. Can't say much on quality.
This sample was much more enjoyable. It had a nice clean flavor. Or may have appeared cleaner when compared to Salsero's sample. Although it lacked the complexity of dry stored pu ( which is expected), it did indeed have a slight complexity. I use the word complexity loosly. The sample was not great but for the most part pleasant. All in all, it was a mediocre pu; nothing fabulous but drinkable nonetheless.
I would like to thank both Salsero and MarshalN for their generosity. I indeed had fun!