Ah, yet another king of tea, this time, an Yiwu tea king [cha wang]. The warring states in the Puer tea kingdoms have yet to decide on their one true ruler. With more claims to the monarchy than Game of Thrones, it is always interesting to see which teas can hold their own on the battlefield… Winter is coming.
This cake has a much better claim to the throne than most “tea kings”. The cake is beautiful to look at. Some large leaves and medium compression. Its smell is lightly smokey, probably some leftovers from extra heat during processing. After a rinse, the gaiwan lid has aromas of vanilla, while the leaves have a scent of prunes. This cake is heavy on aromas, which continued evolving throughout.
The first steep was mildly sour on the tongue. Early in the session, a persistent huigan [sweet aftertaste] came into the mouth. Some calming qi, and a bit of energy in the caffeine realm. (Perhaps I went overboard when filling my gaiwan – I noted I was listening to Kanye, which is a rare tea session accompaniment and says a lot about the strength of my brew) The Yiwu tea king apparently has a penchant for American hip hop.
This Yiwu feels like it has strength enough to age, and even being two years old, has a slight aged taste to it already -or at least, it does not taste young. With a strong presence and pleasant malty sweetness, this session was very much enjoyable. Chenguanghe Tang (CGHT) Yiwu Tea King cakes are always welcome in my gaiwan – if someone else is paying.
This was a post from an old session, cleaning out some backlogs of notes.
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!)
The dry leaves show a good blend of tippy material with some larger leaves. The tangle of leaves carries a pungent, sweet aroma.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
Again, tightly pressed, factory, yada yada yada.
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.
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.
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
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
I came across this 250g Dahei Shan [big black mountain] wild purple puer cake at a vendor recently and thought I would write about it, not because the tea was interesting, but because it served as an interesting price vs. tea quality comparison.
This puer tastes remarkably similar to Yunnan Sourcing Dehong purple. Smokey and savory, but unfortunately, with very little of the character that was so expressive in the YS Dehong. (It’s not a direct 1:1 comparison, there was some difference in the huigan [sweet aftertaste] and astringency as well) The cake has been stored in Beijing, leaving it noticeably dry on the surface, as pictured above. The leaves border on an inky purple, lovely how they produce the unexpected golden liquor pictured below.
As is typical of Beijing aging (see: bone-dry), maturity is earned slowly. The soup is gold, reflecting what I guess is very little change from its young state. For a 5 year old tea, this tea has remarkably little maturity. It is a bratty five year old with no manners. Somewhere in the world I suspect this tea has a cousin who grew up in Guangzhou and is well behaved at the dinner table. I’d like to meet him. Whether the lack of character in this tea was due to its storage, or the material itself, is difficult to say. In either case, what struck me was the price tag.
As I noted above, this pretty little cake is 250 grams, but it carried a price tag of 400 RMB (~ USD 63 ) , which is a bit high for my taste. The tea was quite pleasant, but when you consider the YS Dehong is 400g and less than 1/2 of the price (not to mention better tea, in this writer’s humble opinion), it is not worth it. I am not sure where this price tag comes from, but it seems to be related to the labels wild and purple. I have seen some other cakes floating around that are 100g of wild purple this and that for absurdly high prices. The only time something wild and purple should realistically hit this price range is if the cake shows interesting age or if you are at a Phish concert.
In some alternate universe where I had no other purple teas to compare this to, and the price was more towards USD 45, I might consider buying a cake out of curiosity to how it would develop.
I have been waiting patiently for the Douji 2012 stock to arrive, so I could begin to swim through their new teas. Below is this years production of Naka Shan raw puer.
The dry leaves smell like white sugar. Very young, with scents of vegetal grass still present – probably due to being pressed only a month ago, and picked but a few months ago. That young smell can be put-offish, but in this case it is quite endearing.
The first steep was very smooth for such a young tea. No harshness. A little bit of ku wei [good bitterness]. Some vegetal flavors lurking around, with a deep yellow soup.
It became creamy (or what I call creamy… a lot of Naka teas have this sort of fatty, dairy like mouth sensation) in the later steepings, and the kuwei picked up and dropped off around steep number five. There was also a rising se wei [astringency] that I imagine will disappear with age. The astringent feeling was lingering around until about steep number five.
I also noted it was a bit one dimensional, which for me, is not an issue. I am generally a Naka fan, so one dimension of Naka is joy enough. It went for a total of eight steeps, and by nine was fairly lifeless. If a young tea grows tired after under ten steeps, it does raise some concern about how it will age.
In my notes, I reflected:
It is a lovely tea. I only have two complaints:
Conclusions on Douji Tea’s Current Pricing
Douji has left me a little bewildered about puer prices. This cake retails at around 550 RMB (not far off of USD 100). When you creep into 80 dollar territory, you can’t be half-assing it. I remember having a 2006 Nan Nuo from Douji awhile back, and thinking, “Damn, this is great tea.” That tea was using its whole ass. This Douji tea is somewhere near 5/8 ass usage.
In the past, Douji produced some good quality teas, (2006-recently) and their pricing was fairly expensive, but tolerable. With their 2012 teas, it seems several of their teas have leapfrogged in front of the market. Perhaps they are correct in their assumption that Naka teas will continue along the path of Lao Ban Zhang [currently a monopolized pricey region for puer] and continue to drastically increase in price. Or maybe their teas have gained enough of a reputation that they are priced for gifting. Or, perhaps this cake snuck into the wrong weight class.
If I ever press an Yiwu purple puer tea, I will have an extraordinarily difficult time naming it. I won’t bore you with the hundreds of suitable names I have come up with in my free time, but atop my list are “Purple drank“, “Grimace’s delight”, and “Screwed up and chopped“. (or maybe just Lean?… have I lost everyone yet? I am trying to win the award for most 1990’s Houston hip hop references for a tea blogentry this year)
Scott, from Yunnan Sourcing, has gone with a much more direct approach, and named this “Yi Wu Purple Tea”. I actually appreciate his directness, especially considering he could have named it something like Purple Dragon Twilight Emperor’s Blend.
A Quick Bit of Background
Before I jump into this tea blog review. A small discourse evolved around this tea on the popular forum teachat. You can view the thread here. Quick Summary, another puer drinker (Debunix, whose blog can be found here) and I had some differing opinions on this tea. Nothing wrong with differing opinions, and I quite liked the comparison Debunix made between the 2012 Dehong Purple and the Yiwu Purple, which I drank around the same time as the Yiwu purple, but have yet to finish the tea blog post for. I only regret that I had already finished off my sample by the time the discussion occurred, so I never had the chance to drink them side by side like Debunix did, which would have made for a more interesting tea blog comparison.
Back to Tea Blog Tomfoolery
The leaves are attractive and my poor photograph does not capture the depth of the plum purple hue. The sample I had was loosely packed with plenty of large leaves. The smell was light and sweet, and matched the color – if smells can match colors.
If you read the thread above, you know where this is going. One way ticket to Sourtown. Here are some notes I jotted down in my log whilst drinking:
Steep 1: Astringent on the tip of the tongue, some non-distinct Yiwu sugar
Steep 2: Sourness, slight kuwei [bitterness], astringent, a little white sugar on the back end, the cup smells like butter
Steep 3: The gaiwan smells like 7-grain bread, golden colored soup, more sour
(blah blah blah)
Steep 5: Not much going on, sour on the front end, some soft yiwu huigan [sweetness in the mouth after drinking]
(further blah blah blah)
Steep 7: Acerbic the whole way through
When I wrote acerbic, I was thinking of a specific flavor. A lemon wedge that has been left in an exposed glass of water overnight. The reason I know this flavor so well, is due to a personal habit of leaving lemon wedge stuffed water glasses out overnight and drinking them the day after. It is an acquired taste… acquired by being too lazy to throw out old water.
I also made an interesting note, that I was having more fun smelling the cups than drinking the tea, mainly due to the sourness. But, also due to the lovely evolving fragrances the tea was leaving behind in the gongbei [communal cup] after each steep.
Aesthetically, the leaves look healthy, robust. Lots of plump stems and big tea leaves.
Since there was such a difference in what Debunix and myself experienced, I thought I would make a shortlist of possible reasons for the discrepancy:
got a bad chunk of cake
stray lemon rind got pressed got discarded into the maocha
I steeped twice as much tea as Debunix (as you can see from the pictures, I loaded the gaiwan with gluttony*)
mistakenly used vinegar to brew tea in lieu of water
just wasn’t my bag (see: some people like apples, some like oranges)
top level tea blog conspiracy
*I normally steep on the gluttonous (see: American) side of things, and have rarely experienced sour flavor like this, but I am still not ruling it out as a possible reason. If nothing else, it is a variable in our experiment
Whatever the reason, I can not say this was the most enjoyable tea session I have ever had – but it was also not that bad. I want to get another sample, just so i can give the Yiwu purple another go around on the tea blog. That being said, if I was to order a young tea from Yunnan Sourcing tomorrow, I would decidedly prefer the Wu Liang Shan 2012 over the Yiwu Purple.