05 June, 2007

2006 Cheng Guanghe Tang Yiwu "Chawang"

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

Dry leaf:
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.

Wet leaves:
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.

Overall:
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.

19 comments:

MarshalN said...

Thanks for the comparison. Since I ran out of the Chawang and only noticed the similarities in the last time I tried it, I couldn't do any more comparisons with anything else.

The amount of sediments in this tea seems to be a universal problem, and I could never quite figure out why -- the tea, after all, looks perfectly fine from the outside.

Hobbes said...

Yes, the sediment is a common factor for the two teas of Mr. Chen that I have tried. It could be a function of the sorting process, perhaps removing some grades destined for elsewhere, while retaining the target grade alongside the fannings. The (limited, two-cake) evidence suggests that budgetary constraints play a very significant part in Mr. Chen's selection of his leaf-grades for blending.


Toodlepip,

Hobbes

~ Phyll said...

Can't wait to hear what you think of the Yeh Cha after this Cha Wang!

Hobbes said...

Heh!

I was considering this one for tonight, but I'm undecided. Let's face it, it's going to be worse. :)

Having said that, the unthinkable might happen, and I might enjoy the Yecha more than the Chawang...


Toodlepip,

Hobbes

shichangpu said...

thanks for the review, hobbes.

my experience of this tea was largely similar--i think you used the term "underwhelmed?"

i recently tasted a tea that cost undr $7 a bing with which i was much more impressed...

mike

MarshalN said...

I do think, after my third tasting, that there's a fair bit to this tea.

I don't think it's quite worth the whatever price tag it is asking for, and I think the high price has a lot to do with our high expectations (and also because at that price -- substitution effect kicks in, and we can buy something much more aged), but I do think there's a fair bit to the tea.

Hobbes said...

I think that's the key point in my evaluation: for the asking price, it has to be superb, and I found it merely "good". If I believed in rating, I might give it a 7/10, whereas its price demands a minimum of 9/10.

Thanks for the note: I'll definitely go back at it with an open mind to plumb any hidden depths it might have, but I think I've satisfied myself it's not one to put on my shopping list.


Toodlepip,

Hobbes

~ Phyll said...

I quite liked this tea the first time around. I thought it has finesse and elegance. The price is high, I agree.

Balt said...

I like this tea, too.
But - either your camera takes VERY strange photos or you had something extremly other than I, because the color of my beeng is very green, whilst your on the first photo is clearly brown.

Hobbes said...

Balt,

The photograph is very close to the bing colour, it's certainly not green in my sample bag. That one was taken in full sunlight, with normal (non-correcting) camera modes. The overall look of my sample is generally brown (some parts really quite dark), some green evident, with a few tips. It's rather interesting for a 2006, I'll grant you that.


Toodlepip,

Hobbes

Hobbes said...

Phyll,

I'm going to try this again with fewer leaves, but I was really rather surprised that the flavours and aroma , in particular, were so muted - that will only get worse with fewer leaves, of course. C'est la vie!


Toodlepip,

Hobbes

MarshalN said...

I must say my sample was more brown than green as well. Balt, you won't be talking about the Yeh Cha, would you?

vl. said...

Yeah, the sample I have looks a little brown too, there are even a few brown leaves in there.

Enjoy the Yeh Cha

-vl.

Balt said...

The cake is 2006 Autumn "Yi Wu Cha Wang" of Chen Guang-He Tang, 357g from HouDe, I took two pictures, the images are the closest to reality I am able to get. Check them out here http://poe.szm.sk/pic1.jpg and here http://poe.szm.sk/pic2.jpg

Balt said...

Sorry, second pic is here http://poe.szm.sk/pic2.jpg

Balt said...

And here is a pic to compare the colors... http://poe.szm.sk/comp.jpg to see the different colors in one picture. I pasted a piece of Hobbes picture and pasted it into mine. As I said, the color of my photo is real, there is no white miss-balance .

MarshalN said...

That's interesting, because the sample I got was also quite dark.

I still have some fannings left from it. Maybe I should see if I can take a good picture of it and post it here.

Hobbes said...

Balt,

Those samples certainly are particularly green - that is what one would expect from a 2006. Curious that they seem so different.


Toodlepip,

Hobbes

~ Phyll said...

That's quite puzzling! I don't see any indication that Hobbes' picture is color-imbalanced either. The floor of the bowl where the dry leaves is in (wachamacallit?) is nicely white and not tungsten warm.

In any case, my samples are closer in color to Balt's. Here is the link to my pic of the samples.

http://i83.photobucket.com/albums/j292/aharto/CCTYiwub.jpg