Sunday, June 12, 2011

2004 101 Tea Plantation Commemorative Tea Cake

From a low quality puerh (in the last post) to a much higher quality one.  The exact name of this tea is... well, for someone who doesn't read Chinese that's hard to say, but fortunately the box this comes in includes English on the back.  "Thousand Year Old Tea Plantation's Commemorative Tea Round" appears to be the official designation, although it's also referred to simply as "101 Ancient Tea" (and "101 Years Old Tree" on the vendor's website, The Best Tea House, Vancouver branch).

The 101 Tea Plantation is a US-invested tea factory based in Jing Mai, which might explain the English on the box and also the extensive (also in English) website here, which I have appreciated.  101 Plantation produces a lot of tea, much of it wholesaled to worldwide markets and all of it certified organic according to European, American and Japanese standards.  This particular cake is one of their high quality productions, produced to commemorate a business partnership between the 101 Tea Plantations company and the Lan Cang government, picked specifically from their oldest tea plantations on Jing Mai and Mang Jing mountains.  According to the box they "selected only the choicest leaves from our over 1000 year old trees" to make these cakes.  Although I haven't been able to verify that the leaves are 100% from 1000 year old trees, it's certain that these cakes are 100% gu shu leaves from trees at least a few hundred years old to perhaps a small portion of the oldest leaves.

I picked this cake up from The Best Tea House, Vancouver branch.  Michael Fung is the owner and has tremendous knowledge about tea and puerh in particular.  Although the website lists prices for whole cakes only, I know they also sell sample size portions of all but their oldest and priciest teas.  Contact the store to inquire.

I've spent the past two weeks sampling this tea in different ways, trying to "listen" to it.  Gaiwan and yixing, varying temperatures, varying infusion times, varying proportions of tea leaves to water.  When using fewer grams of leaves to water, this tea is filled with a beautiful floral delicacy.  One of the most floral puerhs I've ever had.  Upping the amount of leaves, though, produces a liquor with surprising strength and a far-reaching ku wei that lasts and lasts.  Given that every session with this tea produced different results in terms of taste and aroma (thanks to my fussing around with parameters), it would be silly for me to give one of those infusion-by-infusion reports.  But there were certain consistencies I can tell you about.

Mouth feel.  The liquor is rich and thick, leaving the mouth feeling coated in velvet.  As the infusions increase in number the mouth feels thins out a bit, but my sessions with the 101 always began with a mouth full of "sumptuous" (the word I found myself using over and over in my notes).

Strength.  This tea has a great deal of assertiveness, evidenced in taste by a ku wei that will grab you hard if you're not careful.  This was part of the reason I spent some time with this one, trying it in different ways.  This is a tea that will test your brewing abilities.  The strength of the ku wei goes deep into the body and as a result pulls both perspiration and salivation, but also moves into a full-body mellowness as an expression of qi.

"That clean sensation."  There's probably a Chinese term for this that I don't know yet because I find this particular characteristic present in most high quality puerh.  You might say it's when you keep tasting a tea for hours (sometimes even a day or more) after drinking it, but it's not really a describe-able taste so much as a sensation of cleanliness, most noticeably throughout the mouth.  It's extremely pleasant and the more I experience teas that have this characteristic, the more I want to drink them.

Leaf quality.  One of the most impressive things I discovered about the 101 was when I examined the spent leaves.  They were big and beautiful, with plenty of whole strong-spined leaves and very little chop.  In fact, the dry leaves were just as much fun to examine since they separated easily and fully whole from the cake.  Every curled twisted dry leaf from the cake would fully expand in the tea water, expressing itself completely.  Sometimes I've had teas where the leaves seemed reluctant to open, but not this one.

I was told that the 101 is currently working through a changing period in it's aging process, and as I sampled it on different days I wondered what might be it's weaker points and how another few years of aging will change it.  Although there was hui gan present, it wasn't as strong as other teas I've tried.  I wonder if that might change with a few years' time?  There were a couple other points about this tea that I made note of in my journal and which I'll be watching with interest when I try this again in the coming years.  The whole matter of how a puerh ages is a fascinating one, and those who have a lot of experience with puerh will tell you it's not a simple straight-line graph from "green and astringent" to "woody-sweet mellowness."  Tea goes through periods or maybe 'stages' as it ages, and it seems the 101 will offer a good window into how a puerh works through one of these periods.  I hope to update this blog entry as I try it again in the coming years.


  1. I haven't tried their (101) teas and maybe I should do so before I speak, but to me there is something quite of putting about their site.

    The few years of experience I have of buying tea and my visits to china have thought me to be very suspicious of any merchant or producer that 1) are putting strong emphasis on health benefits, 2) are repeating empty talking points about cultural and ecological heritage while not being able to hide the fact that they appreciate it more as an asset than as something of value in of itself, and 3) are using vague suggestive claims of provenance (like never quite stating clearly weather it's the plantation or the trees that are 1700 years old). Making portion sized bits of pu erh from 1000 yr old trees or mixing such leaves with juncus (to lower blood pressure) also makes me doubt their seriousness. It seems to imply that they are more attuned to consumer demand than to traditions of making pu erh.

    Maybe they are genuine enough and their teas terrific, but has been taking bad marketing advise. I'd be careful though and sample first, $280 is serious money.

    I like your blog by the way. The texts are built up of much the same eloquence and substance that I associate with great cultural reviews. Glad to see someone treating tea with the same seriousness.


  2. Jon -- Nice comment. You bring up some very good points to keep in mind. I know this manufacturer produces a good amount of lower-end tea for a worldwide market. I found that retail companies who sell their products use the same marketing language, about the tea being from ancient tea forests, although the prices for these lower end teas would clearly indicate tea leaves picked from much less-precious teas. At the same time, I also know they produce some higher-end cakes, which this one is supposed to be. But caution is always wise. Thank you for bringing up these points. And thank you also for stopping by, and your kind words :)

  3. Best tea house has an amazing selection! Think I pick up a tong Blue Mark Round Tea Cake. ;)

  4. 101 is no longer producing tea, I believe, or at least greatly scaled back. Their earlier teas were what made them more famous, and this is definitely one of the earlier ones. They're nice teas if you can find them for not too much money, although they tend to be slightly boring (one note)