I went with L today to the Zhongcha offices to taste some of their teas. L is a budding tea merchant, intending to set up shop in Shanghai, and he’s hoping to get some goods from the Zhongcha folks. Zhongcha the brand used to be pretty much the only thing used — almost everything was CNNP Zhongcha brand, since it was a nationalized company. We all know the ubiquitous wrapper. Then things started to splinter, but CNNP’s Zhongcha was still used until basically the past few years, when the rights to use them were more or less revoked and factories mostly use their own brands to make tea, but it is obvious that we have Zhongcha stuff even in 02 or 03. Now, there are, apparently, plans to revive the brand with the China Tea Co. making their own puerh (unlike in the past when it was offloaded to factories to do the work and just slapping the Zhongcha brand on whatever they made — something like that). Some of their first efforts are here:
We tasted a few things. Although the first is not by Zhongcha at all, but rather, the Shuangjiang Mengku factory again. It’s supposedly a cake made in something like 1999 or 2000, when the factory was first starting to make puerh under the current management. They sent a few jian of this tea to CNNP, and it stayed in CNNP’s warehouse. L said this is a good tea and he wants me to try it, since I told him I have tried a few older Mengku stuff before from the same factory…
The tea is actually quite similar to the 2002 cake I bought, but it’s obviously a bit better. The aromas are largely similar — the distinctive Mengku taste profile is there. There’s a strong feel of mintiness in the throat, and it felt very nice going down. The body is quite full, and the tea is flavourful. Storage condition seems largely good, with a little bit of white notes here and there on the cake, but not obvious and won’t be noticed unless you search thoroughly. It’s not cheap, however, but nevertheless I think is a pretty good tea.
We then tried a green tea “puerh” that reminds me of the fake Menghai stuff I had yesterday. It was so similar, except the bitterness is less pronounced. The initial two infusions were very sweet, nice, basically zero bitterness, almost no sense of astringency, but then the tea turns nasty on you, losing the sweet edge and instead turns bitter over time. It’s mostly made of those silvery buds. I think these teas generally just turn out this way — sweet and nice initially, but then turning out to be bitter and won’t age well. The fake Menghai, after all, is 3 years old, and hasn’t gotten any better. Puerh should end up with infusions that are sweet and mellow, not bitter and harsh. This is what happens with these, it seems.
We then had a cake that I liked
It’s an arbor tree tea from an area called Boma, which, according to the guy brewing it (he’s some sort of certified tea taster working for CNNP), it is a village in Nannuo mountain. Its taste is quite nice, reminds me of the Nannuo maocha from Hou De. Not as fragrant, but quite full bodied. There was a maocha we compared it to that was obviously from the same region (by taste) but obviously worse than the cake. Properly made, and not too expensive. Mind you, I wasn’t buying tea today. I think you have to order by the jian, or at least in large quantities there. It’d be odd to buy one or two.
The guy who brewed it for us was nice though, and we were having a good chat and might also meet up again over time to taste other things. I’d like to get second opinions on some of these things I am drinking. He is also responsible to go to Yunnan to press cakes during harvest season, and if the timing is right, I might end up tagging along. It’ll be good to go with someone who is there on a mission and thus definitely have contacts on the other side. I think going by myself can be quite difficult.
L and I might go to a tea event on Wednesday night at (gasp!) Tenfu. He learned tea there before, and knows the people there. We’ll see what happens….