A big tea with a big name (literally and literately). The product of Mr. Chen Zhitong (blender of the 2006 Changtai 2nd Trade Fair shengpu), this cake is clearly trading heavily on his reputation. Do its merits justify the fascinatingly high price? This is answerable only on an individual basis, of course, and here follows mine.
~10cl Caledonian Springs @ 100C in 20cl shengpu pot; ~6-7 leaf; 1 rinse
Excellent compression: neither too loose nor too tight. The leaves are separable without breakage observing a little care. Rather like my great-grandmother untying knotted string to relax herself, I find the process of separating a cake into its constituent leaves rather therapeutic. The aroma is rich and earthy, the leaves looking fairly whole and quite dark for a cake of such youth.
3s, 4s, 4s, 4s, 4s, 5s:
Lots of leaf, using short infusions - this worked well for this energetic tea.
Fairly cloudy soup, comprised of tip-fur and genuine, unwelcome sediment. On rinsing the leaf, there is a rich smell of dark fruits - black cherries, that sort of thing.
The wenxiangbei is only active for the first two infusions: opening with fruity melon, becoming obvious cigarette smoke, then fading into a lengxiang of general sweetness. Not bad, not great, and the lack of endurance is notable.
The soup is smooth on the lips. Immediately, this tea strikes me as "inoffensive". Not a great start, considering the price-tag that it has to live up to.
Energy is present; there is a significant ku [bitter-sour] that sits on top of a solid flavour of pure "tea". The density of flavour is unremarkable, as is its aroma and huigan.
The generic "tea" flavour, a little grain-like, marches on unchanged for infusion after infusion, combined with the ever-present sweetness and ku. I keep waiting for a complexity that never appears, leaving me decidedly underwhelmed.
Like its bed-fellow, the 2006 Changtai 2nd Trade Fair Shengpu, the leaves are not overly pleasant to behold: they are chopped, broken, and weak in structure. I found it hard to unroll any leaves without tearing their wet-lettuce-leaf material.
For a cake to justify $80/bing unaged, it must be, without contention, a superb cake. It would be stretching the bounds of credibility to even call this cake "very good".
It is a simple cake, comprising sweetness with a solid "tea" flavour that, while pleasant enough, are muted and unremarkable in their potency, patience, or ability to enthuse. The ku is strong and could bode well for aging, but I would look for more depth of flavour in a real candidate for storage, let alone a cake marketed at this price.
MarshalN asked me to compare this with the Xingshunxiang bing from yesterday, recalling from memory that there were similarities. Indeed there are, in the basis of "tea" flavours combined with a little sweetness.
The Chen Guanghe Tang has more blatant bitterness, but seems dampened and quiet in flavour, aroma, huigan and qi compared with the Xingshunxiang. The latter was rich and enjoyable - so much so that I took the used leaves to my office the next day for further infusion. In comparison, I was rather bored by the Chen Guanghetang, which I consigned to the waste-water bowl after six infusions. The comparison is unfavourable, as for the cost of a single Chen Guanghetang, one could obtain more than a tong of the (more accomplished) Xingshunxiang.
In summary, the Chen Guanghe Tang is, in my opinion, trading very much on the well-earned reputation of Mr. Chen. Remove his name from the wrapper, and this tea is surely worth but a fraction of its price, based solely on its rather limited merits.
This is a phenomenon which rather blights British culture at the moment: everything has to be a "designer label". Obsessed with celebrity, my fellow countrymen prefer to purchase on name alone, and seem to have almost lost the discernment required to make value judgements on goods based on its quality alone. The Chen Guanghe Tang is not worthless, it is enjoyable in a muted way, but it is far from excellent. The cult of celebrity is extending into tea, and it requires the discerning tea enthusiast to rely, more than ever, on his own judgement in order to see through the marketing glitz. This cake is a great place to start learning.
I was open to this cake living up to its name, but, being honest to myself, I cannot recommend it.