Today is a rather special day, as far as tea goes. As is my habit, I woke just after dawn, performed my usual morning tasks, then sat down at the tea table, to enjoy a session in the few hours before heading out to work.
This 1995 Menghai cake is, of course, produced in the CNNP wrapper. Remember when CNNP used to mean good tea? Like many Mainland brands, the quality of CNNP productions before and after the economic opening of China in the late 90s is like night and day. These days, I firmly maintain, CNNP is where pu'er goes to die.
This 1995 cake is from that halcyon era when CNNP wrappers were synonymous with decent quality, being the state-owned label in which tea companies were obliged to market their productions.
Unlike the chopped maocha used in many older productions, the leaves of this cake are large and mostly whole. They have darkened properly, of their own volition, into a solid darkness, with huangpian [yellow flakes] turning a rusty orange.
And what a treat this is. We find smooth, thick, heavy soup with a long-lasting aroma that would put to shame most modern pu'er. Unlike some "recipe" pu'er, this non-standard example endures for a great many infusions at constant potency. I am often concerned by the lack of endurance of some older pu'er - all old cakes are not alike. Just because it is old, doesn't mean it will endure. This cake, however, is a fine example of how to get it right.
A distant hint of shicang [wet storehouse] indicates that, unsurprisingly, this cake has experienced some wet storage in its past. It has dried out nicely over its obviously more dry-stored recent history, and remains sweet and potent in the throat.
This is a great tea, without exaggeration.
But the obvious quality of the cake is not the reason that this tea is so special.
Its place of honour comes from the fact that this was, in fact, an unfathomably generous gift from Keng, a reader and teachum in Singapore.
Words of thanks would not adequately convey the enjoyment that we had from this tea, nor our gratitude, and so I shall instead raise a silent cup to our kindly benefactor.