In a previous article, I talked about how a couple of tea factories (part of CNNP) had begun in 1972 or 1973 (sources vary) to use a technique called Wo Dui. This involves piling up the máochá (usually unoxidized leaves from a “large leaf” variety of Camellia Sinensis found in the mountains of southern Yunnan), then adding water (sprayed on), and mixing. The method is supposed to imitate the flavor and color of aged raw pu-erh and was a way to meet a growing market demand, creating fermented pu-erh in about 60 days, after the cultural revolution in China destroyed a lot of the old pu-erh cakes. The questions are how good do such teas taste and are they comparable to naturally aged máochá?
The ideal máochá is two leaves and one bud. It is mostly grown in high mountain areas by small farmers who bring the máochá to the villages in the valley once a week to be sold. This has gone on for centuries.
|2010 Menghai 7562 Classic Ripe Pu-erh Brick tea|
The Wo Dui Process:
The process takes awhile (one source says 45-60 days, another says about 6 to 12 months) and is basically like composting, where the máochá is piled high, sprayed down with water, and then covered with sheets of canvas. The water and a lot of the leaf moisture drain off over time. The pile becomes an environment where microbes thrive with heat building. A skilled tea master has to time the turning of the leaves just right and be sure to break up clumps of growth at the bottom of the pile to be sure they are well distributed. The main thing to control is the growth of Aspergillus spp. Good turning assures a pleasant fragrance in the tea, versus a rather unpleasant barnyard smell (we in the West call it “earthy” and in China it’s called “old house smell”). Tea ripened in this way can be steeped without further aging, but you might want to air it out a bit to freshen the aroma and remove any unwanted fragrances due to this process of fermentation.
The wo dui process assures a more even fermentation and, when done properly, results in a tea that can be consumed immediately without needing to be stored for a year or more.
For the purist, the flavor of the speedy aged pu-erh may be less complex and have less depth than that derived from natural aging. It’s sort of like comparing real aged bleu cheese with the kind injected with the blue mold to speed up the process. The first is more subtle and rich in its taste and texture. Which type of aged pu-erh you prefer will be for you to decide, though.