5+ Year Old “Menghai County” Raw Pu’erh [July 2015 Tea Drinking Report]

Shoutouts to Dignitea, Brian (double B), and Hster for providing teas for this month and allowing the content to be what it is!

By now you know the drill. I drink a bunch of teas following a certain theme. Blah, blah, blah. This month is Menghai County. One problem.. Menghai County is big and I have a ton of teas that qualify. So, like the Yiwu reports (1, 2) I’ve split this in two. So why am I doing 5+ year old Menghai County tea first? Simply, I’m more calibrated for these semi-aged teas because I more recently have been tasting through similarly aged “Yiwu” teas.

Primary vendors sampled from:

  • Chawangshop
  • Houde Asian
  • White2Tea
  • Yunnan Sourcing

Note: I also did a brief interlude in the middle of the month to taste through the White2Tea harvest. This will be fully reported in the next month’s report.

05 Naka, 06 XZH LBZ, 05 CGHT YS

Frankenstein Creation. 05 Naka, 06 XZH LBZ, 05 CGHT Yesheng Leftovers.

Approximate Brewing Parameters

~5g/70ml gaiwan. Single rinse and short steeps. The rinse was skipped for a few of the more expensive teas. Likewise, two rinses (or even three) were used for several of the resessioned cheaper teas.

Learning About Tea & Reflections on Last Year’s Report

This report basically takes the place of last year’s Bulang and Nannuo report (Bulang and Nannuo are individual mountains in Menghai County). Those two were learning experiences for me and they are remembered considerably less fondly than my original take on Yiwu where Scott’s recs helped to save a potentially very awkward shot in the dark. I think the Nannuo/Bulang reports didn’t go as well for a number of reasons.

  1. Randomly searching Nannuo and Bulang and buying teas isn’t likely to turn up anything more than functional (searching for gushu won’t either). Last years report is filled with such tea..  Buying by price only exacerbates this. Too often you get what you pay for.
  2. My own regional bias (more on this in next month’s report).
  3. Experience. I’m alot more comfortable in my own ability assessing teas now than a year ago. It’s helped that I’ve consumed probably 85-90% pu’erh since.
  4. Weird samples. I’m still not totally sure what happened with those Nannuo samples I got from Yunnan Sourcing.

One of the main highlights from last year was getting more acquainted with White2Tea’s teas. If TwoDog has any area of focus it’d be Xishuangbanna, especially Menghai County. It’s the material that (presumably) makes up the primary material in the bulk of his teas (New Amerykah, Giant Steps, Tuhao, MCA, Colbert, Little Walk, Shroom).

There were some decent teas last year but I think this year as a whole was significantly more fruitful and enjoyable. One particularly relevant test is the look-back and cringe test. Jog your mind backwards to a period of time or a moment and mentally measure how much you are embarassed/cringe at yourself (high school is the ultimate cringe test). I cringe a little when I remember back to both of those reports, although it’s definitely not at the level of our classic 7542 episode (the ultimate cringe-inducing TeaDB episode).

Note: ~2,500 people have watched that episode of us being total noobs… 12g/young 7542, WTF were we  thinking? My stomach is curdling and I haven’t even started drinking young Menghai County teas yet…
Note #2: At least it looks like my mom combed my hair for that ep.
Note #3: Another funny thing about that 7542 episode.. The tea being so showmanly displayed is the ~$20 soon-to-be-composted 2007 Uwajimaya Nannuo cake (reviewed later in this report).

Tea Selection & Extras

Since we’re selecting older teas, there’s alot of reviews out there already. It’s very interesting to read others thoughts on teas and I’ve browsed through Hobbes and Jakub’s reviews countless times. Teas like the 2006 Haiwan Organic Pasha, 2007 Boyou Manludashan, etc. have been reviewed extensively throughout the years. These older reviews are pretty interesting to revisit and allow us to glimpse at how these teas age and the reviewer’s perception at the time. It also gives us the bonus of getting to cringe at how low prices used to be and (perhaps) some of the buying regrets of pu’erh hobbyists that came before us ($80 GFZ, ridiculous!).

It should also be noted that the tea selection for this (and previous) reports has been heavily aided by suggestions and samples. Big thanks to those who have sent in tea (Dignitea, Brian, Cwyn, Hster, etc.) as well as the per-usual spot-on recommendations of shah and others.

The extras this month are by and large Menghai Tea Factory teas. While we can surmise these to be primarily plantation, it’s probably reasonable to assume much of it comes from Menghai-area plantations. These teas were consumed primarily for the learning opportunity.

Supposedly LBZ tea (or Tuhao teas)

Right to the punch..

There’s alot of reasons to try to buy Lao Banzhang. Perhaps you (a) want the best, (b)the hype piqued your curiosity, (c) want to fit in with the cool kids (see Tuhao) or (d) enjoy burning money. Approximately zero of these has anything to do with maximizing value or saving money. Either way, given the likelihood of fakes it’s probably a good idea for any drinkers to judge the tea on its own merits.

2009 (*Mengku*) Lao Banzhang (Yunnan Sourcing, $0.44/g)

Sent in by Dignitea. Many thanks!

Despite price increases, this is still relatively cheap (on the Banzhang scale). Small leaves. Sweet acorn aroma. Decent thickness in the mouth. Some throat feeling although it is weaker than the Mengyang Guoyan. Might be my brewing but I find the bitterness actually comes out most in steeps 4-5. Decent huigan and a little qi. Eventually steeps into fairly generic floral notes and finishes up around 12 steeps. Probably the best attribute of the tea is the fullness of the mouth which remains constant late into the session.

This isn’t bad and certainly isn’t egregiously priced. It’s also definitely not tip-top, but tip-top prices aren’t being asked for. Personally, I’d go with the slightly more expensive 2005 Mengyang Guoyan. Scott’s own Xin Banzhang may also be a better/cheaper buy as well.

Note: Not a Mengku production. Supposedly done by Mengku personnel.

2006 Taichi Lao Banzhang, Black Wrapper (Houde, $1.46/g)

Really heavy qi that hits pretty much immediately. The qi starts out as mainly body but becomes a little more heady and lightens as the session plays out. Has that heavy throat ball feel that the 2005 CGHT and 2015 Tuhao also have.

Tastewise it’s not as intense as the LBZ reputation. It has decent thickness but isn’t overwhelmingly strong or bitter. Good huigan. It is herbal and cooling. A little different than the 2005 CGHT Menghai (reviewed later). The CGHT tea picked up steam as it steeped out whereas this falls off a little quicker. Is this a better tea than the Guoyan Laobanzhang? Without a question.. Several grades better. The qi is far more substantive, the body is better, it lasts longer, etc. Again, don’t buy by the label and assume that all tea sold as Banzhang are remotely the same (that’s to you guy that’s about to hit the “Buy Now” button for that $27.99 LBZ on ebay w/free shipping).

I also have a preference towards tea with this sort of storage (guessing Taiwan or Houde’s warehouse). Things get a little trickier when compared with the 2005 CGHT, which is somewhat similar in its profile but almost an inversion of this tea.

Note: This tea isn’t remotely cheap but also supposedly sells for considerably more in the Asian market.
Note #2: This just sold out, the day before this report was scheduled to publish.

2005 Mengyang Guoyan Lao Banzhang (YS, $0.53/g)

Had enough left for two sessions. Huge leaves. Bitter, mouth cooling. Generic aroma. Higher and fruitier than the Jingmeitang Guangbienlaozhai. Sweet, well-bodied profile. It gets bitter pretty easily with anything but flash steeps. A slick, lubricating texture that runs down the throat. Some nuttiness in the nose and taste in later steeps that kinda reminds me of Lincang.

Huigan is quick. This is full in the mouth, but its throat taste (while significant) doesn’t have the same depth as the 2007 JMT Guangbien Laozhai or Naka. It also doesn’t quite have the same longevity. Only item listing I could find on taobao sells for north of $400. Looking at my notes from a year ago, I think I mildly misjudged this tea. It’s a very decent tea, better than I remembered. There’s no huge flaws and while I would personally not pay $190 it seems appropriately priced. I’d go for this over the 2009.

2005 Banzhang (Tao of Tea, $1.06/g)

Thanks to Dignitea for sending this sample from Tao of Tea.

Very smoky, something that never goes away. Aroma closely resembles the 2007 5th International with its smoke and fruit. The body is decent and the leaves are OK looking but it’s not much better than that far more humbly priced blend. It’s got some mouthfeel but is pretty awful with any consideration of the price.

Recommended Teas

This one is tricky.. I could see rationalizations to buy any of these, other than the Tao of Tea Banzhang. The other three are reasonably and fairly priced, although I will likely reserve my $$ for other teas.

Tea Vendor Producer $ Quantity Cost/g Rating
2009 Lao Banzhang Yunnan Sourcing *Friends of Mengku $110.00 250 $0.44 Good.
2006 Taichi Laobanzhang Houde Xizihao $585.00 400 $1.46 Excellent-.
2005 Guoyan Laobanzhang Yunnan Sourcing Mengyang Guoyan $190.00 357 $0.53 Very Good-.
2005 Banzhang Tao of Tea $30.00 28.35 $1.06 OK+.

Other Premium Teas

Menghai County is a big and diverse area. Believe it or not, there’s alot of other decent places to get tea beyond Lao Banzhang!

2007 Jingmeitang Guangbielaozhai (Houde, $0.36/g)

A recommendation from shah. Thanks!

This is a good one and I enjoy it alot. Small, good-looking leaves. Decent body/thickness in mouth with a slight tang in the middle of the throat. Strong thickness in the throat and chest and decent mouth cooling. As others have noted this does dry the mouth out. The qi is of the calming sort.. A relaxing heaviness in my diaphragm and chest. The astringency is persistent and keeps going to steep 10. I think this is a bit better than the Naka W2T sells which at the very least tells me that this was a good deal while it lasted (it sold out).

Note: From reading other’s notes, this astringency/drying may’ve actually mellowed.

2005 Naka (W2T, $0.90/g)

Cwyn has covered this tea rather infamously. She also generously sent me a sample prior to posting the review. I hadn’t consumed this tea since then but have had 5-6 sessions in the past month.

What often gets overlooked in all that stoner smoke is that it’s actually a very decent tea, beyond just the qi aspects. It has a light-medium body, but compensates with a great mouth and throat feel along with the distinct heaviness in the body. Very smooth, nice texture. Small leaves (characteristic of this area). Lasts in the mouth. Chocolatey tones, some light smoke. Camphor/mouth cooling.

Now a mini-rant on the price. Frankly, $290 is alot to pay for a tea. With that amount of money you’re definitely not paying for just the maturation (see the affordable Airplane Yiwu TwoDog put up). But is there anything with this level of base material and age on the western market? That’s where things get tricky. You can cherry pick on Houde, but most of the good stuff gets grabbed up pretty quickly. It’s hard to find good-quality leaf that’s been well-aged for 5+ years.

Some alternatives. Maybe Essence of Tea or Bana Tea? I haven’t tried either extensivel. Neither is cheap. Perhaps someone can speak towards the western aged gushu market better than myself! This all leads me to believe this tea (while expensive) is indeed worthwhile. At least for a sample. I think most normal people would be crazy to blind buy a full cake, but I also don’t think it’s an example of crazy vendor pricing.

Note: This argument (mini-rant) is also a good case to buy the 2006 XZH LBZ for those with the $$.

2005 Chenguanghe Tang Menghai Yesheng (Hster, Marshaln originally)

Huge thanks to Hster who sent this, after she acquired a sample from Marshaln. On it is written that it’s Taiwan stored and needs more time (to age). This tea represents a unique opportunity because it gives me a glimpse into what my most read blog looks for in tea. Marshaln also isn’t a prolific reviewer which leads to a considerable amount of curiosity.

Bassy, herbal taste. The tea slides slickly and smoothly down the throat and then rises back up. The aftertaste is slow hitting but grips the back of the throat. Alot of what was probably hard hitting early on has aged out, although it can still get a bit bitter when pushed, especially in steeps 4-10. This tea sits heavily in the throat in a way that reminds me of the Tuhao minus all the aggro. The tea also gets better the more it steeps out. Lasts for ~15-20 steeps. Has plenty of qi but it is also more subtle and hits later than the most of the other nice teas from this month.

Note: This is supposedly available on taobao for 798 RMB ($130), although I don’t know how much to trust that link.
Note #2: One of the notes Hster left me on this tea was that it still needs more time. The tea is quite good now. It’s probably at a similar level of maturation as the XZH Laobanzhang sold by Houde, but is greener than the Naka.
Note #3: TwoDog also wrote (positively) about this tea.

2003 Bulang (Houde, -)

Like the 2005 Chawang Bulang, this is a little out of place due to its storage. It’s just far more browned/mature. Obviously better than that tea. Chocolatey taste, good aroma (a little fruit). Lots of aftertaste that’s centered around the back of the mouth and throat. Some light qi especially at the beginning of the session. I do wish this was available as Houde’s antiquated but generous pricing structure would probably make it reasonably priced.

2002 Bulang (CWS, $0.42/g)

Initially, reminded me alot of the White Whale. Pine in the aroma and taste. Some mentholy/mouth cooling. It still has plenty of strength and leaves a dense feel in the front of the mouth. More negatively it does dry out the mouth and the throat. Looking at my notes from last year I more or less concur. It becomes more generically fruity as it steeps out.

There’s decent huigan and a little throatiness that becomes more apparent as it steeps out and it can be pushed. These nicer effects are light compared with some of the nicer teas this month. My guess is this is some sort of blend with higher-quality material was blended in. Adding to that theory.. This tea got tastier once it was on steep 10 or so, after the plantationy stuff stopped being bitter/astringent and allowed me to push the tea more.

2001 Longyuanhao Lahu (CS, $0.56/g)

This was likely pretty overpriced at first but thanks to prices rising, it looks alot less egregious now. I doubt it’s a deal but it’s probably OK. I had ~4g left from the Camellia Sinensis episodes ages ago. Just enough for a very small session. I was pretty sure this would be disappointing. Alas..

The leaves aren’t very good looking but it is a proper tea. Good throatiness, quick huigan, light qi. There’s still bitterness/astringency there but it’s very easy to brew around. Hard for me to place exactly from a single, limited session but it’s definitely a good tea. Rating here is kind of a guess since I only had one not quite standard session. Might be better or worst.

Body is medium. Soft and sweet at the beginning. Gets a bit more camphory as it steeps out. I don’t think it matches the depth or longevity of the better teas this month but has a very pleasing easy-going feel. Anyone know more about this particular production?

Note: I believe CS gets their pu’erh from Sunsing, but wasn’t able to find this tea there or on Taobao.

Recommended Teas

This is another challenging section. The JMT was obviously underpriced, is no longer available and should be disregarded. The 2005 CGHT, Bulang Jingpin and the Bulang sold by ChaWang are no longer available. How about the Naka and Longyuanhao? They’re both fine teas with qi, the Naka being heavier in both qi and longevity. I also think it’s been stored a little wetter. As is the case of the first section, being able to spend the $$ on either cake is based off the tea-buyers wallet and willingness to drop money than a mega-deal.

Tea Vendor Producer $ Quantity Cost/g Rating
2007 Jingmeitang Houde Jingmeitang $129.50 357 $0.36 Very Good+.
2005 CGHT Menghai Yesheng CGHT Very Good+.
2005 Naka White2Tea $320.00 357 $0.90 Very Good.
2003 Bulang Jingpin Houde  –
2002 Bulang Chawangshop $150.00 357 $0.42 Good+.
2001 Longyuanhao Lahu Camellia Sinensis Longyuanhao $200.45 357 $0.56 Very Good-.

Affordable Teas (<$0.20/g)

When I’m free/my girlfriend is out of town, like any sensible tea drinker (or alcoholic) I tend to hit the cup (or bottle) hard. Last Saturday she went with friends down to Portland. Normally, I’ll try to do something sensible like drink with friends but I never made definitive plans.

I sessioned 9 teas (all covered here) by myself. In the immortal words of Richard Dick Nixon, mistakes were made. The tea made me feel extremely uncomfortable and irritable. I tried to watch Predator and looked something like this on the couch. After a long couple hours, I was able to get some food in me and chill out. My apologies to those who interacted with me in that phase of tea overdose. Sorry!

Sometimes us tea addicts sound like drug addicts.

2010 Taochaju Nannuo Sicang (W2T, $0.18/g)

Enough of my sample left for one last session. Notes largely for my own record keeping and comparison to how I perceived it in 2014 where it was one of my favored Nannuo teas. Strong, dense, well-bodied. Still plenty of bitterness and astringency that sits heavily in the mouth. There’s a strong apricot smell that carries over into the taste. A few floral notes.

2008 Hailanghao Star of Bulang (YS, $0.11/g)

In a similar boat as the Haiwan Pasha and Manludashan. I picked a cake of this up for an inexpensive $28 a year ago and was one of the original teas in my storage. It’s received lukewarm reviews at best (Hobbes).

Some smoke in the aroma. A dense, well-bodied taste. Plenty of sweetness. Light throatiness. In terms of flaws, the tea still has some bitterness/sourness to sort out and it’s a fairly singular tea. Still, I find it to be enjoyable enough and perhaps a small step above average. The second session in particular was a bit more prone to sourness. It’s longevity is mediocre and can really be pushed after the first few steeps. Ready to drink.

2007 Unknown Brand Nannuo (Uwajimaya, $0.06/g)

Lots of sticks and sickly looking leaves. Smells smoky. Thin taste. It is sweet and light and followed by a light tanginess. I thought this tea might suck (I thought it might suck last year at all). It doesn’t. It’s just not remotely exciting either.

Note: This tea will be removed from my stash into the compost bin (it’s not good enough to give away). I doubt it will ever be good enough for me to really enjoy.

2007 Yunnan Tea Research Institute Bamboo Naka Qiaomu (CWS, $0.10/g)

Along with the 2005 Naka, Also featured in the infamous Naka post. I think Cwyn sent this my way.

As you might expect for a tea that’s been pressed into a tube it feels pretty dry-stored. It starts out light, but thickens up once its brewed out a few times. Generic Menghai aroma, light throatiness. There’s a light throatiness and the tea sits pleasantly in the mouth. Still, it doesn’t really strike me as worth pursuing.

2007 Changtai Chahuchen Nannuo (CWS, $0.08/g)

It’s got an OK body and a sweet taste. Slightly floral. Doesn’t stand out at all.

2007 Boyou Manludashan (YS, $0.12/g)

A similar boat to the 2006 Haiwan Pasha. Acquired in the same box as the Pasha. Unlike that tea, this one hasn’t taken off on price.

First session was at the tail end of a tea session with a friend. The tea came across as extremely sweet. I didn’t notice a ton of depth, but it was very easy to drink. The second session was after dinner and featured alot of broken leaves. It had some sweetness, but was alot denser and bitter. I had to adjust my brewing parameters downwards. Both times the tea brought a reasonable amount of enjoyment, while never anything close to great. In the end, I find this to be a peculiar pu’erh, and despite enjoying my sessions it doesn’t induce a ton of confidence in this tea.

Note: Positively reviewed by Jakub and Hobbes.
Note #2: I should probably have sessioned this tea once more to solidify an opinion. Alas, with so many teas..
Note #3: This tea will be relegated to 1-2x/year status.

2006 Haiwan Organic Pasha (YS, $0.28/g)

This tea has been well-covered by alot of the old pu’erh bloggers. Hobbes (consumed throughout the years) and Jakub also seems particularly fond of it. I’ve had the cake for ~a year, but only sessioned it once when I first acquired it.

Decent aroma (sweet acorn). Quick huigan. Body is medium. Very decent throatiness. There’s a fair deal of bitterness/astringency in the mouth but it’s easy to see the appeal with this tea. Really starts to thicken and open up after a few steeps. The throat gripping is good and I got quite thirsty after the session. I don’t think I could stomach paying the $110 given what it used to cost but I certainly see the appeal.

Note: Per Hobbes review, it used to sell for $32 to the western market.
Note #2: Marshaln was a little more lukewarm on the tea when he discussed the tea near its release. TwoDog has also talked positively about it relatively recently.

2007 Boyou Manludashan, 2006 Haiwan Pasha

Well-reviewed teas. 2007 Boyou Manludashan, 2006 Haiwan Pasha. Source: Yunnan Sourcing.

2006 Yunhai Nannuo (W2T, $0.13/g)

I bought a cake of this and remain a fan for daily drinking. It is soft, smooth and easy to drink. It’s mainly sweet (stone fruit) with a slight herbal taste. I brewed it in the middle of a marathon session and it fared well. I also doubt this has the oomph to become that much better. It’s also definitely not something to crazy about, but I continue to find it to be a satisfying, inexpensive drink.

Note: I used to brew this for friends to show semi-aged sheng with limited results. I’d usually brew it after a young pu’erh and it never tasted quite right. I think this is cause it’s very mellow. It also can’t be pushed too much without biting back.

2005 Mingshenghao Nannuo (CWS, $0.27/g)

Smells very sweet and a little leathery and for the most part that is how it tastes. Has some astringency when overbrewed and can be pretty mouth drying. It has a really soft front, followed by a fruity taste. The bitterness builds in the middle steeps and it thins out/gets watery

Pretty obvious appeal and it really does have a very nice texture if you can brew around the bitterness. The body is enduring and my single session shows good longevity. Looking over my notes from last time, I find the tannic notes of this tea to be less pleasant than last years. This may have decent material, but I’d rather drink the Pasha.

2005 Chawangshop Bulang (CWS, $0.16/g)

Sample kindly sent by Cwyn. This is the only of ChaWang’s 2015 I’ve tried so far. From the sounds of Cwyn’s notes, the Hekai is the one worth pursuing.

There’s a decent amount of humidity in the tea. Smooth, sweet. Aftertaste cleanses the palate and stays in the front part of the mouth. I don’t notice much depth although it is exceedingly easy to drink. Dumping out my leaves and looking at Cwyn’s pictures it’s pretty easy to tell that this is some sort of blend. There’s some light brown, dark brown, and dark green leaves all mashed up together. It’s a particulary poor comparison to everything else this month due to its accelerated maturation, which makes this rating kind of a guess (it’s somewhere in between drinkable to decent). Could be a decent daily-drinking brown pu’erh.

Note: Although I didn’t get much bitterness in my brew my cheeks started to become flushed midway through the session, a testament to some strength in the tea.

2003 Mengsong Qiaomu (YS, $0.12/g)

Did two sessions here. Nice plum/earth aroma. Storage is clean like all of Scott’s wetter teas. The taste is fairly thin but is very sticky/syrupy in the mouth. Thickens a little as it brews out starting as honey and moving more into plum/earth notes. The astringency is numbing and this tea shouldn’t be oversteeped. Sits in the lower parts of the mouth and feels kinda chalky. A little camphor comes in around the 5th or 6th steep. The aroma becomes more floral as it steeps and is probably the most impressive aspect of the tea. Not much in the way of throatiness or huigan.

My second impression of it was a bit better. More fruit and camphor. Once the astringency goes away, it’s simple but easy to drink tea. If all you care about is getting a cheap somewhat aged tea for a decent price, this fits the bill.

Tea Vendor Producer $ Quantity Cost/g Rating
2010 Nannuo Sicang White2Tea Taochaju $65.50 357 $0.18 Good+.
2008 Star of Bulang Yunnan Sourcing Hailanghao $38.00 357 $0.11 Good-.
2007 Bamboo Naka Chawangshop Yunnan Tea Research Institute $9.80 100 $0.10 OK+.
2007 Uwajimaya Cake Uwajimaya $22.00 357 $0.06 OK-.
2007 Chahuchen Nannuo Changtai Chawangshop $32.00 400 $0.08 OK+.
2007 Manludashan Yunnan Sourcing Boyou $48.00 400 $0.12 Good-.
2006 Organic Pasha Yunnan Sourcing Haiwan $110.00 400 $0.28 Good++.
2006 Yunhai Nannuo White2Tea Yunhai $46.50 357 $0.13 Good.
2005 Mingshenghao Chawangshop Mingshenghao $95.00 357 $0.27 Good-.
2005 Nannuoshan 7549 Chawangshop Nannuoshan Tea Factory $45.00 357 $0.13 OK+.
2005 Bulang Chawangshop Chawangshop $32.00 200 $0.16 Good-.
2003 Mengsong Qiaomu Yunnan Sourcing CNNP Tiepai $49.00 400 $0.12 Good-.

Blends

Zhang Jinghong’s book goes into great detail about some of the smaller subsets of cultures in the pu’erh tea mountains, specifically eastern Xishuangbanna (Mengla County/Yiwu) and Menghai. The customer base for those teas (initially theTaiwanese) has been traditionally more interested in an artisan product and has close connections in and around Yiwu. In contrast, Menghai County (also home of Dayi) teas are known for being ripened and more frequently blended.

Obviously jumping to big conclusions isn’t advised and this is definitely an oversimplication, but there’s also more of a historical emphasis on blending in many of the classic vintage cakes that are likely made from Menghai County material(Red Mark, Blue Mark, various 7542s). This section covers a few of the more obvious “blends”.

2012 White2Tea/Taochaju Giant Steps (W2T, $0.15/g)

Had the chance to try this recently. One of the flagship W2T productions. It’s a good one and likely one  where I probably would’ve bought more if I started drinking before it sold out.

Dense body mixed with alot of sweetness. A light, but pleasant throatiness and decent huigan. Good mix of sweetness and body. It’s still got alot of kick in it but is very drinkable. Hard to complain at the price this was sold for. The leaves are whole and with a couple small sessions (small sample size) there was an expected amount of variation.

Note: Seems out of place to put a 2012 production here but the material is from 2008-2012, so it would’ve fit into this or next months. I arbitrarily kept it in this this month.

2007 Jingmeitang/Changtai 5th International (Houde, $0.17/g)

Thanks to shah for mentioning this tea. Another tea that got reviewed a bit when it came out, although it wasn’t particularly well-received (Hobbes). That being said, most of their reviews were several years ago and its price has become increasingly more reasonable.

The body is full and well-rounded. There’s still considerable smoke and bitterness that persists through much of the session. It’s counter-balanced by a plum sweetness and leathery texture. There’s also some mouth-drying astringency and in general I think the tea still needs more time.

Still the cake is definitely improving. It has throat taste and huigan but dries out the mouth. Considering the price/age/cake size it’s not bad. Given my own surplus of tea and the fair amount of abrasiveness still in the tea, I wouldn’t pick this up as a regular drinker but rather to age more.

Note: I think I’d heard this was intended as some sort of recreation of the Blue Mark.

2006 Taipei Jincha (Houde, $0.13/g)

Had one session with this a while back and remember it being OK. Had two additional sessions this past month, both significantly better than my initial one. Again, with this tea it’s hard to say where it fits regionally.

Some smoke still in aroma but not really in the taste. Compression is very high. Medium body. Sweet, fairly smooth, mushroomy. A little nutty and chocolatey late in the session. Over-brewed it gets astringent and herbaly. Aroma is strong and good, undoubtedly assisted by the level of compression. It’s slow to get going and seems to improve as it steeps out and makes for a fun, dynamic session. Decent huigan. Inconsistent teas like this leave me feeling very tentative in my review and rating. I think it’s good?

Note: Without targeting specific teas, I’d rather have this at $31 (or $28 w/3x250g Jincha) vs. just about every other young tea priced similarly.

2006 Langhe 8549 (CWS, $0.10/g)

Sample sent by Brian (double B). Thanks! More vegetal aroma initially. Fairly thin taste overall. It’s less sweet than the 7549. Cereal-like sweetness. It has a interesting development in the mouth from sip to swallow where it thickens up and gets a little herbal. That’s its lone attribute and is otherwise uninteresting.

2005 Nannuoshan 7549 (CWS, $0.13/g)

Sweet (dark sugars), a little malty, and hints of sourness. It’s got a soft, but big enough body with a noticeable huigan that builds. More negatively it is quite cold to the body. Definitely dry-stored as I could’ve easily mistook this for a much younger tea.

I look back a year ago and remember being tempted to buy it (I believe it was $29). I ended up not going forward, and don’t really regret my decision. The price is not bad and the tea is decent enough. Still teas like this are not difficult to find and it currently falls beneath my threshold for daily drinking.

2002 Little Yellow Mark (W2T, $0.50/g)

Is this Menghai material? I’m not 100% sure, but just a guess judging from the time, era, and vendor. I was about an inch from buying a cake last year, but in the end didn’t. I have a bit of an old sample left and was mainly curious how this would compare with the teas I’d been drinking.

Throatiness, soft texture and a good body. A little herbal, a little plum. Great soft texture to it and some relaxing body qi. A little drying to the mouth and still a little smoke left in the tea.

I brewed this next to the 2005 CGHT (coincidentally). It’s an odd pairing that doesn’t make a ton of sense, but it made me realize this one is higher and more floral vs. the herbal, bassiness, thick throatiness of the CGHT. I’d pick the CGHT, but I do enjoy this tea alot.

Recommended Teas

Looking at the list, this is a diverse group of tea. Alot of functional, decent teas but at this point in my tea journey most are not all that interesting to me.

In the non-blend section, the Haiwan Pasha was very clearly my favorite tea. It’s price has gone a bit wack, which makes me hesitate in my recommendations. Here’s the teas that are most tempting me (or I have already bought).

  • 2007 Jingmeitang 5th International (store)
  • 2006 Yunhai Nannuo (drink)
  • 2006 Taipei Jincha (drink/store)
  • 2002 Little Yellow Mark (drink/store) – Higher end, but also a step up in quality.
Tea Vendor Producer $ Quantity Cost/g Rating
2012 Giant Steps White2Tea White2Tea/Taochaju $55.00 357 $0.15 Very Good-.
2007 5th International Houde Changtai (Jingmeitang) $67.50 400 $0.17 Good-.
2006 8549 Chawangshop Langhe $35.00 357 $0.10 OK+.
2006 Taipei Jincha Houde Changtai (Jingmeitang) $32.95 250 $0.13 Good.
2002 Little Yellow Mark White2Tea Private Production $179.50 357 $0.50 Very Good.

Random Dayi

I rarely drink Dayi raw pu’erh since my glory days.. When I was first getting started into tea, I somewhat haphazardly picked up a few cakes (OK, definitely haphazardly). They don’t really qualify as regrets due to the lowish price (I don’t think I spent more than $30 on a cake) and while I drank through a fair chunk of a few of the cakes when they were first acquired, they’ve been mainly sitting dormant as other teas have caught my interest.

From XZH LBZ/Naka to cheap factory recipes.. I was not particularly excited to drink youngish, dry-stored pu’erh. But, it’s important to figure out how these compare, especially with the mid-lower-end options (Changtai, random brands, etc.) from this month.

Note: LBZ, Dayi, etc. Screw your indie boutique labels and white labels!

2009 0622 (YS, $0.07/g)

Bought two years ago for $22. This is easily my least favorite of the Dayi gang tasted.

Smoky, bitter, sour and thin. Aroma starts out very smoky but pushes into more generic Menghai territory. The body thickens a little and the sourness goes away but I end up tossing/moving on after the first few steeps steeps. This is hard for me to like and I just don’t detect much substance beneath the abrasive qualities. Will hold onto this mainly due to Dayi’s reputation, but not impressed.

2009 8582 (YS, $0.07/g)

This spent a year being abused by my storage and then a year in the pumidor. Smokier and more bitter than the 2008 8582, although you can feel the tea softening up. Most of the smoke is in the aroma. The bite of the tea is of the floral, Menghai bitter type. As you can expect, it thins out quickly and needs to be pushed in the remaining few steeps. Overbrewed it gets a bit sour.

Note: Falls beneath my threshold for daily drinking. Back into storage.
Note #2: Bought for $16. two years ago.

2008 8582 (Tuocha, $0.06/g)

Sent by Brian (double B). Thanks sir!

If my sample is an indicator, the storage has loosened its compression greatly over the last few years.The aroma is considerably more appealing than the 2009 8582.

It’s soft, smooth, and simple. The aroma and base are the fairly generic hay/sheng that we have come to expect. There’s plenty of honey sweetness, although it gets bitter and astringent if overbrewed. As expected, it fades quickly but at the reasonable price of $19.80 it is a reasonable budget buy.

With both of the 8582s I have a hard time believing they are destined for anything close to greatness but they could probably age a bit more and be alright daily drinks.

Note: Both the 2008 and 2009 converge and become very similar after the first few steeps.

2009 8582, 2008 8582, 2005 Early Spring Tuo

2009 8582, 2008 8582, 2005 Early Spring Tuo. Source: Yunnan Sourcing.

2005 Dayi Early Spring Tuo (YS, $0.35/g)

This comes directly from Cwyn’s famous crock storage.

It’s significantly more browned than the 2008 8582. Has a clean, soft taste and you can tell from the aroma that the smoke has been cleared out of the tea. In fact, it’s more floral/perfumey. Very smooth, soft, sweet and generally tasty. I do enjoy this tea and it leaves a lasting sweetness and thirst for water in the front of the mouth. It gives out on ~10-12 steeps, a little more than I got out of the 2008 8582. Hard to say, not having had this tea before it went into the crock, but I’m inclined to give a thumbs up for my initial impressions on crock storage.

Note: Cwyn actually told me to rinse the tea several times. The first session I gave it an extra couple rinses, but for the most part found this to be unnecessary. Properly broken up and then given two rinses was plenty to get rid of storage and get to the tea.
Note #2: My only major complaint with this tea is the considerable drying of the mouth.
Note #3: Cwyn’s tasting notes of the Early Spring pre-crock. Note the presence of heavy smoke in the taste.

2004 Dayi 7542 (RBT, $0.13/g)

This is I believe the 425 version sold on Sample Tea.

Picked up for a reasonable (if legit) price of $48 from Red Blossom in San Francisco two years ago. I hadn’t yet got got into pu’erh, but I recognized the name and had a general idea of prices. Don’t think I have ever seen it on their site. Is this a legit Dayi? I don’t have a clue and frankly don’t care. I’m not buying more and won’t be selling it. It spent one year in a gift box/haphazard storage. The second year was spent in my pumidor.

It’s aroma is very smoky from the get-go, but after a few rinses it’s minimized. The tea has a nice soft texture, and sits nicely in the mouth. I’m quite satisfied. I drank this in the middle of the nine-tea marathon session and it helped to accentuate the thinness of some of the other teas. There is throatiness and a decent huigan. Some mintiness/camphor starts to happen around steep 4 or so.

Note: Guess on storage is Kunming? It feels too dry for the wetter climates.
Note #2: This one, like the Pasha and Manludashan will be tried a couple times a year to check out progress on the pumidor.
Note #3: How is this better than the later Dayi (2008-2009), I’ve had. It’s got more depth and it has much better longevity.

Recommended Teas

This is far from a comprehensive guide to buying Dayi, nor am I the right person to ask. I was generally happy with how they stack up vs. other non-premium brands. The 2008 8582 is worth it if you want a cheap, daily drink that is just emerging as drinkable!

Tea Vendor Producer $ Quantity Cost/g Rating
2009 0622 Yunnan Sourcing Dayi $29.00 400 $0.07 OK-.
2009 8582 Yunnan Sourcing Dayi $25.00 357 $0.07 OK+.
2008 8582 Tuocha Tea Dayi $19.80 357 $0.06 OK++.
2005 Early Spring Tuo Yunnan Sourcing Dayi $88.00 250 $0.35 Good.
2004 7542 Red Blossom Dayi $48.00 357 $0.13 Good+.

A few final thoughts.

A Vendor Suggestion: Three(ish) Cake Discount

One thing Houde does right, that noone else does. No, it’s not just the terribad romanization. It’s the discount for multiple cakes (but not a tong). Most westerners (and presumably most of you) drink alone. Vendors have constantly bemoaned sample whores, but frankly I see both sides. A traditional tong is 7 cakes or 2.5kg. Two tongs is enough for a full year of drinking for even a prolific drinker! Why don’t vendors give an incentive to buy more than one cake, like a three or four cake discount? I like this number because it’s enough tea for me to chip away at a cake and keep others in storage.

Note: This has been mitigated in recent harvests with smaller cakes and tong sizes, but why stop there?
Note #2: I have a friend (an oolong drinker) that refuses to even try teas at vendors that don’t sell discounted higher-quantities. Only Yunnan Sourcing and the chance to buy at massive 500g-1kg sizes!

A Cheapo Tea Drinker Suggestion + Challenge + Rant: Try Nice Tea!

<rant>Good tea is often expensive. Hey, guess what! Quit whining. You can still try it for a highly affordable price. I often think that tea drinkers get caught up in a relative pricing rut. We’re constantly smashed over the head with price tags in everyday life and especially when tea shopping. What is the signal that tells us a certain tea is expensive? It’s usually a relative comparison.. An arbitrarily good tea (let’s say $0.70/g) sells for $250/cake (357g). That’s alot of money to drop at once but is really exacerbated by that $5 2015 Xiaguan Jiaji Tuo ($0.05/g). That’s 14x as expensive! You could get 14 extremely mediocre/bad teas for one.

But guess what? You don’t have to buy a single cake.. Spending up for a cake and for a session are two very different things. A healthy 7g session of that same tea might cost between $5-6 depending on the sample markup. Let me say that again. $5-6 If you are a cheapo software developer or an engineer I’m calling you out! You are not allowed to pretend that you can’t even afford to try a good tea. A single session of a really good tea can be an eye-opening experience and alert you to what tea can be. Chances are if you’re reading this post (or following TeaDB) you’re interested in exploring tea and are probably sitting on a stash of fairly decent, well-valued tea. Why buy more of the same? Denying yourself that good-tea experience for an arbitrary feeling of saving money is silly! Alternatively, you can keep chumming along with daily drinkers and never know what it feels like to truly live! You choose!</rant>

Note #1: That same tuo seems cheap at $5, but it probably sells for $1 on the Chinese market.
Note #2: If you’re a poor college student/artist/unemployed/homeless you’re begrudgingly exempt from this section.

Closing Notes

On a small sidenote, I’ve been planning on doing the young Menghai report next but my stomach has started to itch a bit. Will be probably released slightly later in mid-September. I’m also going to the island of Taiwan with a four day detour to Hong Kong in October. The current plan will be to finish up the year with the Taiwanese Oolong (to age) and aged oolong tea of the months in November/December.

Coming next.. A mini-report of Xiaguan and a few extra samples I have laying around. Then, the younger Menghai County teas (pending stomach survival).

Tuhao. Inbetweenisode 39 Colbert vs. Tuhao.

A photo posted by James (@teadborg) on

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11 Responses to 5+ Year Old “Menghai County” Raw Pu’erh [July 2015 Tea Drinking Report]

  1. Grill says:

    I have half of my Taichi sample left and I agree with you that it is a special tea and even at that crazy price it was probably worth buying a cake. One of the few teas I’ve enjoyed as much as W2T’s Last Thoughts.

    • James says:

      Yeah.. It’s a great tea. It’s too bad it’s even more expensive in the TW market!

      Cheers,
      -James

      • shah8 says:

        This tea is not on the shelf in Taiwan. I don’t see it even in Yahoo!auctions anymore. It looks like pretty much all of the XZH ’05 and ’06 tea are for special customers only, with random rent payment auctions of one or two cakes.

  2. Xenia says:

    Hi James,

    Your reports are so so helpful! It’s been a year since I have abandoned my oolongs and keemuns and my preference shifted almost solely to shengs (for reasons unknown) however, it was a scary place with all the endless varieties and even heavily curated tea does not always explain its price tag. Now, your reports are just great, because of how you break everything down and juxtapose material from different vendors. my wallet and I are eternally grateful 🙂

    • James says:

      Hi Xenia,

      Thanks for the kind words! Glad you’ve enjoyed these reports. It sounds as if our tea journeys have taken us to similarly mysterious corners of the pu’erh world..

      Cheers!
      -James

  3. Bef says:

    “most normal people would be crazy to blind buy a full cake”
    -oops!

    Wondering if you tried again Repave lately? I really enjoy this tea as a cheap daily drinker, but using high leaf ratio makes it too bitter and smokey for me. I’m no expert, but I was thinking it might age well as it’s still quite strong.

    I am curious to try a few of the teas in your report. I was surprised to see some very cheap cakes being rated good.

    Regarding the price of tea, if you live outside of Europe, just think how much you would pay for a good (not even great) bottle of wine that contains 5 glasses vs. a cake that can provide almost 100 sessions… But you don’t have to buy bottles of wine by hundreds.

    BTW, it seems like your reports keep getting better everytime.

    • James says:

      Hi Bef,

      Thanks for the comment and commentary!

      I have not tried the Repave in nearly a year. I do wonder what I’d make of it now compared to these other teas. I feel considerably more comfortable with some of the extra-curricular attributes of pu’erh. Perhaps I should reorder a sample. Or maybe just rewatch that ep of TeaDB.

      Let me also note that the rating system is far from perfect. It’s really my own internalized ratings that are subject to my tastebuds. I’m sure there’s more then a few inconsistencies there.

      Cheers,
      -James

  4. shah8 says:

    If it makes you feel better James, I go back through my old comments on teachat and badgerandblade and cringed quite a few times yourself. We don’t really ever learn anything unless urged on by the pain or fear of failure.

    Hmmm, looking at the list at why anyone wants LBZ, I suspect I need to make some stuff clear about why people would want LBZ. The first thing is that there are at least two different modes of LBZ–those made from sweet tea and those made from bitter tea. Usually, LBZ is blended with some other stuff. So you can have some pretty wild gyrations of what LBZ is. Let’s go back to sweet and bitter. It’s basically the same game with Hekai, you have one batch of Hekai leaf that is more tobacco and Menghai floral and bitter. That eventually gets sort of darker and bassier, with the bitterness generating and active and pungent mouthfeel. The other is very sweet, with lots of Menghai honey and gentleness. The bitter tea is more durable and ages with a flavor that’s more solid, while the sweet tea is really tasty and smooth. Next, it’s left to say that older LBZ had wildly different processing methods. Now, that we have claiming fakes out of the way…Why should anyone love LBZ in particular? There are lots of really really good teas out there and all, and you can get similar performance from other banzhang areas, Pasha, some Nannuo, Naka, etc? The main thing is what it does to your body! In particular, high end banzhang area tends to have a very deep and powerful feeling in the throat, such that it stimulates the drinking of alcoholic spirits. Add the quite active qi, and it basically pulls you away from the present moment, like any good recreational drug does. In addition, the aged tea has strong amounts of agreeable flavors, like stone fruit or almonds, girded by a delicate complexity and sensate sweetness. One thing that is interesting to me about LBZ cakes is just how often they don’t fare well in competition tastings against other cakes, because they’re sort of bland, superficially. LBZ also tends to have an astringency that stores flavor inside your cheeks, and releases it as you salivate. Lastly, LBZ tend to have a profound aroma. The Ho-bros ordered 2003 6 star Peacock cake, for example, is prized for a sort of floral, smoky LBZ aroma, and which is one of the most expensive LBZ cakes in existence.

    The CGHT Menghai Yiehsheng is a blend of Lao Man’E and Mengsong, I’m pretty sure. For a long while, I was surprised that you considered it more durable than the Taichi, but realized I thought you were talking about the CHGT Banzhang Chawang, which is LBZ and Lao Man’E. That tea is very much lacking in durability, but the sweet tea LBZ in it is very pleasant while it lasts. This tea can also be found for not that high a price, but the Menghai Yiehsheng is the true better tea for storage.

    As for the Naka from ’05, my feeling was that it’s pretty decent but outdone by the ’05 Peacock of Mengsong. You may well feel that this Menghai version sold here https://farwenwapuer.wordpress.com/home/sheng-beeng-chas/2004-menghai-peacock/ is worthwhile at $141 instead of $320 for Naka. There really aren’t all that much in the way of mid aughts premium tea sold anymore, but James may well think that http://www.themandarinstearoom.com/2006-YiWu-Mt-Raw-Puerh-_p_2.html is worth the money. It feels like a take on the Big Green Tree cakes, but without the solidness of whatever Nannuo that’s in those teas, and somewhat smoky-floral in a way I think is nice.

    Man, the most I ever tried was four teas in a day, and I certainly no longer can drink like that anymore. Nine is pretty boggling, even over two days.

    Pasha and Nannuo seem to feel like they’ll take forever to age. The good stuff with strength to them probably needs something like fifteen years of reasonably humid storage to cut the bitter and astringency to levels similar to banzhang or yiwu in seven years. Lao Man’E? That stuff will never lose its bitterness, best to just enjoy it.

    I do think there will have to be a seperate Dayi expo. There are a number of decent enough Dayi products from the Menghai area ’06-’11. 0622, 8582? Awww. At least you had some better older Dayi.

    Houde does what they do because they’re basically running a sideline, moonlighting as tea dealers while still having day jobs and family. Broadly speaking, the value of the tea is sticky at unit levels. An unopened cake. A tong. A box. Broken up tongs, for three piece quantity discount isn’t really normal business practice, and generally is out of the habit of selling what was then *really* expensive 400g cakes. Breaking up cakes for samples is laborious and no particularly financially rewarding. In both cases, especially in Asia, you will probably find a reluctance, unless you’re a good customer. Just buy the cake. It’s a sample.

    • James says:

      Hi shah,

      Thanks as always for the comment.

      There’s alot to cringe at over B&B. I’ve read through the thread a couple times now and especially in 2008-2010.. I feel my stomach churning, reading about all those young Xiaguans and Dayis being consumed.

      re: CGHT. Yes, I’m pretty sure its the Menghai Yiehsheng. It was just marked as 05 CGHT so I can’t be 100% sure, but if it’s the tea that Marshaln and Hster went back and forth with on their blogs I think it’s the other one.

      re: Naka and alternatives. That 2006 Yiwu seemed absurdly out of my price range a year ago. Looking at it now, it very well might be worth checking out. Thanks for putting back on my radar.. I did manage to try a few samples from FarWenwa via a friend in Seattle, the 1990s Blue Mark and 2003 White Dragon Jinggu. I haven’t commented on them, cause I don’t want to make too much fuss out of just a couple sessions. I will say that neither left a favorable impression and the Jinggu in particular left me worried about the storage. It was enough to dissuade me from trying anything else.. Perhaps I just tried the wrong teas, would be curious to hear of other’s experience! Those mid 2000s peacock series do sound interesting.

      re: Nine teas. Normally I just do two gong-fu sessions daily. I should’ve also stated that of those teas I tried to target ones that I didn’t think I’d particularly like and would be OK with just brewing ~5 times. I brewed them at half gaiwan (of my smallest) and gave them at least 2-3 rinses. Even then, still a pretty terrible idea and not a fun tea day.

      re: Menghai productions. It really was the dregs. I’ve seguewayed that into an equally painful sequence of Xiaguan teas that I’ll report on in a few weeks. Drinking better tea now.. Thank god. Hopefully people can learn something from my tuition.

      re: Three cakes. Understood! I guess I would just say that I suspect there’s a market in the west for 3-4x cake pricing like that. I almost never have the stomach/confidence to buy a tong, but 3 cakes? Much more likely.

      Cheers,
      -James

  5. Norbert says:

    I bought the 2005 Mengyang Guoyan Lao Banzhang for 72 USD in 2011. The current price is insane. It is a good tea but not worth 400 USD and probably not even 200 USD, IMO. For this money one could buy a decent young spring gushu.

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