Before I talk about them, let me show you the pictures first.
So… what about them?
I should preface this by saying that the perceived darkness of the cake on the right probably has more to do with lighting than anything else. In person, the cakes are very similar in colour. The right hand cake may be a tad bit darker, but only just.
What these two cakes are: two 2006 Douji Gushu blends. The left one is from the spring, the right one from the fall. From the packaging, you can’t tell at all – the only difference is the production date on that silly sticker that they put at the back of their cakes, which ruins all wrappers and therefore has been peeled off. Aside from the sticker, there’s no discernable physical difference between the two cakes.
Not when it comes to the packaging, anyway. You can see that the leaves look a little different – The spring leaves seem to be a little broader, and rolled perhaps slightly less. But that can just also be the inevitable variation between one cake or another – neither of them are screaming “fall” or “spring” at you by just looking at them. In fact, I’m pretty sure there’s no good way to tell the difference between the two if you only examine them physically.
Nor is the difference between these two cakes obvious when you look at the brewed liquor. I used 4.5 grams for the test, with the left being spring again and the right being the fall tea. There may be the tiniest difference in colour, but again… nothing that will really tell you anything.
Even price wise, they’re not that different. On Taobao, where I bought these two, the spring tea is going for about 600 RMB, and the fall one about 500 RMB. Slightly cheaper, but not much. I bought the fall one for 300 RMB, but I think the vendor quickly realized he mispriced the cake and revised the price almost immediately after I placed my order.
Yet, difference there is. In fact, the difference is so obvious that anybody with a tongue should be able to tell them apart. The spring tea and the fall tea behave differently in the mouth. The spring tea is round, soft, full in taste, has a nice, long lasting aftertaste. The fall tea, in comparison, is more watery, sharper, more hollow in the middle, and most obviously, more bitter, in a not-very-pleasant way. The fall tea does have a more obvious aromatic component than the spring, but it is not nearly enough to compensate for the flaws. In other words, if given the choice, I’d pay 100 RMB extra and buy the spring version of this cake any day of the week. If the price difference is 300 RMB, then one must consider how much 300 RMB is worth, but when the difference is only 100 RMB out of 600, the decision is a no-brainer.
I do not think that all spring teas are superior to all fall teas, but I do think that, given comparable trees, processing, etc, spring teas are better than fall teas, nine times out of ten. The fall version of this tea is not bad per se, but is not nearly as good as the spring one. Appearances, however, do not yield any information. So next time if you are tea shopping and you are given the choice between fall and spring for two teas that should be comparable, and if you can only buy one – go for the more expensive spring one. It is probably worth it.