Sunday, June 24, 2012

Wane of 2005 DeHong Wild Tree Purple Leaf

Ah yes. Who doesn't know this famous purple leaf sheng now controlled exclusively by Yunnan Sourcing.  It's a tea catapulted out of obscurity by the Internet.  Geraldo termed it "excellent" on Cha Dao.  Mike Petro plugged it in his recommendations which undoubtedly boosted Scott's nascent ebay business.  It circulated around Live Journal on various must try lists.   
 Vendors on the whole are not shy to employ superlatives more casually than warranted but this brick I tell you now was special in it's youth.  Do a search on "excellent" on YS,  you can determine for yourself if the 62 results accurately reflect the gems in his inventory.  Search on "great" yields 78 entries which include a great many mini-tuos designated a "great drink for a dry throat or an upset stomach, or just for enjoyment alone".    But this humble bamboo wrapped brick remains the only cake on YS with the " fantastic" designation. Actually not just fantastic mind you but "incredibly fantastic" .

I purchased two of these bricks back in January of '06 for $17.95- my very first purchase with Scott.  I love blood red Moro oranges.  My favorite tomatoes are the Crimean and Siberian varieties, Black Krim and Black Prince.   So this cake comprised mostly of purple leaf that's chock full of anthocyanins was right up my flavor alley. (Actually my flavor alley is suspiciously wide mainly due to my wholesale love of pork products).

When I tasted this tea in 2006, it really was "incredibly fantastic".  Complex and lively, this tea was  surprisingly smooth and drinkable for a wild tree.   This DeHong also possessed  intense cha qi enough to induce forehead sweat after each session.  But after only a year, I noticed troubling signs that the flavor profile of this purple leaf as well as it's strength was waning as time passed. Was this to be the first warning sign that my other favorite drinkable cakes could also morph into future disappointments?  It troubled my mind greatly then as it does now.

So this tea and I have a date this Saturday morning. I'm willing to suffer a day of belly aches to revisit one of my favorite shengs. I'm a bit nervous because I don't want to give up on an old flame.  And the session starts off inauspiciously.  The rustic and handmade looks of this cake belie the inhuman compression of this brick.  Xiaguan could learn a thing or two about real iron compression from this DeHong producer.   I really struggle with a crab pick and bits of broken leaf fly all over the table. This brick does not want to give it up.

You can see how dark the brick looks but the brew is still pale and golden like an acacia honey.  The first few brews are problematic, I'm getting an unexpected bancha taste.  I switch pots, I up the dosage.  I have to brew it up 4 times stronger than normal almost to the point of bitterness to tease out a modest performance.  The brew smells of roasted sweet potato more than anything.  Let's just say the tea yielded only a sweetness with not even bare hints of it's former self.  It's a pleasant enough encounter but this tea is definitely not that gush-worthy cake I used to love.  I'm depressed.  I leave the rest of the brew for my husband to enjoy as his cold afternoon tea and he enjoys it.  But I want more out of this tea dang it!   I'm just too demoralized to take photos and arrange the leaf shots.

This brick has let go of that dusky mouthwatering juiciness of purple leaf- that barely smoky savoury deliciousness I love so much.  But this is not a case of a luscious lady who with the ravages of time has become now softer and rounder and whose charms are now harder to discern.  The DeHong has sadly lost the complexity,  strength, and stamina that I remembered in the youngster.  Then what's left?  Now I have to queue up my other purple leaf's to check on their aging to see if it's the purple leaf that doesn't age well or it's smooth drinkable teas that won't.   Or is it that oft-talked about "awkward" stage of sheng.  Can qi go into hiding?  Since the fortitude of my Banzhangs and other wild trees remain unabated, I'm leaning towards the conclusion that this cake really is meant more for immediate consumption.  Despite the vendor assurance, "the quality of the leaves and the meticulous processing ensures excellent storage and aging potential",  I would have to respectfully disagree unless someone comes forward with a different conclusion on this 2005 version.

What really is the case with aging those smooth drinkable pu-erhs?  Rough does not equate to strength but this DeHong possessed wild tree strength in abundance in it's youth.  I have another 2002 Wild tree which was moderately drinkable to start and is on it's way to be a fine respectable elder.   However Mr. Zhou Bing Liang can have the last laugh if it's the tongue scraping plantation Haiwan Lao Tong Zhi which prove to be the only decent aged cake in my collection.

What else to do after such disappointments but to drown my sorrows in a plate of trotters. But I don't know who to trust. Surely a skin-tight leopard shirt points to some indication of higher pork quality.

Hahaha.  If I were only so lucky to have such world-class choices. My closest option is the Pacific East Mall in Richmond which still provides a delicious satisfactory example.  I'm happy again and I have forgotten for the moment my precarious situation of badly aging shengs.

Note: I have been ever so gently reprimanded by the master of the house on my apparent neglect on household matters in favor of tea pursuits.  I have gravely promised (a la Mr. Toad) to reform my addictive ways as well as stop interrogating the master on what he thought of particular shengs he tasted seven years ago.   The head gardener however was inclined to show no such mercy and more roundly rebuked me on multiple occasions finding fault with my indiscriminate watering of the tomato patch. I apparently broke the careful system of dams built with mounds of compost.  I may have to take a small break from blogging this week to amend this deteriorating situation.


  1. Hster,

    Glad to hear you are attuned to pleasures of the porcine kind. My kind, homesteading in-laws are raising us a pig over in north Idaho. We've been scheming about what we're going to do with all that succulent flesh in the fall.

    Thanks for writing about the De Hong brick. I had totally forgotten about the one tucked into a shoebox in the closet. I'll give it a try and see how MT storage compares to Bay Area storage.


    1. Wow Israel! A whole pig. So many options. I don't know if you have read the Little House on the Prairie series but they have a lovely description of hog day with the rendering of the lard. Laura Ingalls writes that Ma did not enjoy the work because she found it to be dirty work but all the girls loved hog day.

      Most importantly what pu-erh will you serve with this pork!

      I recently had the pleasure of landing a roasted suckling pig's head minus cheeks from a neighbor. It was one of most exciting things to happen to me all summer.


  2. I have not read them, but my wife loves them and they have been on my list. We're definitely rendering the lard.

    A suckling pig's head! Delish. A couple of years ago, my neighbor and I brined a whole hog's head, braised it low for 12 hours in white wine and then made a terrine out of the head meat, tongue, cornmeal and herbs. Deluxe scrapple. It was tremendously good. There's nothing like that head meat.


  3. I vote for Soon Chun pig trotters from vendor #1. She looks legit. Tight leopard shirt means nothing.

  4. Hi, hster--

    I revisited this brick about a year ago. I thought it had mellowed really a lot since I bought it. Maybe too much? But let us not despair. The brick has reached barely the first outermost edge of adolescence, and who can say how it will taste in eight years? I have one open brick, too-dry stored. I'm not inclined to break a brick from better storage, so I'll try the dry bit this afternoon. Bancha, quotha? If I can bestir these old bones, I’ll write to tell you what I taste.

    Best to you,

    1. Geraldo-

      You are well I hope. I won't despair and please do report back. I am striving to become more accepting in my old age but I'm mellowing out slower than most of my dry stored cakes.

      Will you ever revive Cha Dao again? I still wander it's halls from time to time and it feels ancient- a time so long ago yet not even a proper epoch in the aging of our beloved teas.