Today, I have a triumvirate of tainted tidbits for you.
All processed to within an inch of their lives, all generously provided by three tea merchants. I really am very grateful to the three vendors in question, and hope that I don't seem ungrateful for posting my thoughts on these teas in a straightforward manner. They're really not "my cup of tea", I'm afraid, and I can't really say otherwise. 'Tis a difficult situation!
Let's get down to business...
My first Chenshenghao
First up, the 2008 Chenshenghao "Yiwu Dashu". If this is dashu [big tree], then I'd be surprised - one doesn't usually take beautiful big-tree leaves and then process them too heavily. They fetch a high premium on their potency and complexity, and thus it is definitely not sensible to remove those lovely characteristics by neutering the tea. Hence, I believe that many heavily-processed are unlikely to be of good stock.
Surely not "dashu"
This Chenshenghao sells for $35 at Red Lantern, a brand which the generous owner recommends as his favourite. It is easy-going and approachable, I'll give it that, but there's nothing here beyond some generic sweetness and a limited, tidy kuwei.
The wrapper tells me what to think of the tea, reminding me of supermarket wine and coffee
Next is a tea from London's "Jing" - this outfit is not the Jing Teashop that has become well-established in the world of pu'er, and which operates out of Guangzhou (and which I dearly love).
The tea has a distinct red hue in normal lighting conditions
You're no doubt tired of me writing that modern CNNP is where pu'er goes to die - a line that is as true here as ever it was.
I use all of the 10g sample generously provided by Jing, in order to attempt to combat the expected flatness. It is clear and energetic, but well-restrained. Actually, it's not a bad tea at all - and so shrugs off the CNNP stereotype, but it is overwhelmingly crushed by its processing. It is clean and pure, but long gone and exhausted by a half-dozen infusions, and simple throughout.
The mildly disturbing part is that the tea usually retails (not wholesales) for RMB55 (£5, $8), but is being sold by Jing for a stonking £35 ($50), which gives this tea the dubious honour of being, perhaps, the most amazingly marked-up pu'er I have encountered. Which is surely saying something.
Given that Jing's market is probably the person who buys sticky-toffee-pudding flavoured tea from Whittards, and not the sad folk like us who buy pu'er regularly, this is understandable. Most imported products from China undergoes a similar mark-up. I can't imagine that Jing are trying to crack the unprofitable world of Internet-based tea loonies with their line-up of three pu'er teas, and so assume that this is aimed at the man-in-the-street. If so, the processing and restraint of this tea makes sense - most people find real pu'er revolting, in my experience.
Errata: Jing Tea has asked me to point out that the above price refers to a xiaobing, of the same brand, whereas their offering is a larger cake from one year more recent. The vendor claims that they bought the entire production-run of their offering, hence the higher price. It is fair to conclude that a larger cake should attract a higher price (typically 1.25 - 1.5). While happy to correct the comparison of the Jing offering with what has turned out to be a smaller, older cake, I should, for the record, maintain that this cake is worth little more than RMB100 (£10), in terms of my subjective assessment of its quality.
Finally, a pu'er that I really, really wanted to like. It is made by the Liu family's Heshihua label, a connection of the delightful Mr. Tim from Postcard Teas.
It looks nice, at least
In my experience, if you see the name "Qiaomu Qiannian" [chee-ow-moo chee-an-nee-an, arbor 1000-year], then just run. Run and don't stop running. Don't look behind you. Whatever you do, don't drink the tea.
The road to Hell is paved with good intentions, and I'm sure that the dear old Liu family's intentions were the very best when they made this, their first cake. However, it really tastes like someones first cake, unfortunately.
True to its Qiaomu Qiannian name, it tastes a lot like red tea - the kind of pu'er that a beginner might make after observing makers of hongcha. It tastes sweet and malty... but that's it. Game over after three infusions.
Heshihua clearly can make good tea, as the 2004 Jingmai once sold by Nadacha shows. They just needed a little practice.
So, then, three teas that I can't recommend. Tasting tea that has been provided out of the generosity of someone's heart is fraught with danger - what if it's not brilliant tea? Sadly, I see no alternative but to be honest, otherwise these notes lose their function.
I genuinely appreciate the gesture. Thanks again for providing the samples, all three gentlemen.