05 April, 2007

1960s Gaoligongshan Shengpu

It's a beautiful spring day, and so we've spent the afternoon in the University parks. It's exceedingly quiet, excepting the deafening sound of birdsong.

It's a good environment to take a little tea, and enjoy some good unpasteurised cheese. The star of the cheese-board is the raclette pictured left. Thanks once again to Phyll, for the very tasteful cups; as you can tell, they have taken pride of place in our daily routine.


From RoyalPuer.com, this sample was provided by the ever-generous CB (a.k.a. Sspeakfreely). At $115/100g, it is one of the more expensive teas that we've come across, and is of course one of the oldest. In fact, this tea is older than me, which is somewhat sobering, as it's becoming ever-harder for a tea to achieve.

Previous reviews note its liveliness, a flavour of cherries, and the tastes of the "forest floor". I've used this latter phrase myself from time to time, and then realise that I've never actually had the pleasure of dining on whatever constitutes a forest floor. There is, however, still time to change that.

This tea originates from Gaoligong Mountain, between Yunnan and the Vietnamese border. Xiaomao notes that gaoli is typical of the Li minority for whom that region is home, meaning "High Li". The gong character refers to tribute, typically enough for tea from that area. RoyalPuer.com indicates that this tea won a (the?) gold medal at the 2005 Shanghai "Tea King" competition.

So much for the background. In the presence of a tea this old, we are slightly more respectful than usual (and I like to think that we are usually fairly respectful of our tea). This entails drinking as many infusions as the leaf wishes to give, and treating each with our full attention.

Pot for old shengpu; Caledonian Springs @ 100C; moderate quantity; single rinse.

Dry leaves: the colour of dark chocolate. 1-2cm twisted segments. Sweet and fruity aroma. One or two tiny flecks of brilliant white on some leaves - evidence of poor storage?

1. 10s: Orange-red, not as dark as one might expect. Excellent clarity. Very sweet beidixiang, sticky. Geraldo's comment about cherries is accurate. A very smooth feeling on the cheeks, afterwards.

"Very smooth, absolutely no harshness, yet sweet. Like an old Zen master."

2. 12s: Slightly deeper colour as the leaves expand. Surprisingly energising, just like the Zen master in Xiaomao's observation.

"Still woody and earthy, but in a round and smooth way."

3-8. 15s, 20s, 30s, 45s, 90s, 120s: becoming markedly less potent around infusion 5, it is interesting to note that, even when receding in flavour, the quality remains excellent. It becomes a sweet song, heard from a greater and greater distance.

Used leaves: dark, dark, dark. The leaves unroll without much resistance, and are not brittle, so unlike the shupu that attempt to short-cut their way to such heights. There is only one way to the top of the mountain, and there are no quick alternatives.

Overall: what a delightful experience. Truly old shengpu is so very smooth - a pebble on the seabed. A smiling Zen master. We decide to obtain some more for our supplies. Thanks again to CB for the kindness.

We had... a captive audience.

Addendum - 18 May, 2007

Revisiting this tea confirms many of the observations above, excepting that this is not a strong tea. The maocha aspect has, possibly, enabled faster aging, but the overall effect is very gentle. One must not be shy of using a good quantity of leaf; similarly, it benefits from longer infusion times, and rapidly runs out of potency.

Its lack of compression has, perhaps, weakened its endurance. If buying this tea, ensure that it is kept air-tight, in order to retain what strength remains in these gentle old leaves.

I notice that my original review did not note its obvious wet-storage, immediately visible in the white, dusted appearance of the leaves, and confirmed in the "wet" flavours.

The aroma is particularly special, being almost vanilla-and-cream when brewed at sufficient strength - conservative infusion will render the wenxiangbei empty.


~ Phyll said...

I didn't know that ducks and geese also have a taste for shengpu and blue-veined cheeses, as you and I both do.

I'm glad that you find the cups enjoyable to use. Cheers.

Hobbes said...

They clearly know no fear, as they appeared willing even to eat the rind of an acidic unpasteurised chevre...

Brave indeed!


Anonymous said...

Hello Hobbes.

I am actually wondering how you are boiling your water in the University parks. Are you using some kind of electrical kettle on a car battery?
I remember when I was a student a couple of years ago, it was totally forbidden to bring a gas heater in the parks. Back to that time, my friend and I had a lot of problems to have tea outside, because of that (which is why we thought about plenty of stupid ways to overcome the problem, like using a modified car battery...)


Hobbes said...


Thank you for calling in, and for your post. I am truly impressed by your ingenuity in getting boiling water in an outdoor setting! We just used a thermos (vacuum) flask, and so the water would have been approximately 95C, not boiling. I suspect that the park wardens might get a little nervous about the presence of car batteries on their precious grass... ;)



Anonymous said...

Well, then let me know the brand of your thermos, because I have never been able to find one able to keep the temperature at a reasonable level.
Indeed, this is a problem I encounter very often, when I want to have tea on some remote place.

As for the battery, my friend modified it himself to deliver the right power actually, because physics is not my cup of tea if I may say :)
Besides everything was packaged in a nice wicker picnic bag (this also looks better because honestly, if you had to sit somewhere in a park to drink tea, you would probably choose the place very far away from a bulky car battery :), so the wardens were pleased with just a friendly smile.

Take care.

Hobbes said...

Impressive work, hiding the battery in a picnic basket... :)

The thermos is branded "Lifeventure", and claims to be a "thermally induced vacuum" - it's just a 50cl container from my local camping store.



Andrew said...

Hello Dr. Hobbes,

This is Andrew (aka Phyll Sheng). On this very American holiday, I am sending my thanks to you for our past tea-friendship. Today, I (finally) brewed the sample of the 1960's Gaoligongshan that you had sent to me some 7 or 8 years ago. It has been with me all these years and it survived the move to our new family home 2.5 years ago. Thank you for this antique, delicious tea, and thank you for still keeping in touch with everyone through your blog. I'm certainly missing the camaraderie of the tea friendships I had with you and others.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Andrew / Phyll
Thousand Oaks, CA, USA

Hobbes said...

Dear Andrew,

Very many happy returns! (Is that the appropriate greeting for Thanksgiving in the USA?!)

I'm delighted to read that you're enjoying your tea-sessions still. When / if life permits, I look forward to doing the same. :)

With best wishes,


Andrew said...

Thank you. "Don't choke on your turkey dinner" is probably more appropriate :)

Kind regards,