Today, I am going to show you some photographs of black, gloopy teas from bygone days, one of which is definitely from the Cold War period. All three of these teas were provided by Teaclassico, a splendid outfit of which I have written before.
First up: shupu. It's cooked, it's composted, and it's suitably old so that the rank dampness has departed. This is the 1999 (or 1997?) "Tongcanghao".
I'm not too sure what's actually happening with this cake, because it isn't for sale at Teaclassico, but only at Generation Tea - although it was supplied to me in a Teaclassico sample bag. Hence, the tiny image above is from Generation Tea, where it sells for $135. There is some overlap of the inventories of Teaclassico and Generation Tea, but the former has lower prices than the latter. The owner of Teaclassico assures me that there is no relationship between the two teashops.
My eyebrows wobble slightly at the fact that Teaclassico has actually replicated the Wade-Giles spelling of this cake ("Tung Chang Hao") that is also shown at Generation Tea. If there is truly no relationship between Teaclassico and Generation Tea, then I suspect that they simply buy their cakes from the same Taiwanese dealer.
I am aware of Taiwanese spelling habits!
Either way, this is some MEAN looking shupu. Checks ye out the leaves above: they really put the proverbial lotion in the proverbial basket. If you are going to buy composted tea, then you may as well buy composted tea made out of some seriously chunky leaves. The Tongcanghao does just that.
The leaves do, it must be admitted, look a little grey. This is usually a sign of some substantial Hong Kong influence, or, alternatively, the use of a hose to spray down the cakes as if you were Boris Johnson trying to calm down a rioting crowd of Londoners with a high-pressure water cannon. Kek.
What does the combined effect of shupu composting AND tons of water do to a cake? What on earth do you think it does?! It makes it humid! And dark! And super black! This is like drinking liquid evil. It is Lucifer's tears, or some other even worse bodily fluid.
Unsurprisingly, given its moistmoistmoist treatment, there isn't much in the way of power or duration, here. Everything it had has been accelerated out of it, and traded away for pure, gloopy, darkness. It is a deal with the Dark Side, and its soul has certainly been transacted.
That said, if you were going to drink only one Tea of the Thrice Damned this week, you might like to try this one. As hellbound beverages go, this one is quite enjoyable.
Washing ourselves down with holy water and then having the teatable re-sanctified by a passing exorcist, we turn our attention to something a little less macabre.
1999 Commissioned 8582
"Commission" usually means "rocking" when it comes to Menghai Factory. Believe it or not, I used to find 8582 a little underwhelming. Apache, among (very) many others have since turned my eyes to the light, through a substantial exercise in collective generosity, and I now admit the error of my ways, and enjoy older 8582s on a semi-regular basis. The big ol' leaves certainly make for some decent aging, in the world before Dayi.
What was 8582 like in 1999? If this cake is anything to go by, then I'd say it is not too bad.
The difficulty with this cake is that we have to peer at it through the lens of Hong Kong storage. This is no bad thing, but it is not a lens that leaves it subject unaltered. It has been aired out in Taiwan, apparently, and this leads to a good, clean, crisp edge that pleases - its Hong Kong background is entirely pleasant.
As always with older teas, I use tons of leaves. It's not like you're going to be able to overbrew something like this (assuming that you use water-in, water-out infusions as is my habit). It has a "beefy" sweetness that reminds me of non-Dayi Menghai, and which I like a lot.
It is sharp and abrupt, and, it must be stated for the record, that it doesn't really endure particularly, either in the mouth or in its number of infusions. Its starting storage conditions appear to have taken the wind out of its sails. The overall effect is very positive: the Hong Kong storage has focussed and heated its sweetness; the Taiwanese storage has opened and crispened it somewhat.
I was on the edge of thinking rather seriously about this cake (price $199), but the trio listed here eventually trumped a purchase decision.
Let's now return to the title of this article, and end with a relic of the Cold War.
Admittedly China was a very different place to Europe in the 1980s, but there remains a certain feeling of nostalgia for those of us who were alive at that time. Not that I remember it particularly well, but I am definitely delighted to try some tea from that era.
This is a serious $329, which is far beyond my limit, and so, thus freed from any other considerations, I therefore get to enjoy the tea without worry about whether or not I should be buying it. This is a considerable freedom, it must be said.
As pictured above, this is a blend of just about everything, from tip to stem. It has the red-grey colour of old Hong Kong tea, and is faded and distant in appearance.
The first infusion requires absolutely no time to open, and this cake slams its foot onto the accelerator right from the start. It is smooth, dense, and very slippery. There is a fine, enjoyable core of Hong Kong mineral humidity. The older this mineral character becomes, the more dense it becomes, as if being compacted by gravity. The first few cups entirely clarify my mind, and feel most positive.
This is a big, soft tea, and it requires maximum attention. Its consistency prevents extended description: it is long, vanilla-like, and smooth, and stays that way as long as I stay at the table. It is quite something, and you might be well-advised to procure at least a sample, to acquire the data-point in your training set.
With thanks again to Neil of Teaclassico, it has been a fine week for tea.