For the past few months I’ve been spending some Saturday afternoons with a couple who run a small tea shop and who press their own cakes every year. The wife is the 3rd generation from a tea family, and they have been in this line of work for a long time, with the tea to go with it, I should add. I enjoy drinking tea with them, partly because unlike lots of people in the tea business here, they’re quite willing to share their thoughts on particular teas frankly. I drink a lot of samples of various things with them, since it’s always good to get second and third (and sometimes more) opinions on teas.
Yesterday I went as usual, and had five teas, in chronological order of when the teas are supposed to have been produced:
1) 2010 Youle, producer unknown, private pressing – nice, strong, a bit rough, but pretty good tea, if it weren’t so damn expensive (something like 700 RMB for a cake)
2) 2008 Chenyuanhao Yiwu Gushu mushroom – awesome, juicy, thick, very Yiwu, maybe slightly too soft in approach, but very good and full. Stored in Malaysia throughout, it still tastes young, probably because it’s a mushroom, but it’s going to turn a corner soon and it’s going to be a good tea.
3) 1997 Henglichang Bulang. So we meet at last. This is a sample from a friend, and I believe the whole cake is now sold out. There are lots of reviews online, so colour me prejudiced. The tea is bitter, very bitter, without the bitter transforming into anything sweet. It is not traditionally stored, as some have suspected – it has the colour, but none of the taste. Something is weird, and my friend commented that it might be a mix of different teas pressed together to make something look more aged. We stuck with it for many infusions, although the later ones we only had a small sip each. 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.
4) Early 90s Yiwu from David Lee Hoffman. David Lee Hoffman probably needs no introductions. I’ve had a few teas from him before, usually coming via friends who send me samples of what they bought, although the last time I tried his teas was before he started the Phoenix Collection. I can’t seem to find this on his tea list, and I think it’s this thing. This tea has very little taste, and what little it does have suggests something no older than 3-4 years. It has a very thin body, no aftertaste, and no real aroma to speak of. Calling this “tea” is a bit charitable. There are two possibilities – either you believe Hoffman’s claims that this tea is from the early 90s, in which case you should never buy aged teas from him because (judging from this and other examples I’ve had) his cave is where puerh goes to die, or you don’t believe his age claims, in which case you shouldn’t be buying this in the first place. Either way, the conclusions are the same. I don’t care how many years he’s been in the business, but I’ve never had a tea that tastes anything like what a puerh can be given his age claims. You’re better off buying something three years old from Yunnan Sourcing.
5) 80s 7582 cooked. This tea has been naturally stored, and frankly, not terribly interesting. It’s nice, smooth, tasty, and the leaves were originally relatively lightly cooked, but really, I’d rather pay $25 USD for a two or three years old Dayi that has lost its pondy taste than paying hundreds for an 80s cooked that tastes only slightly better. The value proposition is just not there for old cooked tea, especially if it hasn’t been through traditional storage. It’s for people who like to burn money.
6) 1960s Guangyungong. This is a tea from my friend’s family storage. Stored naturally throughout without ever having been in traditional storage, and it shows. The liquor is a golden colour, and aroma is quite nice and intense with a smooth aftertaste and good qi. Very elegant and pleasant to drink, and much more interesting in many ways than the usually heavily traditionally stored GYGs out there. Too bad it costs an arm and a leg, but it’s very nice tea.