; Cwyn's Death By Tea: 2004/2009 Jin Hao Feng Huang Ripe ;

Saturday, June 4, 2016

2004/2009 Jin Hao Feng Huang Ripe

As a tea drinker, I’m fortunate to have tea friends with a variety of tastes. While I have settled my preferences into mostly puerh, I do drink a number of different teas and I’m always exploring. Tea friends are explorers too, and I can count on them to recommend teas that I would never find on my own. While tea forums receive a fair share of hate from tea heads, still they are the best place to find tea friends. Every day I enjoy chatting with people about what they are drinking, and more often than not I make a purchase based on a recommendation from a friend. I keep my friends in mind too when I’m writing. My blog is most often inspired by tea friends, topics we’ve discussed or they’ve posted, or just things people say in passing. Or I might say something that ends up turning into a post that would never be written except for the conversation. If you are a blogger and feel blocked on what to write, a tea friend will unclog your mental tea pot every time.

This post is for my shou puerh drinking friends. I don’t know what I’d do without you all. I have a number of tea friends who either prefer shou puerh, or drink it because greener teas are too harsh for them. Shou puerh demands an experienced palate. When you drink primarily green tea, like sheng, shou is a big change to your palate. It blasts the palate in early steeps, and if you are accustomed to finding subtle flavors in tea, you will miss them in shou without consistent experience. And if you have friends who cannot tolerate green tea, finding the best shou puerh for them means relying on experienced palates for advice.

Lately I’ve been on a bit of a shou buying trip. I send my sister a box of tea several times a year. Now, my sister has some heavy physical conditions that affect her stomach, her breathing, and her digestion. She cannot tolerate green tea. She is also the opposite of her older Cwyn sister, she is a cool Yin to my overly warm Yang. Because of her health conditions, shou puerh is among the teas I send her. And I make sure that the tea is completely cleared of any wo dui fermentation funk, and cleared of any green leaves. In fact, most of shou puerh I send is at least 3 years stored by me. Recently I’ve been sending shou stored by me for seven years, a 7572 that is completely clear and she tolerates it well.

But now I need to plan ahead and make sure I’ve got shou in advance, because my supplies of clear tea are running on the low side. Sister and shou pals are on my mind as I write this, because I’ve been asking around with my tea friends what shou they might recommend. I buy shou for myself as well, and unlike my sister I drink the funk and strong flavor. So I have to sort out the teas I own now for ones that are candidates for her. That means I have two needs with regard to shou, teas for me and teas for sister.

Older sample on the left, 2009 sleeve on the right.
Recently I ordered a sleeve of shou tuos, 2009 Jin Hao Feng Huang 801 from Chawangshop. These 100g tuos cost only $6 a piece, so makes sense to me to order a full sleeve of five for $30. Now, along with my order, Chawangshop thoughtfully enclosed a sample of the very same tea, but a 2004 Jin Hao Feng Huang. This tea, at five years older, costs significantly more at $21 per tuo!  Of course older is usually better, justifying a price increase, but more than 3x price increase?? I wonder if any other reasons exist for such a price difference.

This tea recipe supposedly won an award in 2009, but not the teas in my possession. For one thing, my 2009 tuos are actually dated as packed in September 2010. So they probably weren’t ready for the 2009 competition. And we know that awards don’t say much anyway about the quality of the tea, so many factors are involved. One key feature of the recipe, however, is that it is a more “tippy” shou, younger and smaller tea leaves, a Phoenix golden buds type of tuo. I have a number of tea friends who like Dayi Phoenix Golden buds, but I haven’t tried that tea myself.

The tuo at the bottom right has a little weakness in the paper.
So I decide to use it as my control sample.
I aired out the 2004 sample for a couple of weeks and speculated with my friends which tea might be better for my sister.

“The older one, for sure,” said my friend Paxl13, who drinks primarily shou, and is a go-to tea friend when I need advice on comfortable teas for my sister. He might be right. But my 2009 tuos have seven years on them already, a decent amount of time for a tea to clear. I cannot tell which tea will be better until I drink them.

Not much visual difference between the two teas.
The two samples appear similar with lighter gold buds, and darker, more fermented tea making up the base. In fact I can't tell the difference in age just by looking. Breaking up the 2009 tuo, I notice that the younger tea is not difficult to pry apart with a pick. In fact the tea separates quite easily. By contrast, the 2004 chunk I received is extremely difficult to pick apart. I manage to break it into small chunks and decided brew the entire 11g I received, along with 11g of the younger tea. The chunks of the 2004 tea compared with loose leaf makes quite a difference when brewing, however. Chunky tea takes longer to open up, whereas loose leaf tea gives up more early on.

I used about 100 ml of water for each sample. Doing the two rinses I can smell a big difference between the teas. The older 2004 tuo has a strong nose of mushrooms and port wine, rather like Lao Cha Tou teas. I can smell a bit of this profile in the 2009 tea but nowhere near as intensely. On the other hand, the differences in the soup are minimal if any. I think maybe the 2004 is a tad bit more reddish, but as I brewed more steeps and tried to keep them as evenly steeped as possible, this difference disappeared. To get this similarity, I had to give a second or two longer to the chunkier 2004 to make up for the compression.

Early steeps on both tuos have a sourish aftertaste, evidence of dry storage. This is likely to fade with a bit of humidity to work out. These tuos haven’t had much, if any, wetter storage so that sour note in early steeps is what you get. The teas are both very clean in that the brew is clear when a strainer is used to catch the tiny bits and tea dust. I didn’t continue taking photos of the steeps because of little to no discernible visual difference in the cups.

2004 on the left. 2009 on the right.
The sourish taste disappeared after steep 3 or so. Overall the younger tea is much more lively on the tongue, it spreads throughout my mouth with zing and minerals, a touch of port wine flavor and mushrooms. The older tea is not as lively, but the mushroom wine profile is more pronounced. Further, the chunks in the older tea don’t break up on their own, they remain intact unless I want to separate them. Both teas have a slight pile flavor, typical shou taste. I got a good six steeps from the 2009 before the tea needed steep time. I continued brewing the 2009 until 8 steeps, when the tea needed even more time to brew. I figure a good 10 brews and maybe a little more from this one.

The 2009 tuo shows a number of still-green tea leaves in the gaiwan. This tea still has much more room to age. But will it turn into the chunky stronger profile of the 2004? The 2004 also has a few thick sticks, not many sticks at all in the 2009. I tossed the 2009 leaves to continue brewing on the 2004.  At steep 10, I’m brewing around 40 seconds and stirring the leaves with a spoon in the water. These leaves have a lot to give but they are sleepy, wakey wakey the spoon gets them moving to release more. I’m well caffeinated now after more than 1000 ml of tea in the afternoon.

2004 on the left is chunkier, more compressed than the '09 on the right.
The 2009 has more green leaves.
Later evening steeps on the 2004 have a more woody and old book flavor, and a bit more lively on the tongue now that I have the remaining wet pile flavor brewed out. Both teas are cooling on the throat, but incredibly heat-producing on my body. The weather now is not ideal for drinking shou, not for me, the temps are warm and a bit muggy outside. I turn into an overheated, bloated sponge after a day of drinking 1300 ml of shou. I’m so overly warm that I can’t sleep until well after 3 a.m. And these 2004 leaves aren’t done yet.

After dinner the following day I continue my Yang torture with the 2004. I really need to confine shou to the winter months, but I know my sister over in Milwaukee probably feels freezing cold right now. So I persist. The tea is woody, dark leather and still has two chunks that don’t want to separate unless I force the issue. You know what this means, right? This tea is a boiler. I can boil up these leaves when they stop producing flavor and get a whole pan of tea. I’m at 12 steeps and then a boil.

Boiling the tea sample brings back the mushrooms and port wine in the nose. Gotta boil them sticks. I don't mean steep in boiling water, I mean boil. At least five minutes or more.

Prego in  Tea Italian means puerh in my spaghetti jar
and no, you can't have any.
I easily got well over 3000 ml out of my 11g sample. I love puerh. I really do.

I think you can get an idea now of which tea is the better buy. At triple the price, I didn’t get triple the steeps but the 2004 is the better tea. Maybe I’m wrong, and perhaps the green left in the 2009 tuos means early days yet. I just don’t think the 2009 is going to turn into what I’m getting in the 2004, a much more powerful tea leaf. Years can differ, some years are rainy, a drier year produces a stronger tea. And we all know how over-picked puerh tea got after 2008, sapping the tea trees of strength. Still, do I want to pay $21 for a small 100g tuo?

Probably my puerh friends will prefer the 2004 for the stronger, more flavorful profile. Someone who plans to drink shou over a great number of years, looking to build a stockpile, has to consider prices across the board. Right now shou tuos from the 1990s are going well over $100. I’ve seen some over $200. Not that anyone wants to spend that much, but I’m sure around year 2020, any tuos pre-2005 are likely to get fairly pricey, most of these teas will be consumed and gone by then. This makes the $21 now seem like a decent price if you want add one to your collection.

As for my sister, I think the younger tea is better for her, once the green is aged out a few more years. A puerh lover will prefer the 2004 every time, but someone with my sister’s health issues might need a less intense brew. So, I think my $30 investment now will pay off in a few years when I can give her some pleasant and clean tuos that she can easily separate and brew without distress.  But I might pick up one of those aged and goopy 2004s for myself.


  1. I know this would sound like heresy for a pu head but I think your sister deserves a nice wuyi. :) Very intersting post. :)

    1. Not at all, I send her a bit of oolong and other teas. I have a bit of wuyi but I don't have any that aren't young or rested.

  2. Thanks again for a very pleasant read. Shou-pu in the summer can be torturous for yang-types like myself. I'm a fan of boiling hei cha and drinking it out of larger yunomi-like cups, but I haven't yet tried boiling used shou leaves. Sounds delightful!