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Friday, February 13, 2015

2009 Mengku Jade Dew: Better than it should be

2009 Mengku "Jade Dew"
Better than it should be...this is a cake I purchased from Mandala Tea and in fact, I own two. As you might know from my previous posts, I don't normally go looking for newer teas because I can't expect to survive long enough to age out a 20-30 year fermentation process. The year and base material of this cake didn't call out to me on their own merits, but the fact that this tea tastes as good as it does is a testament to Mandala Tea's excellent storage. These guys have the ultimate glass-enclosed, humidity and temperature controlled vault. By contrast I feel like I'm aging tea in garbage cans.

In my opinion, if a tea collector has really fine tea cakes and whole tongs, we need to stop buying tea and start saving for a decent storage facility worthy of the collection. I don't own amazing vintages, but many people out there do own some historic teas. While Cloud's cardboard box in the closet method might work in humid parts of Asia, the rest of the world needs storage solutions. Honestly, one doesn't need to own the great Red, Yellow and Blue Mark teas to invest in a decent facility, I think if you have a nice Dayi collection, you have an investment worth protecting unless you plan to drink it all up before you go.

Sigh...the issues with winter lighting just go on and on...
But let's consider for now that money isn't an object and look at what the serious storage vault will do for your tea, using this Mengku Jade Dew cake as an example. Now this is not an expensive tea cake. Although Mandala is currently sold out of this production, you can still find this cake online. In fact, I found the cake for a few dollars less on EBay. But then I can't say anything about the storage conditions for those examples. I paid $28 apiece for these cakes, and it seemed almost a crime to find them elsewhere online for only a dollar or two less given the investment that Mandala has made in their storage. I've seen a photo of Mandala's vault and tried to find it again online with no luck. Their vault is similar to what is used to store tobacco in cigar shops, more of a humidor glass and wood walk-in from what I remember seeing.

(Oddly enough a Google photo search brought up a half dozen of MY photos including my puerh fridge, perhaps the geography of my IP addy yielded results from our shared region of the country. In fact, this is one of the reasons I enjoy Mandala Tea, their location is a direct line on the postal route to my house, thus shipping takes 1 day. Instant gratification for this Midwest puerh hog.)


When I brew up 9 grams of this tea, I get every bit of the fresh top notes in the tea, that white grape champagne floral Yiwu type flavor of a new tea. In any other storage situation, this freshness would be completely faded, dried out and gone by now after 6 years. Either too much heat and humidity kills it, or dry and cold air kills it. Then I also taste bottom notes, perhaps there is some Menghai in the mix, or maybe not, but the orange in the cup is all about that aged wood whiskey cask flavor you find in Menghai tuos just a few years older. Then a little spicy finish going down. All this happening in an average blend beeng due to the storage. No way will you find this otherwise in an online market where our choices are for fresh teas of a year or two vintage, or older humid teas that taste like basement, or dry-stored teas with a green dusty undertaste.
We all tend to brew first steeps the same, insta-brew, which is why i show it.
This tea doesn't have the thickness of more expensive productions with better base material, such as White2tea's Last Thoughts thick syrup. You get what you pay for and spending more money will, of course, buy you finer base material. But we have buds in the cup with this $28 production...spring gushu for less than the cost of a new t-shirt. Let's take a look at the buds in the gaiwan and we can also see what else is going on with the aging.


The buds look nearly as fresh as a cake only a year or two old, but I am also seeing the browning, that orange tinge and how uniform this tinge appears across the tea. We don't have a few super dark pieces and then very light pieces in the mix, so I know this isn't huang pian mixed in for color. The cake is past its 5 year mark now with consistent aging throughout and yet no loss of that freshness, no humid forcing going on. The tea is not wrecked in any way. The quality it had at the start is retained, and that is the real testament to the storage more than anything else at this point. The west should have wrecked this cake but the storage is everything. Now this is not a super long steeping tea, maybe 9 steeps but again that is due to base material. Like I said, better than it should be.


This is only a $28 tea cake! How many teas do you have which deserve this much fine treatment? I can tell you that I own at least a half dozen fine cakes that SHOULD be treated this well, and my cakes are nothing compared to the teas I see online posted by their proud owners.

The Jade Dew gets more bitter as I brew onto steep 5. I don't expect this cake to fade any time soon even if I can't treat it nearly as well as Mandala's storage. But I'm getting to the point where if I choose to buy anything else from Mandala, I might see if I can get away with asking them to keep my purchase in the vault until summer when the hot weather will naturally enhance my tea long enough for me to work out yet more storage crocks for the winter.

Mandala Tea has been called the "darling of Steepster" which is both a compliment and a criticism. A compliment for Online Retailing 101: if you want to sell online, participating on relevant forums is a good idea to get awareness for your brand. The criticism comes when such techniques work well. People buy the products and review them, stacking the Steepster ratings with Mandala's Wild Monk cakes. I own a few of those cakes and haven't tasted them yet because they make such excellent gifts to people new to puerh, I end up giving them away.

But I think it's unfair to criticize a retailer for participating on a forum and benefitting because most tea retailers selling to US customers are doing the exact same thing. And Steepster folks are often more than happy to try a new tea vendor at least once. After this it is up to the vendor to keep that business flowing with excellent customer service, especially personal customer service because tea buyers like old Cwyn just love personal attention to our orders. I'll buy more from a vendor who responds promptly to emails and indulges my naughty banter. Crazy old ladies are notoriously annoying and if a tea vendor is willing to listen, why that old lady will be right back again soon. Very simple stuff.

So I ordered two of these cakes on speed dial and am glad I did because they are now sold out. I've got my eye on something else over there but if I buy it then I might ask them to hang onto it until the weather improves. I'm out of crocks over here.

Requiescat in Pace.

2 comments:

  1. Hello Cwyn,

    I enjoyed reading about your perspective on this. It is always interesting to read and encounter the many different preferences that we as tea lovers have. It will be very interesting to taste, learn from and enjoy all the differently aged teas from all around the world in their different storage environments when they start to reach their maturity. The scale, the effort, the diversity, the care that this is being done for the storage of puerh tea is unprecedented. The puerh tea drinker will be spoiled for choice. That surely is a good thing.

    Which brings me to an offer and a question I would like to ask you, would you be interested in trying some puerh teas that have been aged in the tropical climate of Thailand? The storage here is very much based on what nature decides to give us as reflected by the changes in the seasons and the weather. I can only judge based on the pleasures I gain from drinking from my collection and so far I would have to say that nature has been very kind : )

    Please send me an email if you are interested to varatphong(at)yahoo(dot)com

    Best, VP

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    1. Cwyn was just recovered from her faint by Son with Smelling Salts.

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