The 1988 Qing Bing is a very famous cakes from the 1980s and early 1990s. Like the 1999 BGT I thought I would share my experiences with it. Phyll Sheng lays out the criteria for 1988 QB in this informative post.
- They are Menghai Factory-produced 7542 tea cakes from 1989-1992, and
- They are dry-and-naturally stored.
A sample was very generously sent as a wedding gift by Su who has stored this tea for a couple decades in Malaysia. Thanks so much for your generosity Su!
- More Reading: Clouds on 1988 QB
Batches… 1989-1992 7542 & Previous Encounters
If you look at the first criteria Phyll lays out: 1989-1992 7542.. That means that the 88 QB isn’t just a single production, but covers a range of years and different 7542 batches.. This means that there’s inherently variability, because the batches aren’t identical. The 7542 recipe is one of the landmark Dayi recipes and is known for having average-sized leaves. It’s potent, punchy and built for the long-term.
I’ve had one previous encounter with the 1988 (QB when I was in Hong Kong in 2017. It was the final tea of a long, evening, tea session at the generosity of a Hong Kong hobbyist. My notes for this session drawn from memory upon my return:
Had in conjunction with a bunch of younger factory teas. This was brewed strong but because of the age the strength was a bit more moderate. Good body, depth, bitter, and especially huigan. A plummy, woody, textured taste. Some qi. The brewer said that he only gets 7 or 8 brews out of it. Partly because it is pushed heavily.
Even though, I enjoyed that session, it wasn’t in my normal tea space and I was really looking forward to a chance to drink the 1988 QB under my own setup.
1988 QB’s second criteria is the dry-storage. The tea is frequently associated with Vesper Chan the proprietor of Best Tea House in Hong Kong. Rather than traditionally storing these teas, Chan famously stored them dryly. During this time period, dry storage was quite uncommon. Unsurprisingly, it is extremely difficult (and costly) to find any teas from this era stored dry.
Vesper Chan wasn’t the only one trying out non-traditional storage, just one of the most famous practitioners and an early beneficiary. The tea covered in this post was not in fact stored by Vesper Chan but dry-stored by Su in Malaysia. I am a big fan of what her dry storage does to teas and she has been the tea donor behind some of my absolute favorite tea sessions, including a memorable encounter and session with Phyll himself (a session and meeting I earnestly still daydream about).
For this tea, I used ~6.4 grams in a 95ml yixing pot. I used low TDS water (on Su’s recommendation) from Whole Foods, heated up with my tetsubin and hot plate. Was consumed about a week after I had the 1999 BGT Blue/Black Ticket from Peter. The session was started early with ample time to allow for full appreciation.
1. From the get-go you can tell that this is a totally different beast from more humidly stored tea. The aroma is sweet, rich, pungent, fruity. Notably it occupies a fuller and higher range of notes than you would expect from a more humidly stored tea. The liquor opens up with a light red that is very clear. It is thick, active, and rich.
2. As expected steep 2 Is even stronger. The liquor remains very clear and is now vividly red. It is tart, thick, and rich. Both 1 and 2, are dense, pungent, and full of flavor. There is a aftertaste that lingers heavily in the throat.
I take sometime to admire the activity of the tea and its aftertaste before adding water to the tetsubin and reheating.. I feel some of the energy in my upper chest/diaphragm. I also note that due to my own inexperience with older, dry-stored teas if I were to blind taste this I’d undoubtedly peg it as much younger.
3-4. The tea continues to grow stronger. It is thick, clean, pungent, oily, woody, grain and again not immediately sweet. This is very powerful tea. There is also a fair amount of sourness and astringency in the brew. These steeps are the strongest and most active of my session.
5. The tea eases up ever so slightly and gets slightly softer. It’s still not immediately sweet at all, although there is plenty of sweetness in the aftertaste.
I take a longer break at this point. The tea is potent and strong. The qi isn’t overpowering or a mind altering experience tike the 1960s/70s Yellow Mark was, but it is there and I can feel it flowing in my body. The tea really lingers in the throat with its booming huigan.
I reheat the water.
6-8. A bit fruitier (plum), with a wood/grain profile. The tea no longer has any tartness and begins to indicate that it is very slightly softening up. There is still a light astringency and dryness on the finish, indicative of the tea’s overall strength.
9. I brewed this one a bit longer than previous steeps (~1 minute?) and it is strong, but not overly so. The tea is beginning to ease up. It is soft, but thick, with some higher, even floral notes. I also note the energy is really settling into my diaphragm and body.
Another break before reheating.
10-12. Starting to move into more medicinal, woody and plummy profile. It is still quite rich and is now pretty easy to drink. Still swells up in the throat wonderfully.
13-15. About 2.5 hours after I started. The tea is being brewed for a couple minutes at this point. If I wanted to extend this session more, I probably could’ve slowed the pace or given the tea a break, and done it over several days. It certainly has the power to go that long. The profile is similar to steeps 10-12, with a soft, rich, fruit, wood profile. By the end, I’m brewing for about 5 minutes.
At this point I concluded the gong-fu part of the session is over, but I want to get more out of the tea. So I transferred the leaves into my Zojirushi with boiling water and drink a few more cups into the afternoon and early evening. The thermos brews are similar to the later steeps. Woody and medicinal. My wife had a couple cups and remarked on the teas impressive power. Examining the leaf after the session (look at Phyll’s pictures too), they are somewhere between brown or green, indicative of the tea’s storage.
Compared with my previous experience with the 1988 QB, this tea is richer, thicker, more potent, and also less bitter. A definite upgrade. It is a heavyweight tea with aged strength, flavor and an especially impressive aftertaste. It is strong and active for nearly the entire session, especially early. The tea has a full and complex range of middle and lower notes, a reminder of what well-done dry-storage can do. Impressively, I’d guess that the tea could even be aged quite a bit more.
This tea and its storage helps to re-anchor me and give me a reference as to what really good dry storage can do to a tea. It also makes me think that tea needs to be really strong in the right ways to taste this good 30 years down the line.. If my tea turns out half as tasty, I’ll be pretty happy.
Thank you Su!!!!
A Very Brief Addendum on Price
I’ve deliberately tucked this section at the very bottom.. For my own enjoyment of such expensive teas that I have no intention of buying, it’s important for me to block out value and not get too fixated on price –simply enjoying and appreciating the tea. For the curious, Clouds covers some of the tea’s rising price in his article on the 1988 QB. The tea goes from ~$51 in 2002 to $1538 in 2008, and now sells for north of $10,000USD.