31 August, 2007

1985 Yiwu Tuocha

The guests have gone, the family is in harmony, it is the hour of the dragon.

(With apologies to "Curse of the Golden Flower".)

What better way to celebrate our newly-regained freedom than with a tea that comes with so much good press that it's ghost-writing its own autobiography. Courtesy of MA [copious thanks], this 250g tuocha is sold by Teamasters for $265.

"Scottish Mountain" @ 100C in 8cl old shengpu (Hanwu) pot; ~6-8g leaf; 1 rinse

Dry leaf:
Remarkable, being some of the best leaves on an 80s tea that I've yet come across, in that they're not fragmented beyond belief. Luxurious, full leaves, easily separated from one another, which are dark and rich in colour. The aroma is very sweet, and very dense - yet remains crisp.

There is a certain shicang [wet storehouse] about it which becomes much more obvious when the pretty little leaves are added to the damp pot. I do like shicang character.

4s, 4s, 5s, 6s, 6s, 6s, 10s, 10s, 15s, 20s, 30s, 45s, >2m
for the remaining 5 infusions

After just 4s, the soup is already pitch-black [pictured]. This is a rich, heavy little tea. The aroma is sweet wood, typical decent shicang. The texture of the liquid is thick and gloopy; it hugs the sides of the wenxiangbei.

The flavour is interesting: it is very, very smooth, with a particulate (almost powdery) character that I have come to associate with shupu. Unlike shupu, however, this ends in a seriously triumphant huigan that sits in the throat and sings for a long, long time.

It is a rapid, "impatient" tea, moving quickly from the initial malty woodiness to that mouth-watering and enduring finish.

The ending in the throat, lapsing into engineering metaphor for a moment, has the self-sustaining and self-amplifying quality of a vibration occurring at the resonant frequency of the material. It builds and builds, and the mouth continues to water. Fine stuff.

In the interests of balance - what didn't I enjoy about it? It doesn't change much over the entire session, and it isn't immensely complex: it is always instantaneous shicang rapidly falling into the vibrant huigan, which little else to experience except for the sweet, damp aroma filling the nose.

Wet leaf:
Hardened from age, but black and whole. It is quite heavy on the stems, which isn't obvious from the dry tuocha.

"Nice to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there." It has definitely left "middle age", but hasn't quite entered "old" yet, being zesty and tangy whilst managing some darkness and depth. I like it, but I did get a little tired of drinking 54 cups of the same, constant brew.


shichangpu said...

glad you enjoyed this, hobbes.

i've been very impressed with this tea--especially as i tend to enjoy a good quality wet stored tea, and this has those notes that i love without being overwhelming.

i find, though, that the tea evolves quite a bit. not so much in the usual ways, but rather in a kind of odd shift in later infusions. in my experience, after 12-15 infusions it becomes almost an energetic experience--i feel like i;m drinking the tea's qi directly rather than drinking the tea.

hard to articulate; apologies for my crude attempts.

also, i have to be careful with this tea: not so strong on caffeine, but there's something about it that can keep me awake late into the night if i consume it in the afternoon.

小 約翰 said...

“self-sustaining and self-amplifying” could perpetual infusions via cold fusion be next ?
Only 54 cups .. and I thought you liked Pu-erh .. john

MarshalN said...

Looks quite seriously wet stored..

Michel said...


I very strongly advise you to taste the jian chein 89 brick from teasmasters, a few months ago this brick changed into something good, and it's at a good price!

On 'teajar' my french blog I've just made a bing cha jar for storing pu ehr out of an Irish terracotta, I'm not yet a 'vendor' as such but I am offering to make and sell these to whoever is interested, i'm in cornwall. my email hicbibitur@hotmail.com

all the best

David Lesseps said...

Yep, it is quite seriously wet-stored. But you know what? It's benefits from the storage. Maybe because it's a tuocha, or some other variable, but I really like the affect of the wet-storage on this.

I've tasted this tea several times. The first time was quite a shocker. I was at a friends house, and had been drinking mostly young shengs all night, when he pulled out a sample of this. He had received it from a friend, and couldn't quite rmember what it was -- just knew it was something "aged." So, we brewed it with no expectations or preconceptions.

It took me by surprise. The first taste hinted at something nice. We both got smiles on our faces and did double takes. On the second and third infusions we just became quiet while the tea took over.

Now, most people know that I am by no means a promoter of Mr. Erler, but this is one damn enjoyable tea. It's also a tricky one. Each time I've tasted it (4 times now) has been quite different. It seems subject to whimsy. Sometimes have bowled me over, others have left me a little flat. Still, a tea worthy of exploration.

MarshalN said...

Davelcorp, I suspect water might be the issue, or has the water always been a constant?

David Lesseps said...

That may very well be the case. I know that I did not use the same water every time, but I don't keep notes, so I don't know what water was used each time.

Hmmm... maybe I should start keeping notes? Just seems like so much work.

Hobbes said...

Hi all,

Just a quick reply as time is pressing - thanks for all the comments.

Michel, I didn't notice that you were in Cornwall! The jars on your web-site look very well done indeed. I'll send you an e-mail. Thanks also for the recommendation of the 1989 from Teamasters.

Regarding this 1985 Yiwu - though, yes indeed it was clearly wet-stored, it might not be quite as bad as the photgraph makes out, which was taken in the full bleaching sunlight of a wide window. It's not a very representation image - the actual leaves aren't quite so white and dusty in appearance.

More later!

Toodlepip for now,


speakfreely said...

Good to see you using that lovely little hong ni pot. MA also sent me a sample of this tea. The wet storage made it quite shou-like, both in the espresso color and the forest-floor aroma (it thankfully lacks the tarry petrochemical smell I find in most shou) and I wondered briefly whether this might be shou, but the intact and still ever-so-slightly olive-color in the wet leaf defined it as sheng. Also definitive was that enduring huigan you mention - I experienced this as a long, mentholated sensation deep in the throat that blended seamlessly into a similar qi sensation throughout the whole upper chest. Very nice. Let me join you in thanking MA for sharing this one; it was as educational as it was enjoyable for me.

Hobbes said...

I love your comments on shupu!

~ Phyll said...

It's arguably among the most enjoyable old sheng I have tasted. So much so that, like M.A., I sprang up for one tuo a few months ago. I haven't had yet re-tasted it and I should do so soon. It is also a testament of the wonderful result wet storage could produce when done properly.

However, for the sake of calling a spade a spade, it can not possibly be from Yiwu. At least that's what the professional independent appraiser told me and Danica. Let's just say the man who appraised it knows his pu'er history more than most, and it was determined to be a Menghai factory (from its shape and size). There was no pu'er from "Yiwu" in the 80's. It is most likely a Menghai area low altitude plantation per the man.

Upon inquiry, Stephane was investigating the origin of this tea. That's the last thing I heard. I sounds like an honest mistake -- if it was a mistake -- on the part of Stephane or his supplier.

The tea is good -- no, great tasting -- so what can you say? But given the above information, would people pay the current sticker price?

Hobbes said...

Dear Phyll,

Thanks for the additional notes - VL of Tea Logic also mentioned this.

On the veracity of the claims, it is my practice to take the following with a pinch of salt:


and tend to just take the cake on its own merits. There's so little control on the terms that they're about as meaningful as a 1980s champagne.



TeaMasters said...

I'm glad to read that so many liked this puerh. Thanks Hobbes for writing your tasting notes. I just wished you'd try it with the parameters I usually recommend... maybe you'd drink less and wouldn't get bored by the 17 brews (who wouldn't?!)

I have indeed raised the questions Phyll mentions to my vendor. I agreed with my vendor that there must have been old puerh trees in Yiwu in the 80s (because you can still find them now!) and that this famous puerh region can't have been living without tea makers during the 80s, a time of economic revival. However, I wasn't there in 1985 and can't give any 100% assurance that these particular Tuos come from Yiwu from 1985. This is always the frustrating part about old puerh. You never know for sure (until you are very old and have 20 years experience). Some study wrappers, but wrappers can be forged easily. So, what I recommend on my blog is to focus on the tea, not on the name, age, origin or wrapper. Just focus on the tea. Is it good? Is the price in line with the quality and the happiness it gives you? Don't let others tell you. Trust just your 5+1 senses.

All I can do here and now to answer Phyll's questions is say that I like it myself and let readers of this post order sample sizes by the gram (2 to 8 grams) from me if they want to check by themselves. I would prorata the price + 0.75 USD for postage. (Expires end of September 2007)

Hobbes said...

Yes, in the end all we have that is reliable (for any tea) is the leaf itself, its price, and our judgement.

Often, the claims might be true... to some extent. There might be "yesheng" [wild] leaves in a tea, they may have come from "gushu" [ancient tree], but it can be like a Western industrial food merchant claiming their jelly is "made with real strawberries!" - the actual proportion could be 1 part per million.

The tea, its price, your judgement...



~ Phyll said...

Stephane, Hobbes, et al.

I just wanted to be clear and fair that I love (I lurrrve) this tea. Even though I was a bit surprised by what the appraiser said, I was not a bit dissapointed by the fact that I acquired this tea for the price I paid. I was not like, "Oh, I wouldn't have bought it if I knew that."

I did not hesitate to obtain this tea after Danica generously let me sample it. This is why the taste-before-buying is so important. You're right to say it's all in the tea and how it affects us personally.

But given the fact that people may decide to buy from seeing "Yiwu" in the product's title (without sampling first), the issue becomes relevant.

I think the appraiser based his opinion upon his immediate recognition of the standard wrapper, shape and size, and attributed those factors to a Menghai factory's tea from a certain period of time. Plus he claims to know what Menghai did and did not make in that time period.

The context in which the tea was presented to the "appraiser" couldn't have possibly made his opinion under conflict of interest, as it was presented without mention of the vendor whatsoever -- plus he can be considered an "insider" of Menghai factory as well through his affiliations. We merely shoved the tuo at him and he said it's a Menghai. When we said it's a Yiwu 1985 vintage, he balked and gave us the historical background of Menghai Factory and the Yiwu area.

This is all academic, but relevant in some ways, I think. We are all learning from such discourse. I hope.

:) P

shichangpu said...

curious: stephane, if you're still tracking this discussion: what parameters do you recommend?


TeaMasters said...

Parameters was not the right word to use, but the shortest I could think of. Sorry for my laziness. Since you follow my blog, you probably remember that I never say what is the ideal parameter. I prefer giving more general advice and let everybody find his own preference according to his/her taste.
Here, what I meant is to reduce the weight (by half approx) so that you can have (much) longer infusion times. It gets more depth that way, I feel.

Hobbes said...

Dear Stephane,

That's definitely worth a try, I think I have another small amount remaining of this one to give it another session.

I think it's most people's instinct to brew more expensive teas in the short-infusion gongfucha style, as they are keen to avoid making the brew homogenous, and missing out on some of the cup-to-cup nuances.



TeaMasters said...

Dear Hobbes,

I don't think a top quality tea is about its nuances. I see more stability (at a very level) a sign of excellence. And for such teas, my strategy would be more to use the least amount of leaves, so that I can brew this tea more often (and thereby reducing the cost per session, which helps make it more affordable). However, for Wuyi Yan cha, I must say this strategy often doesn't work well. But with puerh and even Taiwan Oolongs I find it works well, for me at least.

Hobbes said...

Dear Stephane,

I might have to respectfully disagree in your assessment that a top quality tea is not about its nuances. One of the striking points of the reviews of some of the seriously ancient cakes (say, some of the 50s and 60s cakes that have been written about in the Pu'er Livejournal) is the fine-grain detail and little evolutions that take place. Sometimes its a hint of peach, sometimes its a touch of camphor - it seems like a highly detailed canvas which the taster is revealing brew by brew - a true feast of nuances!

I agree that one might not wish to use the large amounts (~9g) that some use to evaluate younger teas, but that doesn't really preclude the desire to examine these lovely old teas' nuances.

Perhaps it depends on the complexity of the "top quality tea" - if a tea simply doesn't have those nuances, then there is little point in using shorter infusions, of course. But, when we speak about the highest quality tea, my mind definitely goes back to those wonderful old cakes from the middle of the last century. Sometimes Clouds' descriptions, for example, read like small novellas! (And rightly so, I should add, given the excellence of his collection.)

'Twas but a casual thought, anyway.



TeaMasters said...


I respectfully disagree that we are disagreeing. I just think that we are looking for slightly different pleasures in tea. What I look for is a beatiful long lasting aftertaste and aftersmell. To get this intensity, this longlastingness from tea, I have found that long infusions are the way to go. If I were to focus on fragrances, then I agree that short infusions would be best to get the lightest nuances.

Some teas are so multi-faceted and powerful that they can satisfy both kinds of quests. This is the magic of tea that we can also make it how we like it best.

My 2 cents.


~ Phyll said...

The disagreement of any disagreement is agreeable. I found some pu'er to be more agreeable with lots-of-leaves-shorter-infusion method (the 2001 Menghai Yiwu Zhengshan Special Order Cake comes to mind), while others are better with little-leaves-and-long-infusion method (Stephane's Yiwu and Lincang beengs, for example).

It's personal and mood specific, too, I think.

Hobbes said...

I think, in summary, everyone was right!