10 June, 2007

2006 Yangqinghao Gushu Chawang

I'm in Viking country for the next five days: Harrogate, near York, in the dim and distant north of England. I'm not sure why a conference would be held here, but it's very pretty and so I won't ask. It always amuses my American colleagues when I mumble about travelling five hours to get to the other end of the country - it really must seem tiny to North Americans.

Before I left, I thought it wise to dip into my sample of this tea.

Marketed variously under "Yanching Hao" and "Yangching Hao" by Houde (I've used Pinyin: Yangqinghao), from whence cometh this sample, this tea claims "gushu" [ancient tree] status, and the even more nebulous "chawang" [tea king].

Comprised of maocha from the "six famous tea mountains" with an estimated 30% gushu leaves, I wonder if a claret producer would be allowed to name their wine "Margeaux" if it were less than 1/3rd proper grapes, with the other 2/3rds coming from "France". AOC/DOC enthusiasts have their eyes on the future for increased Chinese naming and quality regulations.

It is pertinent to note, in the assessment of this tea, that it is priced at the Xizihao and Chen-Guanghe Tang level (i.e., very high). A previous issue of the Chinese periodical "Pu'er Teapot" featured this cake on the front cover.

~10cl Caledonian Springs @ 100C in 20cl shengpu pot; ~5 leaf; 1 rinse

Dry leaves:

Quite an assortment [pictured]: some very dark, some green, some mid-brown, some silver tips, some stems, with something from all grades. The aroma is very high and sweet, and the scent rather appeals to me.

3s, 5s, 7s, 10s, 12s, 15s, 20s:
From the infusion times, you might wonder if this tea is a bit weak, given that most one-year-old cakes are potent to the degree that infusion times must be kept low, often staying at 3-5s even out to the sixth infusion and beyond.

First impressions begin, as ever, with the beidixiang, which is thin but sweet. It gives way to a decent, sugary lengxiang. The impression of weakness continues with the colour, which is a thin yellow, and continues with the flavour: gentle, grape-like, a touch of straw, and very little ku [bitterness].

This tea is gentle, clearly aimed at the "drink it now" crowd. This isn't a bad goal, but it does require that it is backed up with enough flavour to make it worthwhile. This cake is enjoyable, light, but ultimately forgettable. It has to be pushed on in its brewing to get any character out of it, and never becomes strong.

The confusion in the blend becomes apparent in later infusions: a little mushroom appears, but fades by the sixth infusion, by which time the aroma has long since vanished. The texture of the tea is fine, but thin, which rather sums up the cake for me.

Wet leaves:
As you can see, they are as random as we saw in the dry leaves, covering all types and genres.

A true "jack of all trades, and master of none". It is pleasant enough, in its simple way, but woefully underpowered.

To put it in engineering terms, this tea is like a vector sum, in which each component is pointed in a different direction, the net effect of which is a near-zero equilibrium. The blend includes too many different characteristics, none of which are solid enough to satisfy, excepting a generic sweetness.

This is the risk of blending: a favourable present may be created, but the cracks in the blend soon show through, as the various weak components fail one by one, leaving an unfulfilling tea.

It is not clear to me that appearing on the front cover of a tea magazine justifies such a high price, and promotion to the big leagues. This tea reminds me of the Chen Guanghe Tang in its contrivance to be pleasant and enjoyable, yet perhaps lacking the ability to satisfy.

March, 2011

This currently costs $135 at Houde, which many of us originally wrote off as being far too expensive.  Looking over my original notes, I didn't enjoy this tea very much - I found weakness, no bitterness at all, and thought it too light to age well.

2006 Yangqinghao Gushu
Yangqinghao means "Yang [family name] celebration brand"

The leaves are beautiful, and, as the potent, pungent aroma of spring leaves fills the room upon opening the packet, I am ready to be proven wrong, and to be impressed.  The sheer power of the aroma really is genuinely surprising, and the pre-dawn darkness suddenly seems a lot more welcoming.

2006 Yangqinghao Gushu
Good leaves - pretty and very long

In the aroma cup, similarly, the scent is a knock-out.  Heavy, dark sugars that last seemingly forever - I am already rethinking my attitude to this cake, and looking very carefully at the asking price.

2006 Yangqinghao Gushu
The soup is yellow-brown, turning orange in the air

Gripping and mouth-watering, there seems to be plenty going on in this tea.  It holds my interest very well - the more one looks, the more one finds.  Heavy camphor, honey, dark sugars.

Its endurance and cleanliness are remarkable, as is the resounding kuwei [good bitterness] in the throat.  How I previously concluded that this cake was weak and light seems odd, in light of its obvious power.

Comforting, energising, uplifting - my mouth continues to water from a long-past swallow as I wait for the tetsubin to boil a new batch of water.

2006 Yangqinghao Gushu
Strong, whole leaves, all of a similar level of oxidation, with minimal monkey business

As the infusions wear on, the previous glories become more prosaic: it has a big, flat base of green plantation that, while never rough, does detract from the original spring-time complexities.

After the third infusion, I was resolved to buy a few cakes (they are a stonking 500g); after the sixth infusion, I was down to buying just one cake; after the ninth infusion, I was uncertain whether to buy one at all.

The $135 price-tag is £100 - for that money, I could buy another 1997 Henglichang "Bulang", which is about twice as good as this Yangqinghao.  Therefore, I simply cannot justify spending that money on this inferior (though still very decent) cake.  If this were priced around the $80, it would be more appropriate, in comparison to the rest of the (Western-oriented) tea market.

Nonetheless, it's fascinating to see how two sittings, spaced four years apart, can result in very different conclusions of the same pu'ercha.

In a world of mostly-dodgy cakes, where everyone seems to concentrate on single-mountain productions, it's heartening to see an unashamedly eclectic blend of maocha from multiple regions.  Blending is quite a skill, and the resultant cakes can often be greater than the sum of their parts.


MarshalN said...

I think Guang's idea is that 30% are wildly grown old trees, while the rest are from old plantations.

Although I find that to be a bit of an odd claim, because the truly wild teas are not really suitable for consumption, afaik, whereas the "plantation type wild tree" are what we generally consider wild tea, and those are basically old plantation teas...

So I'm rather confused by his blog entry, and by the rather stinging reviews you and VL provided.

Not that I'd buy it anyway. It's priced above what 1kg of current year maocha would command. That's far too high.

Hobbes said...

Yes, his blog claims it's 30% gushu and 70% maocha from the 6 mountains. I've never actually tried pure wild trees, having read that they're medicinal in a kudingcha^kudingcha sort of way - as you say, rather unsuitable.

It's not a confusing tea, I have to say - it's mild, it's enjoyable, it's clearly of a decent quality, but it's also unenthralling in a serious way. As you say, for the price you have many other options.

These are, in a very real sense, not the droids you're looking for.



MarshalN said...

The wild wild teas are variously bitter, sour, and just plain weird. I personally have tried one before... but they really don't appeal. They're also illegal to harvest nowadays, so there's really no production of them anymore.

I just think there's a strong distinction to be made that western vendors don't usually make -- wild wild and wild plantation are very very different things.

~ Phyll said...

Oh, I got a beeng of this as a replacement of a tong of the '05 Chang Tai Malaysian Expo cakes that got lost in the mail. I haven't opened it, though...it's sleeping in the offsite "dungeon".

Hmmm...1 cake of this YQH vs. 1 tong of 05 M'sian Expo cakes. :\

Hobbes said...

Yikes! Sorry to here that, Andrew. I don't mean to add insult to injury, but I'm certain which I would prefer of the two options. The scale seems a little skew!



Anonymous said...

It's always respectable of any author to admit they were wrong. Although it does make you wonder - whether the wrong is yours or someone else's - how erratic our impressions and tasting assessments are.

Hobbes said...

Thank'ee, Blog.

I firmly believe that "only a fool cannot change their mind". A flexible outlook is the prerequisite for any decent scientist - or, probably, for human being in general.

Therefore, I am always happy to admit to being wrong.

I should that in this instance, I don't know if "wrong" is quite the fitting word. So much time has passed since the first session, that both the tea and I have changed to the point where we entirely different entities. (Depending on how much Zen you can stomach, we might also nod towards that school's teaching that we are effectively different people from moment to moment, and that there fundamentally is no constant entity underneath it all.)

What I can say is that it's rather nice. Not the kind of tea that I'd pursue for a high price, but still enjoyable nonetheless.



Anonymous said...

The main reason I bought this tea is because of the large amount of qi I experienced. I found the tea pretty interesting, especially in mouth effects deep into the session, at the expense of coherence. I figure that this tea will be very very good with real ageing. I also enjoyed this tea very much in the late stages after the plantation has completely given up.

It is now $175 at HouDe. If you are in Taiwan, you can buy this for about $110 directly from Yang, I think, depending on GoogleTranslate. As to whether it's worth it, I'd almost have to say yes. There's real Yiwu in there, even if it's plantation. The 30% gushu is also, I think real. Remember, at the time, the 100% gushu was very limited and $400. I do anticipate that the 2006, over the long term, will outpace the 2004 SR, simply because the SR is good arbor Yiwu, and not particularly gushu.

The HenliChang Bulang is about $158, for a bing that might not be available anymore. Personally, I'm not a huge fan of that tea, because, it's a bit too wet-stored, and takes too long to get going, and isn't all that potent in qi. Good smoothness, good flavors, and lasts ok, though. I also kinda thought the comparison kinda odd because the YQH and Bulang are very, very different teas, with the YQH having considerably more maturing to do, based on my cake.


Elliot Knapp said...

Liked this tea a lot for its robustness and bought a cake when it was $78. I also recall being surprised you thought it was weak! The price quietly increased to $135 at least a year ago, past what I'd consider reasonable for the quality. Now at $175 it sits firmly in the realm of the absurd. It'll be interesting to track the rate in price increase for these cakes over the next 10-20 years. It's hard to believe that it's sustainable.

Elliot Knapp said...

ps: How long does your tetsubin take to come to boil? Your mention of that detail and description of the end of the session remind me of a similar experience--the remaining hot water coating the tea leaves continues to steep them, to a degree, until a full pot of water is added for the next "official" steeping, which comes out quite strong, then the subsequent steepings seem to have lost most of their power and the complexity of the first few. This has happened to me numerous times getting caught up with other things at work--dancong, yancha and young puerh seem to be the least forgiving for being left between steeps for 10 minutes or more, and I've found for some teas a fully successful session requires rigorous attention to timing. Then again, I recall you saying somewhere that you only boil a pot's worth at a time. Just a thought.

Hobbes said...

Dear Shah,

Thanks for the comment. My comparison to the Henglichang Bulang is merely as I mention in the article: if I have enough money ready to buy this Yangqinghao, then I really should be buying the Henglichang instead, because I prefer it.

Dear Elliot,

$175 at Houde really is too much for me, also. The original price of $78 sounds fair.

I was amused to read Dr. Lee's logic: "These cakes now cost lots more in Taiwan, and so I will be raising the price of all of my inventory - otherwise its not sustainable." If one were buying more inventory, sure. However, sitting on a pile of old cakes and doubling their price has less to do with "sustainability" and more to do with a certain other human tendency, I believe. :)

This cake is worth absolutely nowhere near $175.



Hobbes said...

Dear Eliot,

On the subject of my tetsubin, since you ask, I boil enough water for one pot + a root in the bottom of the kettle to reduce the temperature differential when I pour in the next infusion's water (to avoid stress fracture in the iron). So, I boil enough water for two pots, where one pot of water stays in the kettle to added to in the next infusion. This is about (very approximately) 200-300 ml.

It takes a few minutes to boil that amount - my tetsubin is about 20cm in diameter, and that quantity of water corresponds to a depth of about 2cm inside it. The water looks as if it's coming up about 20% of the way inside the tetsubin.

Thus, it boils quite rapidly (I use a hotplate next to my tea-table), and I always have fresh water for the next infusion (rather than constantly reboiling old water). It works for me!

Some pu'ercha can be more fussy and "high-maintenance" than others, in my experience, but it's not often as sensitive as you report in your comment. I remember that I used to have a problem getting the strength right when I was starting out. The last years have seen the process become entirely unconscious though. Trying a little less leaf might help you.



Anonymous said...

Some of the price rises has to do with collectors, I think. That's the only way that the Kuzhushan is $175 and the XiShangMeiShao is $110. Pure, spring, name...

Also, I think one reason, besides the usual more money, is that keeping a storefront with pu maintains interest in the shop, if only for comment. You can also take your time restocking or buying new merchandise. Personally, on a selfish level, I am grateful for the (historically) higher prices, as it has meant that I had a chance to buy some bings at all, unlike the deal with Nada's 2009 effort.

One the other hand, a puerh habit demands a credit card. You get what you like, when you find you like it. Stopping to complain about how high prices were can only hurt. What with HouDe's back catalogue repriced, it's a bit harder to search for good deals. XXX Chamasi seems to be under-priced as a whole. Puerhshop Jim finds the odd acorn, etc, etc.

A Douji of this type of bing is a little over $200 for the 2006, and about $180 for 2 200g bings. A Shi Kun Mu from YS, from 2010, is now $98. You just buy stuff until you actually have enough to complain and refuse to buy more. I don't think you can find all that much to buy that's compelling for $78, other than Ban'E.


Anonymous said...

Also, on whether this is sustainable...I don't really think so. I have a hard enough time thinking about how all that Yiwu out there is grown, and how hard and expensive it is to get a decent example. There some B* out there with warehouses full of decent Yiwu. Gotta be!

All of these areas will produce year, after, year, after year. Eventually, supply will fully meet demand (if rich westerners as a whole doesn't discover decent pu and takes it from us geeks). Prices won't drop, they'll just stagnate for decades on end.


Hobbes said...

Yes, the higher prices can be convenient, for slowing down the rush of purchases! As long as they are in the "sweet spot", where one could consider still buying them - unlike, for example, $175 for this Yangqinghao.

High prices are sustainable, particularly in Taiwan, where affluency and interest in puer'cha build a strong market. My disagreement is in Dr. Lee's use of the word "sustainability", in relation to his existing inventory.

Prices are generally quite realistic on Taobao for the majority of new cakes. I would hazard that increases in supply are already having a limiting effect on prices, generally speaking.



Anonymous said...

to be sure, I thought it was an ok at $135, but I certainly would not have bought any at $175.


wuyi said...


FWIW 2006 GuShu cakes can be had for $95...2005 YiWu for $120...less by the tong...