Dry Mengku Puer

Red Tea Puer, 2000 Meng Ku Cake Made of Tips

Red Tea Puer, A Cautionary Tale on What to Avoid

Hongcha [red tea] pu, a phrase that I saw on a forum recently, encouraged me to document an otherwise forgettable tea that I recently came across. The cake is supposedly a late 90’s / early 2000’s (prior to wrapper dating) Mengku. I am not sure if the Yun Cha logo wrapper was original or any real indication of its true origin, so i will just use the vendor’s explanation of 2000ish Mengku as a guiding light. Hopefully this tea can serve as a cautionary tale for new puer drinkers searching out teas to age.

Fake Puerh
Misc. Yun Cha Saturn Wrapper

Some tea producers I have met have been pressing cakes out of pure tips. When I inquired as to why they would do this, they gave two reasons. First, the cake looks attractive. A cake full of gnarled buds is aesthetically more pleasing than a cake with shards of huang pian and broken leaves. Second, they can sell it for a higher price. Apparently many buyers are willing to pay a premium for such cakes. I am not amongst those buyers, as I prefer a cake with a blend of large/small leaves, and the introduction of huangpian and other riffraff has never frightened me. (see: Yexiangwang)

Red Tea Puer
Tippy Dry Cake

The leaves of this cake are tight furry curls, red and orange. The cake is almost exclusively young tips and smells like red tea from Fujian [red tea = black tea, for the purposes of this post] . I took a sample with me, and snapped some photos of the cake. It should be noted that the color and matte finish of this cake is likely due to long term Beijing storage. Beijing is extremely dry. Extended Beijing storage, especially nearly a decade, could turn most teas towards this end of the lifeless dryness spectrum.

Puerh tea blog
The reddish soup

After a rinse, the leaves smelled like a Fujian red tea. Floral, some scent of yams. No smell of aged tea or of puer is present at all. The floral smell of red tea and the floral scents in puer are usually distinguishable, but the aroma of sweet potatoes,  is a more common trait of Fujian red teas. It is also entirely possible that this tea is just parading around as something it is not, but there is another possible explanation for the red tea flavors of this cake- that the tippy nature of the cake is to blame. The user Dadian [大滇] from the hk tea forums noted that in his experience:

For cakes made of only single bud tip, this also not very enduring as well as taste like red tea at mid-age. [translated from Chinese, by Apache, who passed along the forum thread]

If you concede that Beijing storage of 12 years is considered “mid-age” (and many would not), then this is a great example. Dadian thinks tippy cakes like this do tend towards a red tea character, and I agree. Furthermore, I think cakes like this do not tend to age well, with this cake is a gold star example of such crapulence. So, how was the tea?

Mengku Puer Cake
Another look at the tiptacular dry cake

The first tea steep went down the throat with all of the smoothness of an oversteeped bag of Lipton. Scratchy on the sides of the tongue, no kuwei [bitterness], in my notebook I wrote:

wtf is this?

Always a good sign.

I powered through until the fifth steep, at which point, I raised my white flag and surrendered, throwing the remaining tea in the trash bin and moving on to something better. I jotted down:

Could have stopped at 3.

What this tea is exactly is still not clear to me, maybe it is 2000-ish mengku puer, maybe not.  Regardless of what it is, it is a victim of being too tippy and force draining dry storage. (pic from Jakub)

Spent tips

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Chenshenghao Puerh

2012 Chenshenghao Yiwu

Yiwu Puer, Calm and Quiet

Another tea from the Chenshenghao brand, this time an Yiwu puer. I may have made the mistake of leading with the strongest in a bunch of samples in my previous post. From here on out, my enthusiasm for the brand dwindles. (NO! WAIT! Don’t click close! This review is really interesting, I swear!)

Puer tea
Dried puer leaves atop a lid

The dry leaves show a good blend of tippy material with some larger leaves. The tangle of leaves carries a pungent, sweet aroma.

puer stem
Detail of a leaf and stem

After a rinse, the aroma becomes even sweeter with some light overtones of fruit.

The first few infusions are creamy, pleasant.

Pleasantness is nice, but if highschool taught me anything, it is the limitations of pleasantness. Pleasant is good for a chat in the cafeteria, but it will never get you a date with a prom queen. It’s better to have an attitude. A motorcycle. A name like Dylan McKay.

That was a terrible analogy/90210 reference, but what I am getting at is the general Milquetoast nature of this tea. The following infusions barely deviate at all. If one was looking for a tea with depth or evolution, this would not be the cake to settle on. There is a gentle kuwei [pleasant bitterness] and …and…and that is about all. Not a whole lot of character, just a quiet and generic Yiwu puer.

Yiwu puer
Cup of young yellow soup

Whether this kind of Yiwu puer ages well is anybody’s guess, but I refer my readers to this thread on teachat, where some experienced puer drinkers have a discussion that dances around this issue. This tea probably does not have the strength to age beyond 5-10 years, but that is just this humble puer junkies semi-educated guess. With a lack of strength and definitive character at such a young age, it is not a gamble I would want to take.  We shall see , maybe this tea will be worth USD 500 a decade from now and i will have to bake up some humble pie.

Knowing Chenshenghao’s tendency to push up their prices, I may need to preheat my oven.

Puerh leaves on a cup
Some spent leaves on a cup

 

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Six Famous Tea Mountains

2002 Six Famous Tea Mountains (6FTM) Kaiyebing

Six Famous Tea Mountains in the early 2000’s

Six Famous Tea Mountains brand (named for the actual six famous tea mountains ) has experienced one of the more profound falls from grace amongst puer brands. I had yet to discover puer tea when they were producing quality teas, but most puer drinkers agree that any six famous tea mountains tea produced after 2004 (give or take a year) is pretty low on the quality spectrum. This tea was from a bit before the cutoff date and is a formidable argument for the former reputation of the brand.

Great Puerh Tea
The dry 6FTM tea

The color in these two photographs is a bit washed out, the actual leaves are bit deeper brown than this, something towards a medium chestnut brown. The dry leaves smelled of caramelized tobacco and had some fluffy white spotting on them, as pictured on the detail below.

Moldy Tea
Some white fluff on the tea

After a quick rinse,  the gaiwan held a sharp woodsy tobacco smell. A very intriguing way to enter a session. The first steep extended the intrigue, with a jumpy vibrancy on the tongue and a hint of some camphor.  After a couple of steeps, the gaiwan lid was malty. The astringency remained present through over half the session, but was never a nuisance when couple with the cooling in the throat. In the way of flavor, this tea is very light and thin, but this is offset by the myriad of other activity going on.

Puer Tea
A look at the soup and leaves

In my note book i scrawled

Very good example of a tea with little flavor, but a lot of feeling

In beverages, a lot of emphasis gets placed on flavor. Try explaining to a non-puer drinker why a lightly flavored tea has value and you will no doubt encounter a bit of difficulty, but let me try to expand upon why i enjoyed this tea, despite its shortcoming in the flavor department.

Here are some notes I took, scattered between steepings

Vibrant

Tingling

Cooling in the mouth and throat

Immediate Qi [body calm, etc]

The cooling in the throat and bouncy liveliness in the mouth were like a lights on a path, guiding the session. The addition of some nice Qi contributed to the enjoyment.

For flavor, i didn’t make many notes beyond its generic aged flavor, which was not bad, but fairly common amongst tea in this age range. Certainly not the strong suit of this cake. Some of the smells in the cup and gaiwan held my attention, mixes of malt and stale caramel, along with tobacco and general agednees at the start of the session.

Six Famous Tea Mountains
Spent leaves

This enjoyable session does give some insight into why people like (and fake) early 2000’s Six Famous Tea Mountains tea.

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White 2 Tea Company

White 2 Tea Co. : A New Venture

Hello Dear Readers,

 

I appreciate your following of my humble tea drinking activities, and would like to inform you all about my new venture, White 2 Tea Co.

I have begun a new tea shop to source some of the puers that I enjoy, and I think it warrants mentioning that I am not exactly sure how to handle this venture and its correlation with my own blog. My own tea blog has served as a place for me to share some photos and information about thoughts I have on various teas that I drink in my daily life. However, if I am selling teas, I think it presents a conflict of interest. So, before I break out the champagne to celebrate my new shop, a few notes to my readers:

  • For the time being, I will not be reviewing any of the teas I sell. First, I think it would be less than graceful for me to blab on about the endless virtues of a tea I am selling. Second, if I am choosing to sell the tea, it is because I think it has inherent value and quality. You can take my choice to sell it as a vote of confidence. If you are interested in more information or my opinion on a particular tea, either contact us on white2tea.com or keep your eyes on other bloggers (Both Hobbes and Jakub have both written reviews as of the writing of this post)
  • I will give honest opinions about other retailers that I support and buy tea from. I have no desire to bad mouth the competition unless it is deserved and will give credit where credit is due. There are plenty of retailers who I am happy to patronize, such as Yunnan Sourcing or Pu-erh.sk, who I think do good work, and I will commend them as such. The market has a lot of dishonesty and low quality flimflam, both in China and abroad. I would rather support the people doing good work and see the market shift in a healthy direction than line my own coffers. (As for the less than savory sellers, I probably don’t drink their tea and have no reason to mention them)
  • Hopefully I am not being too idealistic in trying to separate my own tea drinking from a tea shop. If it becomes some sort of problem, I will cross that bridge when I come to it

And now for the champagne – I hope everyone is enjoying the blog and that you all get an opportunity to try the teas from my shop, this blog, and everywhere in between.

 

 

Take a deep breath and enjoy what you drink,

Twodog

 

 

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Chenshenghao

2012 Chen Sheng Yi Hao

Chenshenghao

Before going into this tea, a brief explanation of Chen Sheng Hao (陈升号). The Chenshenghao brand is currently one of the priciest brands of puer tea on the market. The Chenshenghao label is generally known for securing lots of Ban Zhang region material, being famous, and being expensive.

This cake, the Cheng Sheng Yi Hao, is one of the least pricey puer teas the brand has to offer.

Chenshenghao
A look at the dry Chenshenghao puer

The picture above is a little on the blue side of the color spectrum, but the young raw puer is that dark.  It was fragrant, with a couple of larger leaves (front right) mixed in amongst a majority of buds.

Chenshenghao  raw puer
Steeping Chenshenghao

The gaiwan lid had a breezy smoke on it, which was also present early in the session. This smoke will probably drift away with time, and is likely due to the processing, but it was smooth and not at all unpleasant.

After the first couple of steepings, the smoke transitioned into tobacco, with an intense bitterness. The soup heavily coated the throat and had a little bit of huigan [sweet afterglow], but not in perfect balance with the kuwei [pleasant bitterness], which was burly. Had the huigan been in proportion, my mouth would have been very sweet indeed.

Chengshenghao puerh
Tea in the cup

The sample I brewed was roughly 9 grams (I noted, but forgot to weigh), and had decent staying power. Roughly 12 steeps and the tea continued forward. It was willing to go on, but I was ready to hang up my hat and call it a day. I noted:

Still smooth until the end. Pretty damn decent

Usually when I write something like “pretty damn decent”, it is sort of a nod to my initial bias being wrong. I have not given Chenshenghao too much credit in the past, thinking of the brand as the LV of tea. A designer brand with a famous name and equally famous prices. But hey, LV makes some good designs. That’s one of the reasons they are well known. (That, and marketing)

Chen Sheng Hao Puerh
Spent pile

 

I should also note, recently I whipped through a pile of samples from older Chenguanghe Tang samples, and despite not writing them up, I did enjoy several of  the older teas. (Marshaln has blogged several of them, poke around)** There were mixed results, sometimes the price defies logic, and in other cases, the teas are well blended and well made. This tea falls into the latter category.

The Chen Sheng Yi Hao (陈升一号) tea in this article varies in its Taobao retail price, between roughly USD 50 – USD 75 per 400 gram cake. If you are interested in exploring this brand, I think this is a fine place to begin.

Also, some self promotion news: I am testing out an online shop to source some of the puer I enjoy – will be in full swing shortly!

 

**Edit: I made a mistake in associating Chen Zhitong and Chenguanghe Tang with Chenshenghao – the two are totally separate and have no relation

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