Sunday October 29, 2006

Long entry. I thought about posting all the pics I took, but then decided it’ll be 1) way too long and 2) not really useful. So instead, I’ll do the low pictures approach for the few notable items of today. Part of the reason is because…. a lot of the cakes look rather similar.

Today was the tasting that is hosted by Hong Zhao Tou, a teashop in Maliandao that is opened by a Taiwanese guy. They also have two stores in Guangzhou, and seem to specialize in Taiwanese oolongs and older puerhs. There were a total of about 15 people at the tasting, seperated into two tables. I ended up on the table with younger people, and hosted by the company’s manager of the branch, a woman in her early 40s (I think?). The other table had a more lively discussion on tea, but they were all older and I think they all sort of knew each other. Everybody is from Sanzui, except a few at my table who were in the trade and were just friends of the boss.

So things got rolling pretty quickly, as we had about 10 puerhs to go through. The first up was a 2002 iron cake, wrapped in one of those old Red Label style wrapper. Nothing remarkable. It was a usual Xiaguan tasting iron cake… nice, not fancy, probably too expensive for what it is.

Next up — 99 Green Big Tree. Nice, a bit spicy, deep, complex, living up to its name, although only about on par with the Yuanyexiang, I think, and by extension, not a whole lot better than the 2002 cake I got from Mengku, and definitely not 13x better, as the pricing indicates. I guess I can probably bargain it down a bit, but since this is vintage stuff, and relatively rare, the room for downward movement in price is small. Nice tea, not worth the admission fee.

Then we had a 97 bing that was ordered by some Malaysian merchant. Menghai stuff, supposedly. Rather uninteresting and flat, especially put next to the Green Big Tree. It was ok, but not great. Interestingly, the tea changed a lot in the few infusions we had. That was rather surprising and worth noting. The first few infusions were not that great, but it got better.

The next was a 97 7542, and surprisingly, it went down well. I liked it, quite a bit, actually. It was selling at the same price as the Green Big Tree, and I think I’d buy this one if I wanted to blow that kind of money on a cake. Complex, interesting, had nice sensations down the throat…. everything I’m looking for in a cake, basically. Not bad at all.

By then, it was already more than an hour, and we were only just getting started.

Then we had a 7542 from the 80s. Wet storage stuff. Sweet, mellow, as a wet storage should be. Not bad, not great.

Continuing the parade, a 8582 from the 80s. This one was stored better, and is one of the cakes I want to show a picture of, because it has something interesting


Front


Back

As you can see — typical recipe cake, where the front is made of small, high grade, leaves, while the back is mostly big low grade ones. Not that it’s bad, just something interesting to note. You can also tell the storage has been largley dry — the leaves are shiny and look good. The flavours…. I remember it being good, not overly impressive, hints of medicine, camphor…. something like that. I realize that it’s starting to blur a little.

We then had an iron cake — 80s traditional character Zhongcha brand. It is, interestingly, not similar at all to what YP gave me. They look rather similar, but this one has been through different kind of storage, probably drier. It’s not nearly as sweet and interesting, but then, maybe the amount of tea they use matters as well. More on that later. Either way…. what YP gave me is infinitely better. Infinitely.

But all of this was sort of a prelude. I wasn’t terribly interested in any of this stuff. Interesting, yes. Educational? Yes. But it’s not why I was here. I was here to taste the old stuff.

Old stuff #1 — small Green Label from the 70s. Quite an interesting tea. Some wet storage detected, but it’s been quite a while now, so it’s not terribly obvious. Very flavourful, complex, deep. The first two infusions were pretty strong, aromatic in an old puerh kind of way, then turns into the sweet water, but with a distinct twist — the taste is ricey. Yes, it reminds me of rice. I don’t know why, but it does. Rice. That, I thought was, quite interesting.

Old stuff #2 — Red Label Iron Cake from the 50s. Same stuff as I tasted from YP, but this one’s weaker — partly because of the problem of not enough leaves. The same sensation of salivation along the sides of the mouth, the same odd sense of astringency that comes up…. and the same inability to continue with a powerful brew from the 5th or 6th infusion onwards. These old teas die fast. I don’t know why, but they do. I guess because they’re old and they’re losing their tea flavours? Still, impressive, and you can’t get this sensation anywhere else.

Old stuff #3 — Songpin from the 30s. Hmmm, I have a few pics for you


Looks just like any other old tea?


This is $17,000 USD in my hands right here. Sorry for the reflection, I couldn’t take it out.


On the left is the Songpin, middle is Red Label, and right is Small Green Label (these are all the wash)

So, how does it taste?

I was desperate, and I drank the wash. Yeah. Part of the reason I drank the wash is because the wash was an amazingly long 30s. I don’t know what she was thinking, but for tea this old….. you shouldn’t wash it for so long, especially when it’s already pretty broken up. I don’t know what they were thinking.

So I drank the wash, and it’s….. interesting. Medicinal is probably the only word I know to describe it. There’s a certain…. aged character to it, but it’s medicinal. The taste is mellow. It’s not strong, it’s not overwhelming, it doesn’t make you cry. If anything, the Red Label would make me cry, not this. It can last many infusions as sweet water…. but it’s really a bit underwhelming, especially considering the price. I get more enjoyment out of my fresh Yiwu than this. Then again, the “tea base” is really good — you can really feel the tea going down, and it stays with you for a long time. But then again, I get this too with good fresh Yiwu leaves, and I honestly cannot say this is vastly different in that respect either.

But this gets me to the pet peeve of the day. Why did they use so little leaves?

Ok, I shouldn’t be complaining, because this is free. Since it’s free. But…. why so little leaves? Somebody weighed the tea they used, and it’s between 3-4 grams. That’s just… so little. Most of the gaiwans were half filled even when brewed, needing long infusion times to make anything of them. Of course, if they filled it up it will not only cost a lot of money, but also get us all tea drunk halfway through the day, but still…

I felt bad for the woman brewing the tea. I think she was seriously burning her fingers by the end of the day. The gaiwans were not the best, I think, and they get quite hot. I felt bad for her.

Overall, an educational day. Some teas were great, some were so so, some were… meh.

I then went to the Mengku store. I decided I wanted more of the Yuanyexiang after all….. and they were SOLD OUT.

Blah. That really killed my day. I was rather unhappy. I asked them to see if they can dig more up from their storage, if they have any left, but i
t’s not looking good. Why are all the teas I actually want to buy so hard to get? This is rather annoying.

I think I am going back to Maliandao tomorrow. I have a few things I want to try/buy that I didn’t get to today.


Comments

Sunday October 29, 2006 — 5 Comments

  1. This is a very interesting post (as usual!)

    There’s one thing about the 8582 from the ’80s you photographed that leaped out at me (I’m assuming it wasn’t a spook of the lighting.) If you look at the cake – either the front or the back – it’s quite clear that one half (the top in both cases) is much lighter than the other half. Does this say something about how it was stored?

    – Lew Perin

  2. That might be the result of the lighting, actually. It looks like Lawrence was leaning over the cake to take the picture, so the bottom 1/2 shadow is the result of his head blocking some overhead lighting.

    However, if it is not the result of the lighting, I too would like to hear what would cause such an uneven aging.

  3. It’s the lighting. I wanted to get a shot of the cake from the top down, instead of at an angle, so I leaned over it a bit, like Davelcorp said.

    The cake looked pretty even in person.

    Most of the other cakes were pretty unremarkable looking — there’s really not much you can tell by looking at a cake, but rather the taste. Even the brewed leaves can look awfully similar.

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