Saturday, September 01, 2012

Stone Face of Menghai 8972 Circa 1990

Nick Herman recommended I give the "90's Menghai" a try after the XG Butterfly fiasco.  Who happened to leave me just another shiny mylar packet labeled "Circa 1990 Menghai 8972" for me last week. The incomparable Ira!

I gave this tea a go this morning without reading anything about it because a blank mind is an open mind.  I really really triple really wanted to love this tea for no shortage or reasons:
  • I'm a tea lover.  It sucks for me as much as it does for anyone when teas don't measure up.
  • Ira left if for me as a gift - I don't want to be the ungrateful teachum that I am.
  • I felt bad I dissed Nick's beloved Butterfly tuo.  It was like trash talking his girlfriend.   I don't wan't to do it again.
  • Ginkgo seems a sincere vendor who specializes in dry stored aged pu-erh providing samples at a reasonable price. Such vendors should be heartily supported.
  • I don't want to end up as yet another tea controversy link on teachat. But there's no avoiding that today. 
  • I'm looking to add good aged pu to my collection.  If I love it, I can get my grubby hands on more with just a credit card. I don't want to have to go to Hong Kong and Malaysia just to buy tea.
So I snipped open the package hoping for the best. I sniff a dry aged sheng smell but I also get a whiff of the faintest barest hint of something- wet storage or even wodui?

I was expecting aged sheng because the leaves look dark greenish despite the unnatural darkness of the photo above. But it just brews up just too dark and it doesn't taste all like aged sheng nor does it taste all like shu.  A peek inside the teapot quickly shows dark and light leaves. A blend then.  It makes complete sense as I drink it.  The cooked part of this tea is much more obvious and dominates as it cools. The shu taste is undeniable when this tea is cold.

I get to 8+ brews without this brick giving up it's drying astringency.  The mouth drying power of this is brick so formidable,  I vow to pre-buy some of this 8972 as a natural remedy for when I need to control my drooling in my nineties.  Hopefully I'll be spared such indignities of age but it's always good to be prepared.

In the ninth brew I sense a mouth coating.  I hesitate to call it a creamy mouth feel- more like skim milk which is not entirely pleasant.  I'm trying hard to find the best qualities of this tea and I'm coming up short again and again.  I just can't do it. I go on line to find what other's have appreciated.

It's beyond relief to find Jason's review from the hey day of pu-erh at live journal:
"Please don't let this be what I have to look forward to when I taste my cakes years from now. *panic attack* If this brick is indeed uncooked, this is possibly the worst I have ever had. The milkiness really made this experience a nasty one.'
Whew, I'm not an unreasonable suspicious crank! Jason is talking about a Hou De version of this 8972.  Even in bear's time there was great controversy over whether it was all cooked or a blend. You can see below this cake holds at least three different ages of leaves.  I apply the test I learned from bearsbearsbears himself and sure enough it doesn't take much to rub some of the darker leaves to make them fall apart.  The really black leaves are rubbery. The greenish leaves hold their form when rubbed. 

Personally I would judge it a blend and definitely not a pure aged sheng as the vendor advertises.  But this brick's composition doesn't matter to me because I find it dreadful all the same.  Even if it was a blend, I would shell out $120 for this brick if I liked it even a little because decent aged stuff is hard to come by in the West.

There you have it. So sorry to Gingko, Ira, and above all to Nick. Yet another extra dry-stored aged tea that I just could not appreciate. The sample is only $6 which is a good introductory price- I only used $1.75's worth today and left the rest for Ira.  Even though this cake tastes extremely dry-stored now, I saw some white mold spots here and there which may indicate some "humid" storage early in it's life.  I don't mind a little traditional storage when it enhances the flavor but this here brick tastes too dry even for the likes of me. Is it over dry storage which ruined this tea or was it not very good to begin with? Jason's version which appears to be less dry-stored actually match my impressions which would indicate that the tea itself is at fault.

There's even a 2007 discussion even where the age of this brick is under suspicion
"8972, from sources, was first seen in the market around 98-99, using leaves harvested and processed in 96. There were around 4 productions of this brick, the last in around 2002.

All productions vary in fragrance and flavor for one unstable variable in the production of this brick - mist. Unlike conventional cooked puer that are fermented using measured amount of water sprinkled on to the tea pile, this was fermented by spraying mist over the tea pile, which made the fermentation uneven, hence the cooked & uncooked leaves that one finds.

There were rumours that some of these 8972 bricks were kept in high humidity environment (or wet storage) to speed up its ageing process, after the bricks were produced. Otherwise, those that were not kept in such environment turned out quite nicely."

For me,  none of this matters because it's about the actual tea in the end. Even if it were misted and was amazing, I'd take it all the same.  Sadly, it's just dry and dreadful and I'm grumpy all day.

(My husband and I used to patronize an Indian restaurant many years ago. The proprietress who would always take our order always had a severe tight drawn face which made me feel relieved when she left our table.  Her husband was a much much older man and she had two young children that could often be seen doing their homework at a nearby table.  My husband called her "Stone Face" and it became a code word for people who never cracked a smile.

Many years later, my husband and I were soaking in the YMCA hot tub when he kept giving me the eye.  Then he whispered as loud as he could, "Stone face.  That's stone face!" A woman had entered the tub with a much younger man and they were both laughing and smiling and having a lovely time.  I just could not believe it.   "No." I kept shaking my head. "No, that can't be her."  But she caught me staring and I knew.

Perhaps this ~1990 8972 also needs a much younger man to coax it out of it's severity.   Perhaps Nick Herman, if he did enjoy this sample, may have enjoyed a radically different experience than mine..)


  1. The dry leaves, in the closeup anyway, look like regular sheng to me. The little spots I won't worry about.

    There's a reason why my more experienced tea friends in Hong Kong who started buying teas in the 80s almost never buy bricks - they suck. Bricks are where you send your cast-off teas. If you have nice leaves, you press cakes with it. Then you have tuos. Then you've got bricks. Yes, they're aged, but they were cheap for a reason.

    1. What do you think about this assertion this brick was misted in 1998-2002:

    2. Interesting, entirely possible, because the leaves don't look 80s to me. Factory made bricks from the 80s is going to look more chopped up

    3. What am I to take away from this? Buying aged pu-erh on the internet even from a vendor trusted by so many is still just an out and out gamble? I haven't even gambled and lost since this and the Butterfly was gifted.