How to find good pu-erh? Negotiating through the plethora of pu-erh is not an easy task. There are many teas out there that we must taste to determine whether or not they are worthy of our money. Price and opinions of other cannot always be trusted, and even good teas are wasted on us at times.
The best way to understand pu-erh, and develop a palate is to sample. Sample a lot. Never stop sampling! In my endless sampling, I rarely find a piece that I deem worth buying. When I do, they're rarely the $3/tuo kind. More often, they're the $30-40/bing. Even more often, they're the $100+/per bing. The truth is, I can't afford bings in the $100+ range. I can afford many in the $35 range, so when I find one I like in the $35 range, I get real excited! However, when I find the golden taste in a $3 tuocha (which I don't really expect others to like), I become ecstatic because I can buy as many of them as I want! I have discovered in my samplings that while price can be a good determinant, it accords only very slightly with how much I will enjoy a tea. To only try samples of the more expensive pu-erhs is naive. There are good, and bad, pu-erhs in all the price ranges. So while sampling for a good pu-erh to buy, why not get samples from all ranges?
Now, there is a reason for starting with cheap stuff. The truth is, that an undeveloped palate can not notice much difference between the quality of pu-erhs. When I first started drinking, if you handed me a $1000 long-aged sheng, and a relatively good shu, I probably wouldn't be able to notice much difference. Sure, I'd probably pick the $1000 aged sheng on taste alone, but maybe I wouldn't. I might have thought it to be too earthy. In fact, when I was starting out in pu-erh, I liked the young shengs more than the aged stuff. It wasn't until after I drank a lot of young sheng, that I had another go with an aged sheng and loved it. I had an epiphany where I said to myself, "This is amazing tea! This is definitely what pu-erh is all about!" Such a tea would have been wasted on me earlier on.
Concerning tea blogs, the reviews that are posted are not an extension of one's own palate! Some people like some things, some people hate those same things, it is simple truth. The best way to use blogged reviews is to get the samples, and taste them while reading the review. This can help one find flavors and aromas one wouldn't have alone. Sometimes one can find a reviewer with very similar tastes to one's own, and only then be able to trust the opinions they give on tea. Even if the reviewers don't have similar tastes to oneself, experienced tasters can still give some very interesting information such as factory and tea-region quirks and trademarks.
So, sample, sample, sample! Never stop sampling! There are diamonds in the rough, diamonds in the smooth, and tasting is the only way to find these. Not every diamond in the smooth is worth getting either. Without a developed palate, better teas are often wasted on people who don't understand what is actually making these teas good. Once one has a good understanding, one can really get every pennies-worth out of a great tea. To find the diamonds of tea, one can't trust reviews blindly. Reviewers can be found that have similar tastes to oneself, and experienced reviewers have a plethora of information to give. The world of pu-erh is vast and ancient, and we get to delve into it with freshly-found interest.
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