Tea, unless it’s a gift, costs money. So when we talk about tea, like it or not, we have to mention the cost of the tea. When we say a tea is “good”, do we mean it’s good, full stop? Or is it good, for this price? Or good, at any price?
I am guessing when most of us are writing or reading reviews, we read “good” as being “good at this price”. So when someone writes about how a tea is very interesting, stimulating, multi-faceted, etc, and is really good, I suspect s/he is saying that it is really good at the current prices at which the tea is obtainable. It may also be written with no reference to prices at all, and may simply mean that “this tea is good in comparison with others of this type I’ve tried”. There are probably some teas that fall into the category of “good at any price”, but those teas, I’m afraid, are few and far between.
So when I am writing about tea, even when unspoken, I tend to be writing with the idea of “good, at this price” in mind. Some are unequivocally good, others need to be qualified, and when such qualifications are necessary, I usually state them clearly so that there is no misunderstanding or inflated expectations, especially if that’s a tea that can be had easily.
Such is the case with a cake I found recently on Taobao, and then I have briefly recommended on Teachat. This supposed Cheshunhao is basically a white-paper cake, which means that it provides almost no info on the maker. Sure, it has a name, and the seller claims a date, but as far as I am concerned, I’m buying the tea on its merits alone.
When I picked it it was almost a pure gamble. The vendor has a lot of impossibly cheap cakes. This thing’s claim of 1995 is, at best, questionable. Then again, it’s offered at a price that, at worst, represents a loss of $25 USD. I probably wouldn’t have bothered if I were still in the US, but since I now own a magic card that lets me buy direct, $25 isn’t the end of the world.
What I got was a cake that tasted old – old enough, anyway, for it to be more than worth the cost of admission. It has had some traditional storage, but that storage was a long time ago – at least 8 -10 years past. The cake takes like some similar cakes I’ve had from early 2000s, so while the claim of this being from 1995 may be a bit exaggerated, it’s not terribly far fetched – certainly not a three year old tea claiming to be 17. In Hong Kong, if I find a cake like this, it might cost me $80-100 USD. So, this price is very, very good, and the tea, while it has its flaws, is quite drinkable.
Is it the best tea out there? Heck no. I told TwoDog about this cake, and he bought a cake (or more?) for himself to try. He reports the tea also as being more than worthwhile, but he also found a lot of foreign objects in it. I haven’t yet – only a bit of human hair, which is almost de rigueur for older cakes that are cheap. The leaves are long and big – too long, in fact, and has a lot of woody stems. That aside, it’s not too bad.
What I would recommend this cake for are the following: 1) quaffing at the office, 2) drinking if you want something that tastes aged and does not break the bank, and 3) getting acquainted with something that has had a touch of traditional storage without an overpowering sense of storage mustiness. I think this cake fits the bill for those jobs, and I would strongly recommend it – based on the cake I tried and so long as it stays at this price.