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
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

 

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.

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

 

 

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

Douji Yiwu Raw Puer Tea

2012 Douji Yiwu

Redemption for Douji, Courtesy of the Yiwu Region

Douji’s prices have been steadily gaining in recent years, at an even faster pace than spring material from Yiwu. Devotees of Douji may remember the prices listed by Hobbes in this vintage (…2009) post; back when a nickel would buy you a steak and kidney pie, a cup of coffee, a slice of cheesecake and a newsreel, with enough change left over to ride the trolley from Battery Park to the polo grounds. (Citation)

Unfortunately for those of us in 2012, those days are long gone. Their 2012 Naka fetches a price that makes me squirm, and their Yiwu ranks even higher on the price scale (~690 RMB). That is a tough price to justify, but I have to admit, this is a fine Yiwu.

Yiwu Puer Tea from Douji
Dried leaves, broken off a 100g sample mini-cake

Lots of big leaves, buds, and thick stems. Loosely pressed, and quite easy on the eyes. One of the sexier spring cakes I have seen in 2012.

Steeped Yiwu
Wet leaves resting in the bowl

The first steep was very astringent. On the second steep, I took the eloquent note:

worried it’s going to suck

Luckily that forecast was 100% wrong, and by the third steep it became very entertaining. There was a very strong cooling in the mouth and throat, and some nice qi [voodoo] for an Yiwu.

Yiwu tea and leaf
Big beautiful leaf, beautiful golden liquor.

The huigan [sweet aftertaste] and feeling in the mouth with persistent. My throat felt like it was coated in warm butter. As you can see from the photo above, the color is not unlike that of melted butter, so perhaps there is some relation.

Yiwu Teas
The Yiwu tea itself

There is a reason that Yiwu is a famous region for tea, and this Douji Yiwu is a stellar example of that reason. The price is steep, at roughly USD 110. Is it worth that much? It depends if you are an investment banker or a public school teacher. The tea is excellent, made with high quality healthy leaves, a blend of broad leafs and buds, with thick stems, as in the picture below. If you are short on time (or geographically distant) and can not search through high-end spring teas to buy, this would not be a bad place to settle. If I had to choose USD 90 for Liming from 2005 or tacking on 20 dollars to your bill for this Yiwu, there is no contest. You upgrade to the Yiwu.

For the more budget conscious consumer, you might want to set your sites on other brands and snoop around lesser known regions.

Yiwu tea leaves
Spent leaves and the golden Yiwu soup
Liming puer

2005 Liming Qiaomu Chawang

Qiaomu and Other Oft Used B.S.

Oh, Liming Factory! Never bashful about overstating the quality of your tea. You are the American student of tea factories, 1st in confidence, 37th in ability. Alright, I am unfairly singling out Liming factory, as the entire puer tea industry is filled with this kind of over ambitious labeling. This particular puer tea, labeled Qiaomu Chawang [Arbor Tea King] is certainly high on ambition. Maybe a less regal title, something more in the middle management range.  Maybe Qiaomu Junior Supervisor. And arbor…we would need to change that too. But, I guess Plantation Junior Supervisor just isn’t sexy enough to sell cakes.

Qiaomu
Dry leaves in a very yellow photograph
aged raw puerh
Closer detail

The leaves are a beautiful dark brown color, and they smell how they look; brown, rich and aged. I noted their smell was “enchanting”, so maybe we should promote this tea to the position of Qiaomu Baron.

Qiaomu puer
Soup

The first steeps left a lot of aged tobacco flavor in the gaiwan, with a creamy scent on the lid. The first several infusions presented a nice kuwei [pleasant bitterness] and a fast huigan [sweet aftertaste]. The soup was a little bit thin overall, but there were several flavors warring for dominance. Also, for a tea that was a bit thin,  it had some staying power. The tobacco flavor that was so prevalent in the first four steepings trailed off and the later session was dominated by some throat coating bitterness, which was quite pleasant, even if the flavor became a bit generic.  Overall, the body feeling and general feeling of the tea was fairly average, for a tea with a higher than average price tag of around USD 90 on Taobao.

The tea has some potential to age further, as it still retains a fair amount of strength, but I would rather drink several other teas with lower price tags, were I buying factory productions from this time period.

raw puerh tea
Spent leaf

The leaves were fairly heavily fragmented. The leaf pictured above is one of the bigger leaves I could find when rummaging around the gaiwan. If I were to lay a bet, the label of qiaomu on this tea is pretty misleading, seems like mostly plantation material. The title of tea king is not worth discussing – there can only be one king, and that is clearly Tiandiren. (ha)

For the price/quality of this tea, I am just not sure who is buying this stuff? To prove I am not just relentlessly crapping all over Liming factory, there is a ripe Liming cake that I really enjoy. I will break it out and take some photos one of these days, as a penance for my treason against the king.

puerh tea leaves
Wet leaves in the gaiwan (before the lid cracked)
Puer Tea Blog

2010 Fujin Cangpin Qingbing

The last Fujin puer, for now…

After reviewing my last post, it was apparent that I am lacking enthusiasm for reviewing these Fujin teas. So, for the sake of sparing my own sanity, this is the last Fujin puer review i will be posting for awhile.

The 2010 Fujin Cangpin Qingbing claims to contain spring Banzhang material. It retails between USD 50-100, depending on your dealer, about half the price of the 2010 Diancang. I do not care to speculate on what the material is exactly, but at least they did not add a lao [old] in front of the Banzhang. This cake did at least bear some vague resemblance to Banzhang tea, so, who am i to judge?

Fujin Puer Tea
Dry Fujin puer

Again, tightly pressed, factory, yada yada yada.

Tea Gaiwan
Gaiwan full of tea

Early in the session this tea had some enjoyable vibrancy dancing around on the tongue and lips. The first few steeps had some wonderful floral smoothness that coated my throat and mouth. Unfortunately, midway through the session, these lovely traits vanished.

Puer sessions are a bit like a 400m race. The unsuccessful runner blows their energy in the first 50 meters and can not make it to the finish line. This particular Fujin puer is a great sprinter.

Tea cup
Soup in the cup

The tea yielded a lovely golden liquor. I was steeping into the several minute range fairly early in the session in order to coax out some more of the character that was lurking in the leaves. I have had this similar experience with other Fujin puer.

The qi [energy] that was around in the early brews disappeared later on, along with the huigan [sweet aftertaste] and throat feel. It became harsh in the throat, despite having a coated mouth feel throughout the session.

Spent Puer Tea
A look at the spent Fujin Qingbing leaves

In an perfect world, the sprint speed of the early session would have carried on until the end, but sprinters and marathoners are different beasts.

Note: To those readers who saw my mourning of Cel A’ Don (2008-2012), you will notice the photos above show him as a younger, more viral lid. The next few posts are teas from a few weeks ago, before he met his untimely demise. I mean no disrespect to his family and appreciate his service. Let these next few posts honor his memory
gaiwan

Cel A. Don (2008-2012)

broken gaiwan
R.I.P. Mr.Don

Cel A. Don or “Gai”, as he was known amongst close friends, was born in 2008 in Southwestern Zhejiang province. Shortly after birth, he joined the green berets and was shipped off to active duty. He served three years as a lid and won several national awards; most notably for covering civilian leaves who were under hostile fire. Mr. Don passed away in a tragic cleaning accident early Sunday morning, when he collided with the floor. After being rushed to a local hospital, he was pronounced chipped at 9:34 A.M. He had one day left until retirement.

There will be a small service held in the comments section, where friends and relatives can pay their respects.

Mr.Don is survived by his wife, Wan.

Tea blog gaiwan
“Gai” (top) making out with his wife Wan (bottom) prior to the accident – August 2012
Fujin Puer

2010 Fujin Diancang Raw Puer

Fujin Raw Puer Extravaganza

More Fujin raw puer, in a continuation of samples from the 2006 Fujin Bulang. This tea is younger than the Bulang, but commands a higher price. As I noted in my earlier article, Fujin is quite well known for having ambitious pricing. This particular cake, the dian cang [典藏] is translated to mean; a repository of items of cultural significance. Well, alright then…

Raw puer Fujin
Dry 2012 Fujin Puer tea

The dry leaves were again tightly compressed, and looked typical of a sizeable factory production. There was a smell of raw tobacco, and a bit of stank. The chunk that I brewed off of this cake was also quite tippy.

Puer tea
A look at the youngish liquor

 

The first few steeps were dormant and the tea took awhile to open up. The young raw puer taste of tobacco and bitterness arrived soon after, along with a bit of harshness in the throat, presumably due to its age. In my notebook I drew a big arrow from steeps 5-9 and wrote:

No change, monotonous

I did note that when I pushed hard and oversteeped late in the session, there was some maltyness that came out, but that was not enough to bring to the tea into my good graces.  The spent leaves looked fairly healthy, and the cake did have enough strength to have potential for aging.

puer tea leaf
A leaf with a bug bite

I probably won’t revisit this tea in the near future. In the meantime, hopefully the guardians of cultural relics will tend to its aging and be kind enough to break me off a chunk in a decade. As noted above, Fujin prices are steep – this cake retails on taobao for 1200 RMB- 2000 RMB (~USD 190- USD315), depending on the vendor. It is not on my shopping list.

Raw puer
A look at the whole and healthy spent leaves