02 May, 2007

2001 Menghai "Yiwu Zhengshan"

This cake has been the darling of the tea community for a while, as initially advocated by Davelcorp Ministries and Our Man in Singapore. MarshalN recently encountered this in a cloak-and-dagger blind tasting. In fact, this tea literally arrived on my desk while I was replying to MarshalN's thread regarding the very same tea.

I liberated this from the Great Gold-Rush, a few weeks ago, from Hou De. It's a Menghai Factory "special purchase", apparently, and is designated both "Yiwu Zhengshan" [Yiwu proper-mountain] and "Yesheng" [wild]. Quite a pedigree to claim. It's time to don the proverbial gold-rimmed spectacles and cast a cynical eye over this tea: does it justify the good press?

2001 Menghai Yiwuzhengshan

Approx. 15cl Caledonian Springs @ 100C in a 35cl shengpu pot; approx. 2 scoops of leaf; 1 rinse.

Dry Leaf:
Dark-brown to mid-green, with plenty of tips that have turned golden. Decent grade of apparently whole leaves. The density of aroma is remarkable - the six years of aging have been kind to this tea. Rich fruits, tanned leather.

15s, 15s, 20s, 25s, 30s:
The first notable aspect of this tea is that it possesses both a beidixiang [initial scent] and a lengxiang [cold scent]. It opens in the wenxiangbei with tanned, sour scents which linger long, before gradually fading into a sweeter caramel lengxiang. The complexity of progression is rather unusual for a six-year tea.

The range of flavours are surprisingly broad, but consist of two main characteristics: there is a wide base of leathery, thick, uncut tobacco leaves, over which plays a sour-then-bitter Yiwu note. The latter remains in the throat, giving a decent huigan, and aftertaste.

As a young boy, my father used to take me to a traditional tobacconist in Cambridge, in which shelves filled with heavy jars of thick, uncut tobacco leaves would look down on me. Every opened jar filled the small shop with rich, earthy aromas, and this particular tea takes me back to those moments, at my father's side.

This isn't an excessively smooth tea: it has the texture of a robust 70% dark, chocolate, with that familiarly particulate, grainy sensation in the throat.

As infusions progress, the density of tobacco flavours hands over to the more enduring sweet-and-sour effect. Note that I detect no smokiness here, just the rich flavours of pure tobacco.

Used leaves:
Large half-leaf segments, with a fair amount of "filler" small segments. The majority are darker green, with no edge oxidation, perhaps indicative of careful handling, with some stem-and-tip systems indicating its hand-picked status.

2001 Menghai Yiwuzhengshan

This is an invigorating tea, Lei likened it to the refreshing feeling after meditation. However, it's overall energy is calming - particularly so. A day of research, a train journey, a pint in a busy pub - all washed away by the feeling of this tea. I breathed more slowly, with a sense of well-being. Very positive, indeed.

The broad range of rich flavours testifies to its provenance, while the strength of the Yiwu sweet-and-sour note shows that this still has the touch of youth, despite its excellent aging. It reminded me of a precocious young man, aping his superior - his virtues make it seem likely that, one day, he will become a master himself. But not quite yet.

11 October, 2008

Returning to this tea after a year and a half, I disagree with some of what I have written above.

The leaves are now dark, exceedingly so, and yet the potency of the tea has very much decreased. It contains a great deal of the calming chaqi noted above, but now the leather-and-tobacco flavours, while still present, are very quiet. I have to push this tea very hard, using long infusions, to get much oomph out of it. When I do so, there is no potency - it does not fight back, and seems muted, as if its volume can only be increased so much and then it saturates, flattens out.

It's good, but it's weak - and what I noted to be "careful handling" before is obviously cheeky Menghai processing, as indicated by its lack of potency and red flavours.

I love it, and all of its tobacco-like charm... but wouldn't it be nice if it were more potent? I am slightly less unhappy that I didn't manage to obtain more of this when it was on sale during the Great Houde Rush of 2007.


Anonymous said...

Dave, this is one of the best tea reviews I've ever read. Very well done. I think you did a great job describing the experience of drinking this tea. Much better than I was able to accomplish.

You've inspired me to pull out the little bit I have left of my "drink-now-bing" of this tea. I'm drinking it now and starting to ride along with it.

Hobbes said...

Thank you for the generous words, Dave, I'm very glad you liked the review - humble repayment indeed for you setting me onto this fine tea in the first place.



MarshalN said...

Nice tasting notes. I was surprised when I found that sample A was this tea, and not sample B. I think the odd taste I was noting was what you've described as "tobacco". Yet, this is not what I normally know as a somewhat aged Yiwu taste... sample B is what I know as the Yiwu taste. I wonder why?

Compared to the sample B, I found sample A (which was this tea) to be lacking in energy and vigor. There was some, but it was especially obvious since I tried A first.

I also noticed that the colour of the tea in your picture is very considerably lighter than what I saw when I brewed mine. I don't know how much 2 scoops of leaf means, depending on how big your scoop is. Yet... is that possible? I don't think the sample A I had could've brewed this sort of yellow no matter what I did to it. Storage conditions, perhaps? It is entirely possible that the storage that Davelcorp's sample went through is not the same as the one that Hou De's tea did. In fact, I would say it probably isn't, as Davelcorp's sample looks a little duller with a redder colour -- signs of a touch of wetness in storage given its relative young age.

Bill said...

Excellent post. I will just have to agree with all of the previous comments. Unfortunately, I was unable to purchase any of the beengs or the samples. :( Much appreciated!

Hobbes said...

Dear MarshalN,

This has been exercising me a little, too. Looking at the leaf quantity that you used, it seems that our brewing parameters are not too dissimilar. "Two scoops" is my shorthand for "the usual amount of tea" - not too much to make it bitter, not too little to make it weak; I'm sure you do the same. Looking at our two photographs side by side, it's not a world apart.

Given that similarity, like you, I am struck by how dissimilar the brews turned out. I have tried this tea twice now - once as a prelude to writing these notes, to explore the tea and to ensure that I wasn't getting anything drastically incorrect. Both sessions yielded quite similar results for me, which further mystifies the comparison between our tastings.

From Dave's comments above, and his initial review, it seems as if his and my experiences were similar - I think the only solution is for us all to meet and drink it simultaenously.

Where is equidistant between Shanghai, California, and Oxford? According to my (UK-centric) atlas, it's northern Africa. See you chaps in Libya?

What I consider the Yiwu aspect of the tea was the overlay of sweet-then-sour; the rounded basis of "tobacco" flavours were unique to this tea, and (I think, at least) really rather enjoyable.

Dear Bill,

I've got your address, let me get some out to you.

Toodlepip both,


Unknown said...

That's what my friend L thought was Yiwu-ish as well, but I've never encountered Yiwu with that tobacco taste, which is why I didn't think it was Yiwu... or if it was, it's not quite "Yiwu Zhengshan", not 100% anyway.

Which is fine as long as it's enjoyable. I personally prefer the lighter taste of the Fuhai. I also thought that tea was a better tea overall... but I don't know what Dave thinks about that?

~ Phyll said...

Another excellent TN! Sounds like you found more connection with this tea than I did.

Bill said...

My goodness! This will be a great treat! Thank you for your generosity!


Vladimir Lukiyanov said...

Yes, excellent tasting notes indeed!

I have a sample of this, but I haven't had a proper chance to taste it yet; the first few times I tasted it the aroma/feeling/taste... seemed to escape from my clutches... can't remember much else.


Hobbes said...


My pleasure - give me a few days, as I'm trying to get something finished beforehand. :)


Thanks, V! Do give it a go and let us know your thoughts. We'll see if you come down on the MarshalN/Phyll side of the fence, or the Davelcorp/xCuseme_Sg/Hobbes side. ;)

Toodlepip both,