I drank through these teas in March of 2016.
The last mature report was about 16 months ago, but with my Taiwan trip approaching I figured it was about time to drink through my lingering pile of samples.. This report is a mix of teas I own, teas still available from western vendors, and other teas that have since sold out. After traveling through Taiwan and Hong Kong in October my feelings on the market have changed a bit as the limitations present in the mature pu’erh market out west (really a subsection of already a niche market) have become increasingly obvious..
#1: I Like These Teas
It’s been a while since I did a report like this but unlike other tea categories (i.e. oolongs) I still quaff matured/browned tea regularly. I find that these teas generally do very well on my own speed test, far more so than young pu’erh or ripe pu’erh which tend to sit around. There’s something very comforting about drinking through 15-20 steeps of a tea that’s decently thick, easy-going and not difficult to brew.
#2: Money Doesn’t Get You Very Far
1950s-early 2000s teas that you can look up in a book are the targets of investment/speculation and really aren’t good value for actual tea drinkers if you are forced to buy at retail. Partially because of the collectible, nature there are some fairly outrageous costs for teas, that while quite good aren’t particularly worth the cost. Just take a look at Sunsing’s 1990s teas or some of the famous teas covered in this report, i.e. 1998 Jingmai, 2001 YYX, the 1990s Menghai Tea Factory Teas. They might be good, but you should throw any semblance of value out the window.
This presents a serious problem for the drinker who wants something nice and browned to drink. Do you spend through the nose (i.e. $1000/cake for something that’s good but not great)? Thankfully, there’s a bunch of acceptable and generally affordable options in the late 1990s or early 2000s of Zhongcha or white label productions as long as expectations aren’t placed too high.. The potential options increase considerably if you’re able to get tea from some places in certain east Asia pu-hotspots. Realistically for those that don’t have gobs of money to toss at the problem, you’ll be stuck buying these sorts of off-brand teas.
#3: Western Market is Very Limited
When it comes to strictly western options, you’re very limited.. The western market for traditionally stored or aged tea kinda, sorta, really sucks.. There’s not much of an emphasis on a lot of aged mature tea in the market, and as a result there’s a lot of drinkers that don’t have experiences with particularly good mature teas. Sure, most vendors have a few options but very few are exemplary and the vast majority are far more pricy than you’d pay out east.. Please note, that this is not intended as a criticism of western vendors simply an observation and my own opinion.
Part of this probably has to do with the cost. Mature pu’erh tends to come in fat 357g cakes and it looks expensive compared with younger small beengs and more expensive teas tend to be harder to sell.. All western vendors are essentially resellers when it comes to mature stuff. With young pu’erh they can go and hunt down farmers but with older pu’erh, the best case scenario is stumbling across a neglected, white label tea, that the owner can’t seem to get rid of. I think it’s no coincidence that so many vendors are focused on young pu’erh as their chief breadwinner.
Another issue is locale. Operations like Yunnan Sourcing, Chawangshop, and Crimson Lotus have their roots planted in Kunming, a dry climate and a place without a huge stock of older tea. White2Tea moved to Guangdong, but has been based in Beijing for most of its existence. It’s probably no coincidence that one of the few vendors where there are multiple options is based in Malaysia (Essence of Tea).
- My entire stack of mature pu’erh is acquired from either Origin Tea or directly from Asia with the notable exception of the 1990s HK Style (W2T).
#4: What I’m Looking to buy?
If I (a) enjoy these teas and (b) chug through them quickly… But (c) find the value proposition of nicer stuff to be limiting and generally unfavorable it basically restricts me to hunting for good enough teas with decent storage and some maturity. For me, the price range which I consider reasonable for this category is usually between $0.20/g – $0.40/g.
Available from the West
2005 Mengku Zhengshan Daye via Yunnan Sourcing ($0.15/g)
A simple, medium-thick, menthol/camphor clean profile. This one surprised me somewhat after a somewhat disappointing session with the 2000 Yiwu brick.
2004 Dehong via Chawangshop ($0.08/g)
Definitely on the wet side. Malt, longan, mushrooms. Not very sweet and aftertaste is all mouth focused but is fairly pungent. I suppose the main appeal of this tea is that it is cheap and older tasting, but I don’t think I’d ever want to drink it.
2001 Thick Paper YYX via Houde ($1.47/g)
I think this is a fairly good introduction to older raws as it’s pretty obviously better and more complex than most the stuff available to the west.. Technically still can be bought from Houde, but it’s not really worth buying at the price of $525. Compression is fairly tight. Complex and enjoyable aroma. Medium body. Cool feeling in mouth and a nice returning sweetness. Spiced wood. Pine, chocolate, camphor. There’s still some bitterness to this.. Somewhat invigorating qi. Pretty dynamic steep to steep.
1999 Yangqing Hao Micang ($0.44/g)
Available from YQH with Emmett’s pricing here. I have a hard time getting excited about this tea, but it’s something legitimately old, mellow, and easy to drink.
Heavier on camphor, menthol/mint, mouthcool. Wood. Slick feel in the mouth and has a back of the mouth sweetness. Clean, but a light soup viscosity. Around steep 6 or 7 starts to move into a fruitier/longan + wood profile. Smoother, but less thick than the 1998. This also has a tendency to dry out the mouth.
If you are curious about YQH, this should not be your first, second or third tea.. But if you want to include this after you’ve developed your stash, it’s OK enough if expectations are set reasonably.
1998 Evening Fragrant Jade ($4.29/g)
This is a tea that I enjoy a good deal but is well beyond the price range of tea that I’d consider buying.
Dark fruit (longan), grain aroma. Small leaves, very clean. Complex, antique wood, longan, and ginseng. Very good strong, relaxing, chesty qi.. A good tea for slowing down. Returning to throat huigan. Brews up an orangeish red. Viscosity is medium. A bit of some buzzy mouthfeel, but qi is by far the bet part. Rates well for qi and huigan, less for actual taste. Lasts about 12 steeps.
1997 Big Red Mark via Chawangshop (~$0.53/g)
Had my final session with a friend.. He loved it while I found it to be mainly functional and decent. At the very least this is extremely durable, and can easily be pushed to 20 steeps. 12 without really having to add much steep time. It’s also got a fair amount of storage early and while not all that sweet from the beginning has a lot of that granny powder/talc.
Eventually more sweet fruit notes (longan) come and eventually take over at the end. I don’t find it really that smooth or thicker than average, just about average..
1990s Blue Mark via White2Tea ($1.82/g)
I like this tea but it’s pretty expensive for what it is.
High in camphor/cooling. Woody. Thick oily, soft, smooth. Hits back of the mouth and leaves you feeling a strong refreshing feel. Some vanilla and cream, but those are mainly at the background. Gentle relaxing qi that requires a bit of time but is decently pleasant.. A woody, bready, mushroom profile comes out later. I suspect there won’t be much complaints on the longevity of this tea as it takes forever to brew out.
|2005 Mengku||–||Yunnan Sourcing||$58.00||400||$0.15||Good.|
|2001 YYX||Mengku||Houde||$525.00||357||$1.47||Very Good-.|
|1999 Micang||Yangqing Hao||Yangqing Hao||$175.00||500||$0.35||Good+.|
|1998 Jingmai||Bana Tea||$1,288.00||390||$3.30||Very Good+.|
|1997 Big Red Mark||CNNP||Chawangshop||$210.00||400||$0.53||Good++.|
|1990s Blue Mark||CNNP||White2Tea||$650.00||357||$1.82||Good++.|
2003 Bulang Jingpin
Sample from Houde originally. Strong tea especially when put up against the majority of the other teas in this report. Very robust and stout. It has decent depth/feeling at the top of the throat and enduring body. Darker cacao, coffee notes, longan later in the session. It’s somewhat soft but still pungent with a lasting mouthfeel.
2002 Six Famous Tea Mountains Tips
A sample from an early 6FTM production. Supposedly quite expensive. Soft, furry buds. Sweet, cinnamon, baking spice aromatics. Very sweet from the tip of the tongue. Fairly precise and focused in form. Some qi. A bit of throatiness and plenty of activity in the entire mouth, flushing the cheeks. There’s also some astringency that coats the mouth.
Texture is silky and smooth and viscosity is good enough but not especially thick. Leaves a strong, hay aftertaste in the breath that really lasts. Some lasts in the throat. As expected it hits fast and then needs to be pushed fairly strong.
2000 Kaiyuan Green Stamp (Essence of Tea)
Early steeps have a very thick body and a strong camphor note. There’s still some green/bitter left in the tea, moreso than the Green Peacock. Not much throaty feel while the liquor is going down, but some that returns back to the mouth.
2000 Zhencangpin Yellow Mark (Aged Taste/Tea Classico)
I’ve very much soured on my feelings about Tea Classico/Generation Tea/AgedTaste. The tea doesn’t seem to be what it is sold as and much of it isn’t good at all.
This one or whatever was sent to me turned out to be at least OK. Bready aroma. Very soft taste. Longan in aroma but a predominantly wood taste. Soft, medium body. Mild, relaxing tea. Easier to drink than YYX but not nearly as dynamic or interesting.
1998 Yiwu Tips/1997 Chicheng (Aged Taste/Tea Classico)
Both of these were not good and had some peculiar things going on with the storage or something. Left a nasty taste in the mouth.
1998 Tongqing Hao (The Jade Leaf)
Not sure which Tongqing Hao this is exactly, but it was sent by Joey when he sent me the Pu-erh.sk Smoky Lee. Guessing he sent it cause this has some remaining smoke in it. Found this to be decent and inoffensive but lack depth. BBQish smoke, smooth, simple.
1996 Menghai? Orange Label
Donated courteous of Varat. I’ve been very slow getting to his samples. Sorry Varat! It’s not cause they’re not interesting, it just took me forever to get to this report.
Unlike the prior teas, this is pretty much what you want in traditionally stored tea. Slight citric flavor. Decent depth. Oily. More on the heavier side compared with the Orange in Orange. Thicker, creamier, light talc. Light throatiness. Fits perfectly alongside the better traditionally stored tea in my stash.
1996 Orange in Orange 7532 via Houde
Sample is beenghole and crumbs. Medium viscosity that becomes thinner fairly quickly. Rich and active taste. Decent mouthcool and has an engaging mouthfeel. Some activity at the top of the throat. Taste eventually moves to more spicy wood with some sourness on the 4th steep. Really gets me to salivate. It does remind me a bit in the slick, smooth mouthfeel of the 2006 0622 but is much further along. Eventually gravitates to a simpler herbal, grain taste. Some nice returning to the throat huigan.
Who the hell knows what this tea retails for, but I’m sure it’s not pretty.
|2003 Bulang Jingpin||Very Good-.|
|2002 Tips||Six Famous Tea Mountains||Good++.|
|2000 Green Stamp||Kaiyuan||Very Good.|
|2000 Zhencangpin Yellow Mark||Tea Classico/Aged Taste||Good++.|
|1998 Tongqing Hao||Tongqing Hao||Good-.|
|1998 Yiwu Tips||Tea Classico/Aged Taste||Not Good.|
|1997 Chicheng||Tongqing Hao||Tea Classico/Aged Taste||Not Good.|
|1996 Orange in Orange 7532||Menghai Tea Factory||Very Good-.|
|1990s Orange Label||Menghai Tea Factory?||Good++.|
From the Stash
These are teas from the stash. Most I own anywhere from one piece to three or so.
2004 Commissioned (not Dayi) 7542
Purchased in Hong Kong.. Younger than most other things, but it’s been traditionally stored. This one performs better after it’s been in my Daiso tins for a few weeks. Thick, oily body.. Some feeling on the back of the mouth, but mainly a full lasting feel on the mouth. There’s still a bite to the tea and some ashiness but for the most part functional tea.
2001 Spring Buds
This tea hits the spot for me.. It’s traditionally stored and at this point is highly chuggable.. Soft, sweet, hits the back of the mouth. Starts pretty fast for the teas in this report. By the 3rd steep it’s thickened to a nice oily soup viscosity and continues on for a while. Interesting aroma that’s hard to describe.
No idea if this is a real Dayi and I really don’t care. Damn smooth tea. Round body. Stronger feeling on the mouth. No ashiness. Wood, longan. Very chuggable tea.
Another well aired out traditionally stored cake that I could drink daily.. Mushrooms, wood. Can have a little ashiness and drying, but overall is clean. Keeps chugging along even longer than the previous teas with an enduring back of the mouth sweetness. Decent complexity.
1998 Yiwu Brick
This is drier than most of the other teas that I own. Camphor, wood, light mouth cool. Back of the mouth focused. Some feelings on the top of the throat. There’s a little roughness at the throat, but its for the most part smooth and easy to drink. This was quite cheap when I bought it in Taiwan, and it’s a great value for something cleanly stored.
1990s Bazhong (Origin Tea)
Dank. This was definitely stored on the wet side of things and has been on the verge of becoming my first cake finished. I’m close to finishing this, but have slowed down as I’ve largely outgrown the cake. Wet wood, some creamy sweetness. Decent thickness. Turns dark very quickly. Leaves an effect on the mouth but not the throat. It steeps out for a while, so giving it a long or extra rinse isn’t a bad idea.
1990s Hong Kong Style ($0.46/g)
This tea is a known quantity and has been well-reviewed at this point. I’d drink it over the Bazhong, but I don’t think I’d buy another one. Smooth, rounded easy to drink tea that has been dried out. Decent body and quite clean.
1980s Loose (Origin Tea)
Supposedly naturally Taiwan stored. This one is also on the wet side of things and can be a bit inconsistent but is a definitive step up from the Bazhong. Velvety texture. Decently viscous. Starts slow with a simple woody profile. More interesting spiced wood + longan come out a bit later once some of the tea’s sharpness softens up.
Traditionally stored from Hong Kong. This starts out a bit vegetal, but comes into a nice, smooth form. that coats the mouth, including the top of the throat. It’s really quite tasty and easily better than the other 1980s loose (also was much more expensive).
|2001 Spring Buds||Very Good-.|
|2001 7542||Very Good-.|
|2000 Fuyuanchang||Very Good-.|
|1998 Yiwu Brick||Good++.|
|1990s Bazhong||Origin Tea||Good-.|
|1990s HK Style||White2Tea||$165.50||357||$0.46||Good.|
|1980s Loose||Origin Tea||Good+.|
As covered at the top of this report, this recommendation is for a decent enough tea sold at reasonable prices. I was about to recommend the 1999 Micang as well, but the price just went up and I don’t think it’s really worth the extra $45 and was kinda meh about it to begin with. The Green Peacock from Essence of Tea may also be worth consideration, but I didn’t drink it this month.
- 2005 Mengku Zhengshan Daye (Yunnan Sourcing)