I realised, with the help of my fingers, I that it was on Penang in late summer 2000 that I first drank Puer tea. What I subsequently realised, which was not so clear to me at the time, was that it must have been a rather good aged Puer.
I had been staying in a small Theravadan hermitage on Penang Hill and, the day before I was due to leave, the abbot of the hermitage took me to meet the benefactors who owned the piece of land that the place was built on. We drank a couple of teas: one was the Puer.
I was recently back there for a short visit – the first in seven years. I never had much affinity for KL – if I had to be in a large Asian city I’d rather be in Bangkok – so only stayed a couple of days: long enough to look around and drop in briefly on a couple of the usual suspects.
Georgetown is something else altogether. I have often gone there in the past, thinking to stay a couple of days and ended up staying rather longer.
I have to say that my tolerance for tea-shop sales pitch is rather low these days, and there is a little less of it in Georgetown than KL I fancy. So Penang is a rather nicer place to while away some time drinking tea.
I ended up spending a little time in a couple of shops. My request was to try an example of what the shop believed to be puer tea that had aged well in Malaysia. I only tasted a few teas, but of those I did, none were without issue, even if storage had been kind to them, and in not all cases had it been so.
Tea shops on Penang seem to differ a little from KL. They carry some rather cheaper, more recent tea amidst a majority of older, big factory productions.
Of the tea shops I visited a couple said they preferred to spend their time sourcing older teas from private collections in Malaysia and Southern Thailand rather than sourcing new teas from China. Having said that, it seems most of the tea I was offered had spent some time in Guangdong before arriving in Malaysia.
I heard a couple of common riffs:
Penangers prefer locally aged big factory productions over more recent ‘shan tou’ Puer because they are risk averse to a big outlay for younger, single mountain teas that they fear might end up not aging well.
Malaysia is ‘the best place to age Puer’ and that 1 year here is equivalent to 3 in ‘Banna (heard that before somewhere!). But a couple of shop owners doubted that, suggesting that the difference in aging was less dramatic.
I ended up buying a chunk of late 90’s tea, not because it was the best or anything, but because it’s a tea that seemed to fit my request, and it’s one that has been discussed online here and there. But more of that at a later date.