Here I got another pair of twins. And this time, I would simply call one of them "good storage" and the other one "bad storage". It's possible that some people would even like the "bad storage" in my eyes (because it's actually not that bad... I've seen much, much worse ones). But would anybody prefer the "bad" to the "good"? Hmm... anything is possible. But for this scenario, I guess the chance is really really small.
In the photos to come, you may notice that this time, I didn't take any "group photos" of these two brothers, yet last time for the other twin brothers, I took most of the photos with the two cakes side by side. That basically reflects my feelings about these two pairs of twins. For these current two cakes, I couldn't bear with putting them next to each other, seeing one of them as a "contamination source".
How did this type of twins/brothers comparisons start? I once wrote about the different styles of puerh purchases. Of the three styles mentioned, one is "philatelists" style - basically, buying a little bit of this and a little bit of that, so to have a diverse collection. I guess many people have some tendency of being philatelists. For me, a big motivation (or excuse) of philatelists style purchase is, when I have an interesting tea, I would be also interested in getting its brothers, cousins, spouses, twins, etc. For example, I got these 3 brothers, the above mentioned twins, these cousins (I got a few more of their green stamp cousins too), the spouse of this tea, and could build up other family trees among my teas.
The tea discussed in this post, is one of my favorite puerh (when well stored). It's not the "giving you a strong kick" kind of puerh or super old puerh many people seek for (it's a 2004 tea) . I can't quite sort out why I like it so much, but I think it's pretty much what an ideally aged Yiwu is like in my mind (although this tea has Menghai tea blended in as well).
The bad storage version was for sale at a price much lower price than I had ever seen (and I somewhat knew nobody would bother to fake this tea) and the seller did mention to me that the tea needed to be aired out a bit as it had some storage smell. So in spite of the bad storage, I'm ok with the seller and actually still think his price is quite fair (because the bad is only relative to the good storage, and is not that bad). The tea is not commonly seen in the market, so I was glad to have a chance to have a twins reunion to compare the storage, whether they are two styles or contrast of good and bad. Besides, I thought if the storage smell mentioned by the seller was not that bad, maybe I would just stock up some and air it out. But eventually, I've figured out that I'm already old enough to treasure my time, and I live in one of the most expensive cities of the country, so basically, I can't afford any time, money or space for the bad storage tea, although it's not that bad. The bad storage tea could serve as a specimen and be examined again in a few years.
This time I will put the show-and-tell in a reverse order.
The photo on top of this post is from the bad storage. The loose leaves look not bad at all. Without smelling it or tasting it, I would have thought it was totally fine.
The bad storage being brewed. The leaves are actually adorable and don't look very different from my normal version of this tea.
I didn't take brewing photos of the good storage tea, but actually they don't look that different in small amount of leaves and in brewing. It's somewhat surprising, and also makes me cautious that without tasting contrast of various version of the same tea, sometimes it's really, really hard to tell whether the final quality of a tea results from the tea leaves themselves, the storage, or other factors.
There are a few rather counter-intuitive things about this bad storage tea.
1. The liquor color doesn't reflect wet storage. But later we will see some photos of this tea indicating that the tea suffered from at least short-term dampness.
2. More surprisingly, this tea doesn't have much of the "typical wet storage taste" either. The "Ji Feng Yuan" twins in a earlier post include one Hong Kong humid storage tea that has some "wet storage taste" in a rather mild way and the taste has already faded a lot during the follow-up dry storage (which is an essential stage of professional Hong Kong humid storage). I also had some humid-stored tea whose "wet storage taste" didn't recover that well and would be a little harsh. But overall, this tea doesn't have that wet taste, yet we could see this tea did suffer from dampness (from whole cake photos), in a way much worse than proper humid storage.
3. The spent leaves look quite adorable. Not that much different from the good storage version, at least in this small amount. I guess this means that, the bad storage didn't kill this tea and probably this tea could recover more in the years to come. On the other hand, this demonstrates that the appearance could be very deceiving. Because after all, this tea tastes quite different from the good storage version.
4. After the above 1, 2 and 3, you may wonder, so, this tea doesn't look wet storage, doesn't have wet storage taste, and doesn't look that bad, then what's wrong with it? The tea tastes much bitter than the good storage version, and doesn't have the nice, gentle, fruity taste and unique aroma that I have always enjoyed from the good storage. Still, it's not such a bad tea. It still has some nice aftertaste. But it's by far not comparable to its good storage "twin brother".
5. I'm afraid the the worst thing about this tea is, it's very confusing and probably deceiving. It looks pretty good. It doesn't taste horrible, but rather underwhelming, with its nice leaves and good fame. The taste is not as suspicious as the smell of the tea cake. So if one has never tasted a good storage version and just tastes this bad storage version, one may think it's just the tea and it's just a mediocre tea. If one knows about the tea being water-flashed (which is not hard to tell from the whole cake outlook), then one may blame wet storage for its mediocre taste and its bitterness. However, it's the bad storage, not wet storage that caused the problem (I will explain more about its bad storage smell later). If one only looks at the liquor color, then one may think the bitterness is due to a rather young age of this tea through dry storage, then the water disaster history of this tea might be disguised by its liquor color and even taste.
Now here is the back of the bad storage cake:
We can ignore the straw - that's not a problem and just a regular "gift of purchase" as with many puerh products. But if we focus on the 12'o clock to 2'o clock region, we can see the surface is somewhat "smeared". And below is an enlarged view of that region:
"Ji Feng Yuan" twins does have some subtle hint of "white stuff", likely residues of white mold from humid storage, yet I wouldn't call it a bad storage.
Below is the back of a good storage cake for comparison:
The front side of the bad storage cake doesn't look that bad at all, probably just a little more dull. But the good storage cake looks brilliant! Sometimes good and bad are just relative. A bad is only bad when compared with the good!
Below is the front side of the bad storage cake (the double cake ticket is not a real problem here but a small accident, I guess):
Below is the front side of the good storage cake (it has a "gift of purchase" too, this time, a plastic string!)
And a few more photos of the good storage cake... It actually looks even better than the photos!
The bad storage cake has some bug bite holes on the wrapper. But that's not a problem for me. Quite a few nice aged puerh I've had have bug bite holes on the wrapper too. But it seems that the bugs were only interested in the paper and didn't mean to hurt the tea. I've heard of teas that were severely damaged by bugs but have never seen any. I guess it's generally not a problem in dry storage, and shouldn't be a problem in proper humid storage.
The wrapper of the bad storage tea looks not that bad at all. So overall my impression is, this tea might have suffered from some accidental water flash problem instead of going through intentional humid storage. This also makes the tea confusing and probably deceiving. Although not everyone likes humid storage teas (I myself could enjoy very few of them), accidental dampness is always much worse than professional humid storage. In quite a few occasions, I've seen people blaming the bad taste of a cake resulting from its humid storage, while the cake actually went through destructive water disaster. Also in quite a few occasions, I've seen people praising a cake for its proper humid storage and called it "not as harsh as dry stored cakes", while the cake looked obviously purely dry storage in my eyes. All this, I think, is because puerh could be very confusing overall. So probably one thing for sure is we will always be confused. And probably it's good to be aware that we can easily be confused and will be confused for many more times in the future. With this awareness, we have the hope of being confused in a higher level with time being :-)
Below is the bad storage cake:
Below is the good storage cake. It has got some bug bit holes too.
And I haven't explained it yet why I would call it bad storage to begin with (the smeared cake surface itself might not serve as strong enough criminal evidence). It smells bad! It has a typical damp warehouse smell that I'm familiar with through my clothing purchase from Southern China.
I buy fairly amount of my clothes on Taobao, because I've found quite a few nice small business designers there, and overall it's easier to get shorter sizes in China. Most of my clothing purchases come from Southeastern China. Many of them have a "wet storage smell" on arrival. Although I'm thinning my list of sellers to those whose clothes don't have such warehouse smell, there are some sellers' stuff that I've got to buy (because they are adorable!) in spite of the bad warehouse smell. And it's understandable that sellers have to use unlivable space (such as damp basement) as warehouse (not equally understandable for tea though). For clothes, it's much simpler to deal with the storage smell. I simply hang them in the attic till the smell fades. And if it doesn't fade from a piece, I would just wash it.
This bad storage tea has exactly the same warehouse smell as found on some of my clothes purchases. When I enjoy the good storage version of this tea, I've always thought of it as having an aroma of mountain spring rising from the surface of tea cake. Obviously such aroma can't survive a warehouse smell. Interestingly, when I took photos of the bad storage version, I noticed that after being exposed in the air for a while, the bad smell faded significantly, and the "mountain spring" smell came back a bit (it could completely be my illusion though...) Then when I left the tea wrapped up for a while and opened it again, the tea was full of the bad storage smell again. Same thing happens when I left some of the bad storage version in a box to "wake up" the tea. So I guess, the bad smell would fade, little by little. But with the loss of bad smell, I'm afraid other good characters would be lost more or less. Maybe after several years, the bad storage version will no longer smell bad or taste bitter. By then one may or may not be able to tell about its dark history. But even if the bad storage tea recovers well, I don't believe it could ever get nearly as good as the good storage version.