Saturday, August 11, 2012

Tale of Two CGHTs

The joy of not having children or a pair of billy-goats that need your constant attention is being able to block serious time for tea.  Of course I may die lonely as many of my friends remind me but I may just adopt a pair of Nubian goats who can sometimes be even more loving than flesh and blood progeny.  And if they are not- I can enjoy fresh goat stew for which I have many good recipes.  (No offense to the brave parents out there who are sacrificing everything for the continuation of our species. )

Today I sampled two 2005 Chen Guang-He Tangs blended by that leading expert- Chen Zhi Tong.  I'm assuming he's still leading away although you don't see new CGHT cakes past 2009 but you see his articles going strong in the Art of Tea magazine. He tends to write more about market forces rather than the tea itself which makes me think there is more businessman in him than tea lover. Oh how I wish I can read more than 2 pages of  "Hidden Rules of Pu-erh" in AoT vol. 10.  He tends to bash big factories but he does bring out relevant points about how there is an oversupply of pu-erh in storage right now which exceeds what the end consumer can absorb.  I've been waiting for years to benefit from speculators dumping their hoard of tea but it hasn't happened yet.  When I heard Mr. Chen speak in Pasadena in 2007,  he impressively anesthetized both sides of my brain going on about creating sustainable market conditions so let's see how his actual tea compares.


The first CGHT is from MarshalN which he labeled only as "2005 CGHT".  You can see that the above chunk is quite sleek and a few leaves sport white mold.  MarshalN corrects me that this tea is not traditional storage but rather has undergone natural storage in a humid region, i.e. Taiwan.  Plot spoiler- when I see how plump and respectable the brewed leaves turn out,  I'm suitably impressed how tightly these leaves have been rolled.

The second sample from Ira is the 2005 CGHT Menghai Yieh Sheng - available at Hou De for $165.  MarshalN had suggested this very cake as a Birthday Beeng selection.  I assumed my two samples are two different blends based on leaf composition. The Yieh Sheng has a rather messy look. But MarshalN informs us that they are indeed the two same versions which now makes this tasting all about storage conditions.


Now I have to carefully choose which tea to start.  You definitely want to progress from light to heavy in a wet storage tasting but this may be tricky if you haven't had the teas before. I chose MarshalN's to go first since one sniff of Ira's Yieh Sheng points to more serious wet storage and the more plentiful white spots of mold confirms this assessment.

MarshalN's cake has a nice thick mouth feel and you can still taste and sniff a remnant sheng youthfulness in the leaves. You get good huigan in the second cup.  Really really tight rolling that we saw in the dry cake results in leaves that refuse to unfurl completely. This is a solid respectable cake and as I drink it, I'm strolling along a familiar path to sweetness. This sample provides a critical reference point for my own dry stored cakes. Berkeley aging will probably take twice as long to achieve where this cake is currently.


The HouDe version however is another story.  It has considerably more noticeable wet storage.  I rinsed it four times for good measure but even the subsequent three brews I pitched.  This wet storage taste is nothing like the muffled maple syrup of '97 Heng Li Chang or the '03 Sungsing Bada.  It has a lavender/cedar/mildew taste profile that I just cannot get used to. I try and try and I try but I have such a strong visceral reaction against this cake that I can't swallow much of it- my natural gag reflex does not permit me. This isn't granny powder but rather granny's closet. This cake supposedly blended with a wild Banzhang base may be beloved by others but it's moot to me since this is not a cake I can even swallow.  I will let the sample air out a bit and make another attempt in another month.

The HouDe leaves are considerably darker and thinner but similarly did not want to unfurl. I carefully pried open a few leaves.  The HouDe brews expectedly darker and has completely lost it's sheng youth. This is the most mature 2005 I've tasted.  These two same cakes stored under varying conditions cannot be more different.


I'm extremely grateful to Ira for saving me $165(multiple Korean-style bows to Ira here).  This is one of the deep pitfalls of expensive aged sheng which has been traditionally stored and is highly recommended by others.  It's one thing if you thought a cake was over-hyped and over-priced but it's another thing altogether if  you can't even bring yourself to drink it.  Emmett mentioned that he could not keep down a highly regarded 2000 Jing Tea brick.  I guess Emmett and I are both in the "highly sensitive to wet storage" group. There may be others out there but you don't read a lot of gag reflex trigger reports on some of these wet-stored sheng. I actually hesitated a bit before writing such an unsavory report and thought maybe I should do another tasting next week. 

The important lesson for me today is twofold.  One- the well regarded traditionally stored sheng available to the Western drinker via internet vendors that other people seem to enjoy is not for me. So I'm really better off not buying any aged sheng on the internet especially from vendors known to carry really wet stored stuff.  But point two is that happily, there are traditional storage examples that I actually enjoy.  I think I might have given up on wet stored cakes altogether had it not been for MarshalN's box of traditionally stored samples. So a deep bow of gratitude goes out to MarshalN.

I have five more samples to go through but my mind is whirling with all sorts of possibilities why I can't enjoy something that other tea heads do.  

11 comments:

  1. They are almost certainly the same make. I've never heard MarshalN be interested in the only other '05 premium Menghai area cake--The 2005 Banzhang Chawang seen here:

    http://www.houdeasianart.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=69&products_id=1348&zenid=e35b2facd9ed62dd152ed9f02924e5db

    Therefore, this is really, really, quite fascinating for me, on my sofa, so to speak. The same two teas with different storages. And if it tastes like mildew rather than shicang flint/mustyness, well, perhaps it is better that you didn't drink it, eh? However, the lavender note is of interest to me as to what floral notes might persist in West Banna tea.

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  2. The thought that they are the same make crossed my mind but the chunks looked so very different. But we only need to wait for the mystery to be cleared up shortly. If they are the same, I'll definitely have to send Ira's sample to MarshalN.

    Well, my tongue translated flavors as lavender but more like a Febreze lavender. The Yieh Sheng had a very different profile than what I recognize as shicang.

    h

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  3. The sample I sent you is the very same. In fact, it came from the top cake you see here

    http://www.marshaln.com/2012/06/purchases/

    Now that you've tried them blind, maybe you should try them side by side again, maybe cupping it with 5 minute brews?

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  4. I often wonder about aged versus young sheng. It seems that the "expert" opinions are that good aged sheng is like a fine old wine. However, I wonder if this is more of an Eastern opinion rather than Western. I've tried a lot of aged shengs and there are very few that I can say I prefer over their younger counterparts. As a Westerner I'm not easily swayed by popular or traditional opinions. I prefer to judge based on my own personal experience.

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    1. squaretooth,

      Where do you normally get your aged shengs? I'm tending towards MarhshalN's opinion that the aged sheng available to us Western drinkers via the Internet is predominantly wetter stored examples or not the best examples.

      Since so few Westerners have regularly imbibed the truly great aged shengs, I'm not sure the West can refute the East so easily. But you are right, personal preference should guide one's drinking.

      h

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    2. I've purchased some from Yunnan Sourcing, Royalpuer.com, Awazon,and a few other merchants, but most have been in the 5 - 10 year old range. My statement was more to stir things up a bit rather than make any general assumptions of aged VS young. I actually have a few aged puerhs that I absolutely love. And maybe I haven't been exposed to the truly great aged puerhs enough to make such a bold statement. That said, I cannot see myself paying the exorbitant prices for aged puerh either, so it's not likely I'll ever try any of the tried and trued aged shengs. Hopefully I'll be around long enough to see some of the teas I've been aging come into their own.

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    3. squaretooth,

      Should 5-10 years be considered aged? I know most pu-erh vendors put anything more than five years in the aged section but I feel aged sheng should be something ready to drink as a fully mature tea- perhaps of at least 15 years unless it was extremely wet stored. I think 5-10 years is neither young or old for sheng and hence may have a flatter taste.

      h

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    4. Old tree tea generally hit their first stage at around 7 years. They mellow out, with very low bitterness and little astringency. Only Zenchunyahao tea is older than 15 years, though among teas that could be considered old-tree teas, but I think it's unlikely that it's pure or mostly old tree. We'd have to wait until 2019 or so, to see what true old tree can do.

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    5. You just have to look a bit further back Shah8, there are many older examples of pure old tree cakes - the 80's thick paper 8582 and Da Ye Qing Bing are generally considered to be old tree material. Further back you've got the whole era of antique cakes, many of which are pure old tree material. They're doing pretty well!

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  5. One thing I like about Life in Teacup is that Gingko only carries dry-stored puers. Both the 96 xiaghun I have previously referred you to and the 90 Menghai are fabulous, deep, well stored.

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    Replies
    1. I went to their site to order last week but they are on vacation for this month.

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