Separated at birth

People who read this blog probably have all spent at least some time worrying about storage conditions for their puerh tea. There are lots of people who have written lots of things on this subject. Some are plain wrong. Others more plausible. At the end of the day though, there isn’t much hard data to go by, so it all ends up being a bit of a “he said, she said” sort of thing out there.

So it is a bit of a good fortune that I am now in possession of two cakes from the same batch that have been stored separately for over 10 years to compare. The cake in question is the Mengku Yuanyexiang (YYX). It gained fame originally because some people hyped it up around 2005/6 through the puerh magazines and online forums. The tea was produced by the Shuangjiang Mengku Rongshi factory, and exists in a thin and a thick paper version, with the thin paper version being naturally stored while the thick paper is traditionally stored. There was only one batch of each ever made, and while prices shot up when it became famous, the tea never really took off after that and is currently still on sale at places like Taobao for about $250 USD, although there seems to be only a few cakes left. Honestly, at that price it’s not really worth it, especially if the seller is an unknown quantity.

The cakes here in question come from two sources. One is mine – I bought mine from Taobao many years ago for something like $30 USD. The other cake is from a good old friend Phyll, who is an active photographer based in LA and who used to, many years ago, run the tea blog Phyll’s blog. He even has a tasting note for the YYX here. He bought it from Guang of Houde when they used to sell this tea. We have each acquired our cakes about 9-10 years ago, and have stored them since.

My storage is quite simple – it has always lived in Hong Kong since about 2007, in a normal environment, no extra humidity, no climate control, nothing more than just “leave it out there and let it age”. It’s mostly lived in closed shelves/boxes, but not air-tight ones. Phyll, on the other hand, has mostly stored his tea in his off-site wine storage unit with a permanent 15 degrees celcius temperature and a constant 75% RH. So while he lives in LA, this is not LA storage but really a controlled climate storage.

So about a month or so ago we decided to swap teas – we traded cakes, basically, since we each have more than one. I take my photos, usually, but since he’s a professional with much better equipment, this is what the teas look like.

A is his, B is mine. There are a few things to notice here – mine is shinier, and it’s not an optical illusion or lighting problem. It really is. The brown is slightly darker/browner on mine as well, while his has a slightly greener undertone to the leaves. The paper on mine is more torn up, but that’s really just because the paper is extremely thin and tears up with any movement – and I’ve moved the tea a couple times. Aside from that, there’s no obvious difference. They smell a bit different, but that’s to be expected.

I actually have not tasted the teas yet. I have been holding on to the tea, trying to get it acclimated to Hong Kong before drinking. Sometimes air travel and what not can change things in the taste of a cake. I also just haven’t had the opportunity to really sit down and drink teas side by side. I hope to do so in the near future, so stay tuned.


Comments

Separated at birth — 12 Comments

  1. I really enjoyed the thick paper version. Which led me to buying a thin paper about 5 years ago. I liked it less than the thick paper. But I still enjoyed it. Now it seems that while almost all of my other cakes seem to be improving with age my YYX seem to be going flat. You can tell that I am not alone in this as the price has remained stagnant for the past four years after it shot up in price. While prices of other cakes from this era continue to climb.

    • Maybe it’s time to drink it all up! Mengku area materials were never really intended for puerh (they were mostly making black tea) and stuff made at the beginning of the 2000s were basically one giant experiment (and a response to the market heating up for pu). So…. maybe Mengku teas just age differently, and plateau after 10ish years? I like them now and won’t mind drinking them now.

  2. Is it just me, the photos, or does the cake on the left have larger, coarser leaves and sticks compared to the one on the right? James and I ordered the “same” tea from the same Taobao dealer, but alas the teas are nowhere near the same, a repeat of Hobbes’ Ding Xing.

    • I think it’s an illusion because the tea on the right is shinier – as a result you can see the relief of the leaves much more clearly, which make you think the leaves are smaller when in fact you just can’t see the leaves that well on the left. In person there’s no doubt these are the same teas.

  3. You two should schedule some sort of Google Hangout where you both can taste each other’s teas in real time to observe each other’s reactions to the teas. Just a fun suggestion.

  4. I’m eager to hear your experiences with these two teas side by side. At first analysis of the photos, I actually thought yours would be the one on the left. It’s a bit fickle a thing to use in reasoning, but I’m assuming the matte appearance on his cake means its environment is a bit more humid?

  5. They look identical except with the color, the right side is shinier. Hopefully, they will taste differently awesome.

  6. I purchased the thick paper version some years ago through Houde. Still have 2 beengs left. I only have a sample of the thin paper version. The thick paper version is more agreeable to me. Houde is currently selling the thick paper for $45 an Oz..

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