A Tea Addict's Journal

Saturday tastings with friends

November 24, 2012 · 16 Comments

For the past few months I’ve been spending some Saturday afternoons with a couple who run a small tea shop and who press their own cakes every year. The wife is the 3rd generation from a tea family, and they have been in this line of work for a long time, with the tea to go with it, I should add. I enjoy drinking tea with them, partly because unlike lots of people in the tea business here, they’re quite willing to share their thoughts on particular teas frankly. I drink a lot of samples of various things with them, since it’s always good to get second and third (and sometimes more) opinions on teas.

Yesterday I went as usual, and had five teas, in chronological order of when the teas are supposed to have been produced:

1) 2010 Youle, producer unknown, private pressing – nice, strong, a bit rough, but pretty good tea, if it weren’t so damn expensive (something like 700 RMB for a cake)

2) 2008 Chenyuanhao Yiwu Gushu mushroom – awesome, juicy, thick, very Yiwu, maybe slightly too soft in approach, but very good and full. Stored in Malaysia throughout, it still tastes young, probably because it’s a mushroom, but it’s going to turn a corner soon and it’s going to be a good tea.

The Henglichang in a cup

3) 1997 Henglichang Bulang. So we meet at last. This is a sample from a friend, and I believe the whole cake is now sold out. There are lots of reviews online, so colour me prejudiced. The tea is bitter, very bitter, without the bitter transforming into anything sweet. It is not traditionally stored, as some have suspected – it has the colour, but none of the taste. Something is weird, and my friend commented that it might be a mix of different teas pressed together to make something look more aged. We stuck with it for many infusions, although the later ones we only had a small sip each. There’s no real complexity and offers none of the surprises of a well aged tea. After trying this, now I know why this tea is a complete unknown this side of the Pacific. There are lots of options for late 90s teas, and this one isn’t a representative example of a good one.

4) Early 90s Yiwu from David Lee Hoffman. David Lee Hoffman probably needs no introductions. I’ve had a few teas from him before, usually coming via friends who send me samples of what they bought, although the last time I tried his teas was before he started the Phoenix Collection. I can’t seem to find this on his tea list, and I think it’s this thing. This tea has very little taste, and what little it does have suggests something no older than 3-4 years. It has a very thin body, no aftertaste, and no real aroma to speak of. Calling this “tea” is a bit charitable. There are two possibilities – either you believe Hoffman’s claims that this tea is from the early 90s, in which case you should never buy aged teas from him because (judging from this and other examples I’ve had) his cave is where puerh goes to die, or you don’t believe his age claims, in which case you shouldn’t be buying this in the first place. Either way, the conclusions are the same. I don’t care how many years he’s been in the business, but I’ve never had a tea that tastes anything like what a puerh can be given his age claims. You’re better off buying something three years old from Yunnan Sourcing.

Top right – Henglichang, bottom right – Chenyuanhao, left – Hoffman

5) 80s 7582 cooked. This tea has been naturally stored, and frankly, not terribly interesting. It’s nice, smooth, tasty, and the leaves were originally relatively lightly cooked, but really, I’d rather pay $25 USD for a two or three years old Dayi that has lost its pondy taste than paying hundreds for an 80s cooked that tastes only slightly better. The value proposition is just not there for old cooked tea, especially if it hasn’t been through traditional storage. It’s for people who like to burn money.

6) 1960s Guangyungong. This is a tea from my friend’s family storage. Stored naturally throughout without ever having been in traditional storage, and it shows. The liquor is a golden colour, and aroma is quite nice and intense with a smooth aftertaste and good qi. Very elegant and pleasant to drink, and much more interesting in many ways than the usually heavily traditionally stored GYGs out there. Too bad it costs an arm and a leg, but it’s very nice tea.

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16 responses so far ↓

  • Eric Tape // November 25, 2012 at 12:36 am | Reply

    I have the 97 Henglichang Bulang cake.The wet leaf of the cake looks different than the tea in the photo.The cake is composed of a high concentration of gold tips in a base of small red leaf.When I received the cake in 2010 the mild bitterness would pass into a maple syrup taste.The liquor is thick with peanut oil in the mouth feel.The wet leaf is dense,dark reddish- brown and oily to the touch.After a couple years in the sub-tropics(Florida Keys) the cake is mellowing into something I appreciate.

    • MarshalN // November 25, 2012 at 1:36 am | Reply

      The dry leaf description sounds about in line with what I got. The photos are taken under poor lighting conditions with an old iphone, so the quality is low and the colours are not very accurate. I can see how you can brew it lightly or perhaps with lower temperature and have “mild bitterness” but as I stated, there are a lot of choices for this age range and this tea doesn’t compare favourably.

  • Darius Wilkins // November 25, 2012 at 1:50 am | Reply

    How compressed was that mushroom? The taipei ones I have are Xiaguan tight once the cap and the stem are off. The ’03 baoyan seems easy, but I haven’t done much but nibble off of it, since it’s not very appetizing to me. From 2006 and only now starting to have some smalled aged taste from the outer leaves. I hear about tight pressing that preserves aroma, but the pronounced effect of really tight pressings seems to be a better body, in my very limited experience.

    The Youle sounds like my cup of tea!

    I would think it’s weird that that Henglichang is a blend. If it were blended, wouldn’t it be more interesting? Despite the roughness, I liked the flavor of those late 90s dayeh bricks.

    Do your friends have a favorite puerh area to drink or press?

    You can always donate a kidney for the GYG, of course. Much more practical and arms and legs, ‘cept for the cannibals out there.

    • MarshalN // November 25, 2012 at 1:57 am | Reply

      I don’t have one of these mushrooms, so I don’t know. Given CYH is usually not rock solid pressings, I’d imagine this is similar. I find rock solid pressings to be a bad idea generally.

      The Youle is probably your cup of tea indeed, although is it at the right price?

      I’m not sure about the blend thing, we were just trying to figure out how it acquired so much colour without any corresponding taste.

      They press only old six mountains teas, and they only do one pressing a year, and not divide them up into villages, households, or square meters.

      I don’t believe a kidney is worth as much as that GYG.

      • Darius Wilkins // November 25, 2012 at 2:23 am | Reply

        Maybe I don’t know my rock hard pressings from merely firm.

        I’m simply glad I’ve bought all the Youle I’d ever need, along with other younger tea. At $105 for a 2010 tea…well, it’s not too horrible. A number of YS ’10 and ’11 teas are effectively more than that. And of course, there are the ShiKunMu and Douji 6FTM blends that are about the same price. The Youle thing attracted my interest because although there are a lot of Youle teas, there aren’t a lot of *good* Youle teas out there, and outfits like ZhiZheng Tea wants lotsa mullah for their Hong Yue. $136 for the ’11, and god knows how much for their older teas.

        The colors? Faded Hongcha’d tea leaves, maybe?

        I suppose they have a good idea of how well their stuff ages, assuming they buy the same maocha every year or close to it.

        • MarshalN // November 25, 2012 at 3:43 am | Reply

          12 Gents is rock hard.

          $105 is pretty high already, since it has some flaws. I’d much rather pay that much and get some older stuff – time is money.

          The colours – possibly, or some other weirdly processed stuff. There are some weird notes in the taste, non-traditional, you can say.

          They do – the cakes are relatively consistent, and they’ve been pressing their own teas for at least 6-7 years now. It’s possible to do comparisons of year to year and see how it has changed.

  • JakubT // November 25, 2012 at 7:28 am | Reply

    With the Bulang, it helped me to use less leaves than I usually do and steep them for a bit longer – I thought the tea quite nice when prepared that way. On the other hand, my first tastings using “standard” amout, the unending bitterness was pretty strange and unpleasant.

    • MarshalN // November 25, 2012 at 9:03 am | Reply

      A tea that needs to be weakened to be enjoyed is not very good tea. You never hear people wanting to add water to good tea to dilute it so to make it better.

      • JakubT // November 25, 2012 at 9:14 am | Reply

        I wrote “and steep them for a bit longer” – that is not a weaker tea, it’s just a bit different, If you steep 7g in a pot for 10s, it is (very roughly, but you know what I mean) equivalent to steeping 3.5g to 20s.
        I think that some teas come out better like that. Not that it would make a bad tea great, but it can create a reasonable step in quality I think. Also, it makes some “unstable/untamed” teas a bit more reasonable.

        • MarshalN // November 25, 2012 at 9:17 am | Reply

          Fair enough, although I do think lower leaves, longer steep times (or lower temps) tend to do the same thing. You do avoid the nasty stuff, but the point still is – there are other options that are better.

  • nicolastang // November 26, 2012 at 2:36 pm | Reply

    Agree with you on the Henglichang. The other disaster is the 1980s (Early) Snow Mark 7532.

  • GN // November 28, 2012 at 7:35 pm | Reply

    Snow mark disaster? I don’t get it I’ve only had it one and thought it was pretty good stuff.

  • gopuerh! // December 3, 2012 at 9:54 pm | Reply

    I thoroughly enjoyed the Henglichang bitterness. Incidentally I found it shared many similarities to the “Menghai golden puerh 5-years aged Bulang” loose shu available from Scott (which I also enjoyed). I expected more infusions, but the ones it provided were pleasant with that dandelion bite.

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