What a romantic name! Yueguangbai [the whiteness of the moonlight] is a lightly processed version of large leaves from Simao area, which in some peoples minds’ would qualify as puerh tea, but may be considered a white tea due to its light processing, or even a red tea after aging. When it is fresh, YGB drinks a bit like a white tea, but after aging it morphs into hongcha flavors [red tea].
I am fudging the date of this tea, and the wrapper is unlabeled. I know that I bought this tea in Guangzhou in 2010. Assuming that it was pressed the fall before, that puts this cake’s birthday around 2009.
This cake has entered into red tea adulthood as you can tell by the auburn soup below.
The YGB is thick with a flavor that my mother refers to as silage. Silage, for those of you city folk, is freshly cut alfalfa or oats or other crops. (consult wikipedia for more silage information) Farming communities are draped in the smell of silage every year, with fermenting plants dotting the fields before they are stored for use as animal feed.
This YGB releases an immediate sweet silage smell. Fermenting hay, dry and saccharine.
How this will continue to age, I have no idea. This session is the first time I have dug into this cake in a couple of years and the change is quite big from how I remember it. It was much less brown, in both color and flavor, the last time I had it. Unlike most puerh tea, I prefer this in its earlier white stage, but alas I can’t turn back the clock.
Not my favorite tea, but for an inexpensive cake of this nature, it is a fun and welcome change of pace.
This Henglichang Bulang tea has gotten some mention from other bloggers with widely varying opinions. Thanks to Apache, I had a chance to try a sample. Luckily, I had not read any other reviews prior to sitting down for my session – so the scribbles in my little notebook were from an unbiased mind – relatively speaking.
When I decided to make a post about the Henglichang Bulang, I poked around to see what others had wrote, finding some divergent views. A 2010 review from Hobbes begins:
Some cakes give you hope. …
This Henglichang* cake is an excellent example of an aged cake that has real “trousers”. The leaves are homogenous in colour – there is no partial blend of type (i) leaves. The whole tea is a big, mahogany treat. It is a big, bold tea that is doing very well for its years. I appreciate its power, its duration, and its complexity.
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.
These two reviews are fairly divergent, which is fine. I will quote my own notes below, which fall somewhere in between Hobbes and Marshaln. I can relate to the trousers and the lack of real complexity. It has both; thick bitterness and a lack of much else going on.
The rest of the quotes are direct from my notes:
Looks very dry. Lots of tips, smells of dusty books
Deep throaty kuwei right out of the gate, active salivary glands. Chocolatey.
Strong kuwei. Horehound
Heroic staying power, 20+ steeps
That was the abridged version of the notes. After looking over what I wrote, I noticed a surprising lack of adjectives such as good or bad. Very little in the way of judgmental adjectives, which is not that common for me. My notebook is usually littered with swear words or praise, or in some cases, both. It has been a couple of months since I drank this tea, but I remember drinking it for over an hour before a basketball game one Sunday. (We did win the game, which i must partially credit the Henglichang bulang for)
I do not throw around the phrase Heoric staying power lightly. I do remember this tea having a never ending rolling bitterness, which I enjoyed. I do also remember there not being much change or complexity, but I didn’t mind. Also, this is probably the first and only time I have encountered a note of horehound, which is a nostalgic flavor of a candy (derived from a plant) that my grandfather enjoyed and I ate on trips in South Dakota in my youth. Probably to do with the thick coating and dark syrupy tea.
Additional reviews, which i jacked from Marshaln/Jakub’s posts include: Jakub T , The Skua , and Wuxingcloud. And now you can add my notes to the pile.
Apache introduced me to the new darling of the Hong Kong internet forums, the 2011 Jin Dayi, with a sample packet (signed with beautiful penmanship, as shown above). The first time I had checked the price of this tea was several months ago, when it was hovering around 215 RMB. By the time I drank the tea, it was nearer to 300 RMB. As of the writing of this article, it is above 300 RMB – or 380 RMB at the flagship store. Some pretty active climbing for a newish tea from a big factory.
This runaway freight train price increase is due in no small part to the accolades doled out by Cloud, Hong Kong tea aficionado. The Hong Kong tea forums have been bustling with praise over the last year, with prices rising commensurately.
To be perfectly honest, most Dayi raw puer after the early 2000’s has been a bit of a drag. There are bright spots here and there, but in general, nothing to rave about. After seeing the enthusiasm over this tea, I had to try a bit and jump on the bandwagon.
The first cup is a bell tolling. A loud declaration of presence. There is kuwei [pleasant bitterness] and a syrupy coating in the throat from the outset. There are bones and guts and body. These are high compliments, as most Dayi sheng from recent years is a bit lacking in the skeletal department.
The gold dayi also has fortitude. Deep into the session, there is still a strength of kuwei and full body that is not present in most of the recent Dayi teas I have tried. It is clear why Cloud and the HK tea forum crowd are backers of this tea.
The Jin Dayi is typical in its menghai character, but it is done better than any I have had in previous years. As for what I mean by menghai character, Hobbes described it as
dark-mushroom with malt, and plenty of hardcore bitterness.
This is in the ballpark of how I would describe Jin Dayi, if I could swap out mushroom for raw tobacco. The darkness, malt, and hardcore kuwei are all there in force. Altogether these components combine for a very intense and pleasurable session.
One last note, the 2011 Jin Dayi blend has a fairly wide range in leaf size. Some buds, some larger broad leafs. Ages of the material also ranges, but in general seem to be a few years old. It drinks more smoothly than several other 2011 Dayi blends I have sampled. Some details on the leaves in pics above and below.
If you plan on purchasing this tea, probably better to do it sooner than later. The price will probably climb into farcical territory soon, if it is not there already.
Special thanks to Apache for allowing me to sample a tea I might not have otherwise gotten around to!
It has been a few months since the beginning of my blog, and I have yet to mention much shu [cooked, ripe] puer, aside from these lousy teabags. It is not because I never drink shu, but within my puer drinking, it probably only constitutes 5%-10% of my overall consumption. (Or in the last two months, maybe 1%) I do enjoy shu puer, but find it less engaging than sheng [uncooked, raw] puer, so I usually drink it less often. I also tend to drink teas that are redder in color in colder weather, so when winter hits, I drink a lot more aged sheng and shu than in spring and summer, when I tend to drink younger teas. With old man winter announcing his presence this last week, it was time to bring out the cooked pu. (Although these pics are from a couple months ago)
In the past, I felt like I have crapped all over Liming Factory, due to this Qiaomu Chawang, which is mainly their own damn fault, for naming such an average tea the “arbor tea king”. Where is the humility?! But, a little bit of the blame rests on me for being picky and demanding. The price of the tea king isn’t reasonable, but I don’t hate Liming. And to prove I don’t completely hate Liming, I present this cheap shu puer. A similar shu is floating around Taobao and can be bought for anywhere between USD5- USD15, a totally reasonable price for a very drinkable everyday shu. (The shu below is a bit more expensive, but very similar, I have had both) If you are a fan of shu, I recommend you pick some up. If only their “arbor tea kings” has a similar price tag.
Now, Liming factory is sort of a copycat, and these cakes are far from the best shu puer you can get, but they are decent for their price. Having a cake of shu around which can be chipped into 15 gram chunks without fear of being decadent is a blessing. This is a solid shu, with a classic woody flavor and some medicinal kind of flavor floating around. A warm friend to help welcome winter.
Ordering $4 tea off of Taobao is kind of like playing roulette. The odds are against you – to a degree that make roulette look like a wise investment. After scouring taobao tea with dreams of winning big, but you would be thrilled to get any return at all. In all likely hood, you will walk away a loser. There is a reason the Venetian has enough money to hire gondoliers to sing to you; it’s a rigged game. So, why do we gamble? Addiction Hope. Hope is the reason.
As for myself, I’ve never been a roulette man, a craps man, or even a casino man. What I am, is a taobao tea man. I enjoy flipping around $3 or $20 or…let’s not talk about amounts, the point is, I enjoy laying bets and seeing if I can turn up a gem once in awhile.
This habit has turned up its fair share of shit tea, but once in awhile, you get lucky. This cake is an example of the excremental side of the dice rolling. One of many cakes where I spun the wheel – and lost. So…Why write about? No reason really, except that somebody noticed a stray comment I had made on a message board referring to this tea, and was curious if it was this yexiangwang tea. I decided to clear up which tea was which, and also try to point out some of the silver linings of the cloud that is this “Naka” tea.
First, let’s start with a basic question – is this Naka tea? The most logical answer would be – no. Why is this not Naka tea? Well, for one thing, Naka raw material ought to be more expensive than $2 per 357g. If someone tries to sell you a real Rolex on a street corner for $10, the most obvious question is “why $10”? I knew this going in to the purchase, but was curious what they were trying to pass off as Naka for the same price as a happy meal.
After a rinse, this tea leaves the gaiwan smelling fruity and sweet. The lid also has a beany aftersmell (neither of those are actually words). The first steep is very cloudy and dirty. Lots of floating bits and a lack of clarity in the soup. I decide to pour it out and score it as a double rinse.
The first drinkable steep is a dark golden color, with higher clarity than the first two rinses, but a bit more dirty than most good puer. Black floaty dots stubbornly remain despite repeated rinsing; I decide to drink them, as the alernative seems to be an additional five rinses and I am a lazy, lazy man.
The soup is very se [astringent], with a very light kuwei [pleasant bitterness], and no throat or mouthfeel to speak of. The tea is in and out of the mouth in a flash, like drinking hot water.
The next steeps stay in the mouth a little longer, with the clarity maintaining its cloudiness. It is difficult to pinpoint where this tea is from, but I think Lincang would a reasonable guess. The price, flavors, scents, and clarity would make a convincing argument. The tea never really becomes cleaner, in flavor or clarity. The throatfeel has moments of comfort, but they are fleeting.
The tea drifts along through the session in roughly the same way it began, a bit harsh and dull. But, let’s review our fact sheet: $4. 357g. You don’t go to McDonald’s and complain that your burger is overcooked. For $4, you take what you get, which in this case, is a dirty lincang-ish cake. You could do worse, but you could also do better. I chalk it up to another small loss at the taobao casino.
I would not really recommend this cake to anyone, but if you want to try it for the sake of masochism research, i can break you off a piece. I have plenty left. Or, go here.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
This enjoyable session does give some insight into why people like (and fake) early 2000’s Six Famous Tea Mountains tea.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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
Bai Cha Tang (百茶堂) is a brand that I had yet to delve into, until a suggestion from Shah (of teachat fame). From what I have read, this cake is a middle of the road entry point to their productions – not old or precious, but still quite good. This cakes proper name is sandai [third generation] tiebing [iron cake] , which boasts gushu [old arbor] material. As you can see from the leaves below, they are typical of an tiebing (see: pressed into oblivion).
Sweet aged smell coming off of the leaves. The friend who sent me this puer was in Guangzhou, but I think this cake spent some of its life in Kunming. The Guangzhou storage shows, as its age is more apparent than say, this 7542 i recently reviewed, with twice its age.
As one would expect with a tiebing, it takes a little while to gear up. The aged flavor is accompanied by balanced kuwei [pleasant bitterness] and a thick coating in the throat and mouth. The tea also had a noticeable qi [mystical voodoo magic or body calm].
As you can see, the gaiwan was stuffed. The tea carried on for an impressive 20 steeps, which was partly due to the 10g-12g in the gaiwan and partly due to the puer itself. Midway through this marathon session there was a vibrancy on my lips and huigan [sweet aftertaste], both of which were pleasant. This tea just marked its fifth birthday and seems to have plenty of potential for further aging.
The tea is not exactly pretty, but when the tea is good, I tend not to care about such superficial things. I will keep an eye out for some Baichatang cakes to add to my own coffers, they are fairly reasonably priced and well made.
A random note: this blog post of a 2008 Bai Cha Tang 3rd Gen Tiebing turned up in my searching and it interested me because the author’s leaves were so much larger than mine and mostly unbroken! It could be that the samples I had were broken off haphazardly or that my cake was just more heavily chopped. Who knows. Seems that author of the seemingly defunct blog enjoyed the cake too.
I have owned several Apple computers in my day. Several of my PC fanboy friends would deride my decision to purchase with valid points ranging from software incompatibility to lack of gaming options, but their loudest complaint was always the same; price. When a brand offers a quality product and sells it for a premium, my American heritage has taught me to applaud the unabashed capitalist profit margins. I never minded paying extra for my computers, or my puer, if it offers something special. The design was sleek, I liked the OS, and I could always play games elsewhere. I felt like the mark up was worth it. The brand was offering me something. Segue to:
A friend recently sent me me several Fujin (福今) factory cakes, ranging from the mid 2000’s through 2012. Fujin’s prices are in the Apple mark up range, but with the added value of a Hewlett Packard. I have had a dozen or so Fujin cakes, and my experience has always been roughly the same; the cake is alright, and there is a cheaper option out there for 1/3 of the price with comparable quality. Now that I am done getting on my soap box regarding my gripes against Fujin, let me take a look at the positives:
One of the first cakes I sampled was this 2006 Bulang Qingbing. In a whirlwind of 2006 Bulang tea, Fujin produced at least four that I know of; a ripe cake, this raw cake (qingbing), and a high grade raw cake, which retails around 1800 RMB (~$300) and a Bulang chawang [tea king] brick that sells for even more than that. (Some outlets price it upwards of $600)
My favorite part of this tea was the smell of smoked trout that came off of the leaves after the wash. It’s not often that I have memories of eating brook trout conjured up during puer sessions. The leaves were very tightly packed, and the third steep was still a bit subdued. After the leaves finally opened up, they revealed a relatively smooth smoke. Something like a 70/30 balance of smooth vs. harsh. This is will probably smooth out over further aging.
Later in the session there was an undercurrent of sweetness, with leather and tobacco throughout. Around steep ten I decided to do a 10 minute oversteep and, surprisingly, there was very little change in the character of the tea with only an increase in density. It mostly remained the same throughout the session.
Overall, this is a pretty standard representation of a factory production Bulang mountain tea. Lots of chop, tightly pressed cake, average material with decent staying power. The Fujin brand has plenty of loyalists, but I do not count myself amongst them. However, I am also not a detractor of their teas. This cake is decent, but not quite my taste, and certainly not a value cake.
Fujin is a well known brand, and brand names come at a price.
Preconception can be a pain. My brain had already worked out a wonderful expectation of what a ten year plus 7542 puer ought to be, and I had latched on to the idea, despite the session flying in the opposite direction. Where that concept came from, I am not sure. Probably a conglomeration of romanticized past experiences coupled with the unshakeable optimism that accompanies hunger or thirst. Your stomach is empty and someone utters the words “dessert”. Your thoughts drift into a world of decadent layered cheese cakes, freshly baked chocolate chip cookies, and warm fruit pies. Then, the waiter brings over a plate of ho hos. (No offense to the readers who like ho hos, they have their place, but that aren’t a homemade cake) Anyhow, this particular cake did not quite live up to my expectations, which is more my own fault than the cakes. The tea was good, and will likely be better if stored humidly for a few more years.
7542 is a recipe that can have some fairly wide variations. Different factories and years label 7542 (A recipe that has officially been in use since 1975) on cakes, which when consumed side-by-side, bear only a faint resemblance. Menghai factory (Dayi) productions of 7542 tend to be fairly uniform, but when you factor in further variables like different productions (this particular sample was 201 pi) and aging, you get further off into the unquantifiable ether of puer. This particular tea falls somewhere in the middle of the pack, not the best example, but far from the worst. (see: ho hos)
The scent of the dry leaves is gentle and woody. The leaves are on the dry side of the moisture spectrum with a matte finish. I only know that this tea spent the last couple of years in Sichuan, prior to that, it’s anybody’s guess. The leaves give off a middle-aged smell.
The liquor is a dark ochre color, not as red as my amateurish photography suggests. The first whiffs off of the gaiwan smell of scotch, vanilla, and tobacco.
The first steeping was oddly se [astringent], which was a surprise. Given the odors coming off of the dry and wet leaves, I would not have imagined the tea to be very astringent. My guess would have been velvety smoothness, but that turned out to be wishful thinking. After the first steeping, it became less harsh, but remained tannic throughout the session. Around steep number four, the leaves started to open up and some licorice appeared in the cup.
The teas best feature was its huigan [sweet aftertaste] and persistent throat coating. The aged taste was present, but it seemed to have been subjected to much drier storage than a few other samples in the batch. It could use a year in the steam room, as it is still pretty edgy. Maybe I had too many expectations about what this tea ought to be, instead of letting the tea be what it was. I’ll take note of this tendency and never force my hypothetical son, Billy, to join the basketball team against his will. Billy, if you want to dance, I fully support your decision to join the Russian ballet. And 2002 Dayi 7542 puer, may you hold on to your youthful astringency until thine heart is content.