Tuesday, February 15, 2011

1990's Puerh Tea Brick, Menghai Tea Factory (sheng)

I recently picked up some samples from The Chinese Tea Shop in Vancouver, Canada and have been slowly making my way through them.  This tea, an ambiguously labeled brick said to be from the '90's, turned out to be a very pleasant surprise.  The description on The Chinese Tea Shop's product page says, "This tea has an interesting history, as it was ordered from Hong Kong to be sold in Taiwan.  To avoid export restrictions and possible political repercussions, it was shipped without a wrapper.  The paper ticket has eight 'Tai' characters and a 'Cha' character in the middle of the traditional 'Eight Jong Cha' logo."  Perhaps someone in the know reading this can offer a little more information about this matter of Tai and Cha characters, or the Eight Jong Cha logo.  The Chinese Tea Shop suggests that this is a Menghai Tea Factory production.  Whatever it is, it made for a fun and interesting session.  :)

I was sent a large, fully intact chunk of brick plus a few smaller chunks.  The leaves look dark and the brick is well-compressed.  I had to use my pick to pry off some tea and ended up filling the gaiwan with several small chunks since trying to pry off individual intact leaves left me with more crumbs than I wanted (not to mention a bleeding finger).  After a rinse and a first short infusion (which showed extremely light in color and flavor due to the leaves still being mostly bound up in chunks) I used my fingers to gently pry apart the now-moistened chunks into individual leaves.  That seemed to do the trick and the next infusion was much more full-flavored.

The initial aroma was full of big camphor, moving toward plummy fruit after the first hit, and then a hint of vanilla orange sherbet upon cooling (yes, that sounds a little odd but that's what hit me, for whatever reason).  As the infusions increased in number the camphor notes quickly receded to the far back letting the fruit notes predominate.  Middle infusions (numbers 3 through 5) showed mostly plummy fruit in the fragrance, and later infusions brought up some delicious butterscotch notes and eventually just soft creamy butter as the fruity notes receded.  All throughout I'd get occasional whiffs of a bright greenness that struck me as echoes of this tea's youth.  I really enjoyed the slowly changing character of the aromas from one infusion to the next.

Taste-wise, this tea showed a clean woody flavor overall, with occasional camphor top notes and a nice surrounding sweetness.  The color was a solid medium orange, and actually a bit lighter than I expected.  I spent this session drinking the tea out of two different cups -- Petr Novak's Prairie Hay teabowl (because I love the experience of drinking from this bowl), and a double-walled glass cup to allow a clearer view of the changing color of the soup.  Interestingly, the tea tasted a bit sweeter from the glass cup.  I'm not sure if this is due to the nature of the interaction of tea with glass versus glazed clay, or that the tea stays hotter longer in the double-walled glass cup.  Contrastingly, the tea had more ku in Petr's clay bowl.

While the fragrance and taste of this tea was pleasant enough, it was the hui gan and the movement of qi that made this one a stand out.  Ever since I experienced the wonderful returning sweetness from the 2006 Yiwu Cha Wang I've been searching for another tea that offers the same experience.  This one fits the bill.  Like the Cha Wang, the returning sweetness from this 90's tea brick sheng rises long after sipping, taking you by surprise.  With teas like this I end up spending a long time at my session as it beckons you to take your time and sit between infusions, listening inside for hidden subtleties it has to offer.

Speaking of hidden subtleties, it wasn't just the long-after-sipping rising sweetness that this tea gifts you.  The hui gan was terrifically long lasting, building more and more with each infusion.  Initially it was camphor-centered, with a coolness down the throat and back on the breath.  But eventually it acquired a plummy floral layer to it.  The cool camphor stayed present but took a back seat, playing a nice background harmony to the fruit and floral.  In later infusions the subtly changing tastes in the mouth and throat and on the breath from the long-lasting hui gan made for a lot to enjoy between sips.

But wait, there's more! (oy.. I'm channeling Billy Mays now)  Like the hui gan, the movement of qi with this tea was just as active.  Again, it developed in intensity as the number of infusions increased.  It started as a pleasant warmth in the mid-torso.  By the middle infusions it was filling the torso and moving outward to the extremities, and by the latter infusions it was just as interesting to follow the movement and activity of qi between sips as it was to take in the nuances of the hui gan, as it moved from torso to extremities, filling the head with a light buzz before eventually settling in the core of the body.  It was good practice for me to pay attention to such subtlety.


  1. I have been very happy to see this shop aggressively making a place for itself, and I'm certainly grateful for the reviews! There are just not very many reliable people openly selling aged tea to the western audience, and I think the lack of access of n00bs to aged sheng is a critical limitation in spreading that luv.

    We should trade samples, sometimes, once you've gotten yourself a stash...


    P.S. I'm a big fan of Novak's ware too. I like the more living nature themed stuff like the barkskin and snakeskin cups...I'm just mostly into beating inflation in tea just right now...

  2. shah8 -- Daniel, the shop owner, was very gracious and generous, sending me extra samples and also doing what he could to adjust the shipping costs, all of which made a very positive impression on me. I'm looking forward to trying the rest of the samples and will definitely make a trip there later this year. And yes, I'd love to trade samples. Just today I was wondering what folks do to keep track of all these sample bags. What started as a small pile has grown to an overflowing box. Oh, and I picked up one of Petr's snakeskin cups, too :) I haven't introduced it on the blog yet, but it's pictured above in the second picture, turned upside down for a nice display for the glass cup.

  3. I have been looking forward to trying the chinese tea shop in Vancouver. I am from Surrey and have heard many good things about it. This article has definitely made my mind up to go try it! Thanks for sharing the great review.

  4. Daniel,
    I know several tea lovers who are big fans of their teas. They recently put up a very interesting LBZ offering that I've ordered a bit of and am very much looking forward to trying -- http://store.thechineseteashop.com/Pu_Erh_Tea_Cake_Lao_Ban_Zhang_Collector_Edition_p/pugc-12-lbz.htm