Tasting Notes: Autumn 2006 Chen Guang-He Tang "Yi Wu Yeh Cha" 357 gram cake

The second pu-erh to be featured in November's celebration of pu-erh tea, this sheng (raw, or uncooked) pu-erh is an excellent tea to contrast against the 2007 Xi-Zhi Hao 8582 cake from the last entry. This is primarily because the 8582 cake is a spring production and this "Yi Wu Yeh Cha" is fall-harvested. Whereas the XZH 8582 is a lively, energetic and potentially fierce tea, this pu-erh is mellow, round and a fair bit more difficult to over-brew.

Chen Guang-Ho Tang is a relatively small pu-erh production group that has been around since the late 90's. It's comparable to Xi-Zhi Hao insofar as they both provide premium, often ancient tree and famous mountain pu-erh, though Xi-Zhi Hao probably has the edge in terms of prestige and reputation since they put out some of the most exclusive and super-premium pu-erh available. This tea comes from one of the most famous mountains in Yunnan, China's pu-erh-producing province--Yiwu or Yi Wu Mountain. As a side note, since famous-mountain pu-erh leaves are in such high demamd, some less scrupulous pu-erh manufacturers will sometimes label their cakes "Yi Wu" or "Lao Ban Zhan" when only a small percentage of the leaves (if any) came from said mountain. One of the better aspects about premium producers like Chen Guang-Ho Tang and Xi-Zhi Hao is that they have excellent street cred when it comes to the accuracy of their tea leaves' origins. Regardless, taste will always be the deciding factor--with even a limited amount of experience, it can be relatively easy to pick out the harshness, lack of complexity, and lower durability of plantation leaves that dominate so-called "famous mountain" cakes. This cake's inner ticket declares that the leaves are a blend of three different Yi Wu regions, so we can expect varied characteristics, but (hopefully) a common denominator of big, healthy-looking leaves and buds and not too much harshness.

Gong fu brewing of this pu-erh reveals a somewhat rare experience in young sheng pu-erh: a tea that's actually enjoyable to drink when it's young. At two years old, this tea hasn't had much time to age. Nevertheless, it's full of dark, dried fruit, woody and mushroomy flavors along with hints of that characteristic earthy character that is present in even the most flowery young shengs. There's no smokiness whatsoever and the bitterness is slight and it blends well with the tea's other characteristics. The body is full with little astringency, though there is room for aging improvement in its smoothness. Compared to the XZH 8582 cake, this autumn production is rounder, mellower and darker, with few of the high and potentially piercing notes of the spring cake. Both are unmistakably young pu-erhs, though, which makes comparing them an excellent and instructive exercise in the difference between spring and autumn pu-erh leaves, which both seem to have very particular strengths.

The spent leaves of this cake seem to confirm their origin--there are few broken or ragged leaves and plenty of complete leaf sets with large, strong-looking veins and thick but not brittle stems. It's also worth noting that this cake is stone-molded, which is different but not necessarily better than the modern process of machine-molding. Stone-molded cakes tend to be more irregularly-shaped than machine-molded ones, and they also tend to be compressed more loosely, which can lead to faster aging (because the inner leaves have more exposed surface area). Overall, tasting these two cakes is an exciting endeavor, especially when contemplating what will happen to the flavors of each as the cakes slowly age.


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