02 September 2010

It’s Old. And Moldy. Would YOU Drink It?

You bet I would!

I received a present from a tea friend recently.  He was given a big piece of an old, color-labeled pu’er tea.  The tea is old enough that it’s started to decompose, the leaves and stems blending into itself like organic matter that’s being composted (no worms or their byproducts!).  The tea has taken on a grayish hue as it continues to age.  What is most unique about this tea is not its age, though, but the “Golden Flowers” that have grown on it.

golden flowers 2

I wouldn’t give up the chance to try something new.  New, in this case, is a tea that is very old with yellow mold.  My friend would not tell me what year this tea is, or what kind of label tea it is.  He wanted me to try the tea first and give him my feedback.

Mold is not a bad thing.  It exists everywhere, whether or not we can see it.  It exists in our homes and on many of the items we wear and use.  Mold is oftentimes our friend, aiding in the creation of delicious treats (cheese, salami, etc.) as well as helpful medicines.  The rule of thumb that I’ve heard is that unless it’s black, mold is pretty harmless.  This is, I believe, only partly true, as not all black molds are particularly harmful, either (and even those that are toxic may only affect certain persons with allergies or compromised immune systems).  But what to do when one finds it on tea, and what does it mean?

My friend says that with old pu’er tea, golden flower mold is a sign of age and is a good thing.  Why this is, neither of us knows, and whether or not the golden flowers affect the taste of the tea (or grow on the tea due to some exceptional conditions of storage and/or special compounds found within the tea) I don’t know, either.  All I know is that this gift from my friend is of a rare tea.  He said it’s delicious and he’s never been wrong about delicious teas.  I have eaten all manner of moldy things and have extensively toured properties that have had toxic black mold as well, and I’m still alive.  I’ve seen white mold grow on stored teas and I’ve seen pictures of black mold on teas, but this is the first time that I’ve seen yellow mold in person.

up close

I went online using the search term 金花菌 (golden flower germ/bacteria/fungus) and found a Taiwanese pu’er lover’s site:

Art-Q’s Site 

He has magnified pictures of a pu’er brick tea with golden flowers that resemble the ones on my tea.  The real name of the golden flower mold is, per the site, 冠突散囊菌 or Eurotium Cristatum. 

I’ve already decided that I will be drinking this tea, although I will try not to snort too much of the loose mold spores into my nose.  Tasting notes to come.

extreme close up


  1. Nothing to worry about, says I. The boiling water should take care of it, right?

  2. Yellow mold is no good. Don't drink it.

  3. MarhalN, you know more about pu'er than I do and have no doubt seen various types of mold in your collection and beyond. Do you know more about this yellow mold, how it comes to grow on the tea, effects, etc?

  4. Generally, from friends who are much more knowledgable than I, golden flowers in a puerh cake is not to be consumed. This is not the same stuff as Eurotium Cristatum, which is what you see in Fu bricks. Those appear as flat, metallic looking flakes, not what you have pictured here. The colour is also lighter, not quite the yellow you have here.

    I'd generally be pretty cautious with any tea that has mold other than white ones that are rather dusty in appearance. While I never shy away from wet stored tea, there's a line to draw somewhere. Any idea where you friend acquired this piece?

  5. If indeed it's Eurotium cristatum, it's probably safe to drink unless you have cancer, HIV, or another disorder causing a weakend immune system. The sexual phase of Aspergillus cristatellus, it's not a known producer of mycotoxins, and "only a few case of pulmonary or disseminated infection have been reported from immunocompromised patients."

    So, if you're relatively assured it's E. cristatum, drink up!

    Also, even if it did produce aflatoxins, chronic exposure at low levels usually does little harm, according to aflatoxin.info. The problem is only if it was one of only a handful of Aspergillus species that produce aflatoxins.

    Have fun gambling!

  6. Good information guys, thanks for the info.

    Jason, you've done pretty extensive research and writing about pu'er teas. Have you come across anything that you wouldn't touch yourself?

  7. @RTea

    Despite having drunk civet cat coffee and "poo poo" pu'er and having eaten many varieties of insects and organs, I have found a couple of teas that I drank once and threw out. Both were pu'er.

    One I bought in Chinatown LA; it tasted chemical, like Raid insecticide. The other had stringy mucilage when I lifted the leaves to get a better view, kind of like the inside of okra.

    Both ended up in the trash.

    I had visibly moldy wet stored pu'er in Taiwan, but it was mostly white fuzzy mold, not yellow spots. I have drunk yellow spot mold before on some 1970s Guang Yun Gong cakes and lived to tell the tale.


  8. A pu-erh teashop I used to frequent had a selection of old Liu An tea compressed in those woven bamboo baskets. Every basket had some of these yellow mold dots just as in your picture. The shop owner drank this tea regularly, and just advised us to rinse it three times before drinking the infusions. The golden spores on my baskets disappeared after a month or so at home, probably due to the much lower humidity in my home.

  9. @Jason: ahh, poo poo'er - probably one of the first types of pu'er that I had tried. Turned me off to the tea for years.

    @Iggy: interesting point about Liu An tea. I have heard tea retailers talk about how customers have brought back baskets of Liu An because there was mold that had developed somewhere between the bamboo/leaves/tea.

    @MarshalN: looks like I'm still going to drink this tea - I'll try to find a piece that isn't too moldy to start with. Will def let you guys know how it turns out.

    I believe this tea is at least as old as, but probably older than, the late 50s blue label metal cake I had in Taiwan last winter. My friend said it's a very unique cake, very special and tasty. Elliot, you're welcome to a cup if you're free next Weds/Thurs.

  10. Don't diss poo poo tea, it's great!

    Good luck. I've had some yellow mold pu myself, despite my warning. Most of the time they're not very tasty. If your chunk is big, I'd suggest leaving some to air out before you drink it.

    Slightly skeptical on the age claim there though -- leaves don't look right.

  11. 以毒攻毒 - maybe the mold will cure my allergies. Or give me new ones.

    I don't yet know what the age is and I haven't seen or read enough about pu'er to know all the indicators to look for. It's quite possible that this tea is a "younger" label tea. The only way my friend will tell me is after I drink it and share my thoughts with him. I am waiting for a good day in about a week or two.

  12. Hi everyone! I came across a photo on the Hojo Tea site (Japan) that seems very similar to this one. Seems to be the same kind of mold tipical of Fu Tea (Mongolian Tea), isn't it?

    Here is the link, I hope it's of some help: http://hojotea.com/item_e/d01e.htm


  13. Hey Serena, I believe the Fu tea that most Mongolians drink is still produced in China. The golden mold, from what I've learned, is not always present nor is it typically seen in pu'er or post-fermented teas (although it does happen). It is nice to see that other people have seen it as well, though. Thanks for the link!

  14. This mold is supposedly only characteristic of fuzhuan cha, which is a fermented tea from Hunan Province (not Yunnan and therefore NOT a Pu'er). This is the same tea that the Mongolians drik called Fu tea and there is extensive literature, albiet in Chinese that states the numerous health benefits of this tea. The development of the Golden flower is part of the tea processing, and while this tea does take some time to produce, it is a "cooked" rather than "raw" fermented tea, which means that it is artificially aged through a damp piling method. You can get it on the web under the name PHatea in the United States.

  15. Lima Foodie, this is indeed Fu Tea. After all of the comments I received, I wrote a follow-up post with more info on this brew: http://www.myteastories.com/2010/09/truly-great-minds.html

    I was sent an article about the golden flowers from a tea contact in Taiwan that is written in Chinese, which if you're able to read, I'd be happy to share.

    BTW, I had my first taste of Peruvian food at Andina in Portland last month. The cebiche was awesome, better than any cebiche/ceviche I've had in Seattle, Vancouver or San Fran. Good stuff!