Also from Houde, this cake is around half the cost of its cousin, the 2006 Chawang. This tea is a blend of leaves from three regions around Yiwu: Shanhoshe, Yibi, and Dachishu, compared with the chawang's single-region Guafengzhai. As with its cousin, this yecha [wild tea] is a guhua [grain-flower, or autumnal] tea. We should expect big, robust leaves and similar flavours.
10-12cl Caledonian Springs @ 100C in 20cl shengpu pot; ~6g leaf; 1 rinse
What can be discerned from the state of the dry cake? The aroma is forthcoming, perhaps moreso than the chawang: sweet, mushroom-like scents fill the room. Lots of medium-size leaf fragments can be seen, with a token representation of tips. Like the other Chen Guanghe Tang (but not Mr. Chen's 2006 Changtai Trade Fair shengpu), this cake is homogeneous - there is no dressed-up outer layer, hiding poorer leaves within. I enjoy this honesty in presentation, at least. A good-looking fascia hiding something more unpleasant is a fairly dishonourable, if common, practice and puts a buyer (well, me at least) in a poor relationship with the cake before we've even started.
3s, 3s, 5s, 7s, 10s, 15s, 20s:
Compare these infusion times with those of the chawang, and you can immediately deduce that this is a weaker tea. The chawang can soldier on almost without end (I certainly didn't reach a hint of its finishing after the sixth infusion), whereas this tea cannot stand up to that kind of repeat brewing. There is no question that this tea is marketed as inferior with respect to its cousin, but the difference in potency is significant.
The first few infusions have some character in the wenxiangbei that rapidly fades to sweet, warm air by the third infusion. There is some character while it lasts, within those first two infusions, being a little smokey at the outset, and ending in a long, enjoyably sweet lengxiang. I like to track comparisons between what is happening in the wenxiangbei and the pinmingbei, as they can often shed light on one another. That the wenxiangbei gives up so quickly is surely a precursor to the later collapse of flavour that we see around the sixth infusion in the pinmingbei.
Similarly, the smokiness from the wenxiangbei is kept in the aftertaste of the tea itself, but it is combined with a fairly decent, grain-like flavour. It lacks the depth of the chawang (which, in turn, lacks the depth of the Xingshunxiang), but it is definitely above average.
There is ku in this tea, but by brewing short, it can be held at bay, appearing only as a complementary note in the finish, where it promotes a welcome salivation in its huigan.
In concession to its inclusion of a few tips, the first two infusions are quite smooth, which vanishes as the lower proportion of tips gives way to the basis grades of leaves included in the blend.
By the sixth or seventh infusion, a green character shows through, making the going a little rougher. The flavour, aroma, huigan and chaqi all collapse by the sixth infusion into a warm, background haze. Blended teas often lack endurance, and this is perhaps no exception.
The tea is strong in caffeine. It sits behind my eyes giving a low, constant throb just like a rough coffee. There is chaqi, warming my arms and making me feel quite enervated throughout, but it is secondary to the sharp, unwelcome sensation of caffeine.
This tea is very dirty. If you'll excuse the unpleasant photograph, the funnel that I use to filter the tea between pot and gongdaobei can be seen to be piled up with unpleasant sediment. These seem to be more than just fannings: the darker nodules are almost like pieces of grit, and there are plenty of them. Everything needs a good clean after this tea-session.
Stronger than the thin chawang leaves, these seem to be similarly broken and chopped. As can be seen in the photograph, there are many stems containing the bottom halves of leaves. It isn't a pretty tea.
This tea is actually closer in merits to justifying its price than the chawang. It isn't an exceptional tea, but it is quite decent, if short-lived. Certainly, it is above average in most aspects. It doesn't live up to the depth of flavour of the chawang, but isn't as unrealistically priced. I don't imagine myself restocking on this when the sample has gone, but it was an interesting comparison.
I'd like to see Mr. Chen create a cake which uses a decent grade of leaf, but would imagine that such a "super premium" tea would likely be priced too high. The pleasures of Xizihao can be had for the same cost as these Chen Guanghe Tang bing, with better leaves and more complexity. I maintain that the promotion of Chen's cakes to the Xizihao league is based largely on his name. Let's see what he can manage in 2007; hopefully, something to better match the hype.
After writing, I compared notes with VL's ever-excellent Tea Logic, in which he notes a strong bitterness, overwhelming sweetness, and little aftertaste - though I note "medium then long" infusion times. The bitterness I avoided by keeping the infusions short, and the sweetness was constant, but quite well integrated, I thought. The aftertaste, perhaps by virtue of my infusion times, seemed to deliver fairly well.
One thing that did strike a chord, which I didn't transcribe from my written journal, was the presence of mushroom around the fourth infusion. I wrote, "The taste has plummeted, but become very similar to something more Menghai - combined with the constant sweetness of this cake." It is interesting that we both observed a similar transformation; "Menghai" for me is shorthand for earthy, mushroom-like tones.