Recently I received an incredibly generous gift from a tea friend, a group of about ten huge samples of ChenYuan Hao puerh teas. I expected a couple of samples and got a haul that stunned me when I opened the package. So, this blog post begins a series on CYH teas that will likely take some months to complete. I plan to intersperse reviews of these teas in with other posts so they don’t get too monotonous for readers.
ChenYuan Hao (CYH) teas are super-premium grade puerh teas made by a Taiwanese group. You can buy them online from a Malaysian company TeaPals. CYH has been around for more than a decade and the quality of their teas has increased steadily during that time. My last opportunity to try a CYH tea consisted of a fairly dried out and powder-y swap sample that didn’t impress me much. The teas are a whole ‘nuther experience now, and you’re darn right I will get out my very best tea ware to enjoy this tea, as my friend will surely want me to do.
This CYH Mansong Yibang was reviewed by James at TeaDB in October 2015, not long after pressing. It comes in cake form and tins of loose leaf were available in limited quantity. The cake is sold out now. The final price listed at TeaPals for this tea was 4800 MYR, or $1005-1173 depending on the conversion calculator you use. That’s right, $1005.00 for one cake, 357g. I quadruple-checked it because I could not believe what I saw in the calculator. This is a sale price, for the original retail price was 6500 MYR or about $1400, and around $3 per gram. Malaysian Ringgit currency fluctuates against the dollar quite a bit, the price I’m quoting you here is actually about $70 less for the full cake than it was a few days ago. A sample size tin of 70-80g cost $246 and is long gone. Perhaps politics are adding some volatility to currencies lately. I’ll get into more of the painful price later on.
|Sample divided into two sessions|
This CYH tea has one of the most impressive aroma profiles I have ever experienced. The tea in the drinking cup and in the fragrance cup smells like gardenia, what is sometimes referred to as “orchid” and rather like grandma’s bath powder. After using the fragrance cup, I allowed some tea to dry out within it, and kept it near my bed for several days. Exhaling slightly into the dried fragrance cup completely revives the aroma, so I can enjoy it day after day. I feel like my friend gave me a bouquet of flowers, and am humbled at the beauty of this singular olfactory experience.
|Tea ware worthy of the tea|
This tea is about eighteen months post-pressing, and of course is very young. The leaves and buds are on the small side and some buds are barely developed. The soup is golden with a ring of pink around the edges, a mark of quality, starts out a bit thin. However, the bubbles don’t pop which suggests this tea will thicken up with more aging.
|I managed to capture the unique color of the brew,|
a tinge of pink in the first few cups.
This tea is not terribly bitter, with notes of the flowers and fruit, honey and incense. The best of the aroma and floral lasts about eight steepings. Then the tea flavor mainly fades into honey notes, with the touch of char still present. These leaves are extremely durable for as small as they are, like leather, and they continue to give tea well past a dozen steeps. At that point the flavor is productive with some astringency, but the tea develops concerning sourness in the brew. The foggy tea “high” is still present but muted. I could have continued steeping past fifteen steeps, but the flavor continues to present a sourness that needs to change over.
Overall the first 8-10 steeps are glorious. I definitely get the experience of a superior tea and the leaf quality and durability are obvious. This tea is wonderful to drink now for the incredible fruity florals. Later down the decades the floral will probably decline, and the medicine and leather profile will develop more. The tea will require a warm and humid climate to develop properly which presents the question of whether I can provide such a climate, if I owned a cake. The sourness at the back end of the session, when the tea could provide so much more yet, poses a concern. One cannot blame storage conditions at this young stage, but storage will be crucial to move that sour along.
Realistically this cake needs serious babysitting to age properly. My friend’s tea arrived in a slightly humid-smelling box, so I’m not worried about his storage conditions. I can probably service a couple of tongs of tea like this, but any more and I would need a major vault setup for storage. Otherwise, the tea is going to suffer from my dry climate and end up forever sour. The leaves are tough and require heat and humidity to break down. Teapals is located in Malaysia which is ideal for aging, but for tea this young it hardly matters where the retail selling point is. Teapals could make more money storing half their stock for ten years to benefit from the climate, and then sell it to people in climates like mine. But of course they have plenty of buyers at the outset. I’m at the point of seriously considering a warehouse in Malaysia. Anyone else in?
Now we are back to price. I need to clarify that this tea is not similar to teas like The Treachery of Storytelling. The region is completely different. Treachery consists of large leaves probably of northern origins. One cannot really compare these teas aesthetically because of the difference in the leaf growth style. In price, this CYH Mansong Yibang is three times as expensive as Treachery. One cannot really ask: “Are we getting 3x better tea?” Some might debate storage, whether teas like CYH store better in the long run, but the truth is we really don’t know that yet.
Still, I feel more comfortable with this tea in the $500-700 range. If it truly cost $500-ish as James mentioned in his review over a year ago, that would be a steal. But then with tea at this level, the people who can afford it will not consider a $300 price difference as terribly significant. If $300 differences in puerh cake cost is significant to you, then this tea is out of your price range. It’s out of my price range.
Along with paying this price tag, I have to think about how to drink this, because with this tier a cake is indeed just a sample. I would want to drink it young to experience the florals at different stages.
Then I would want to drink it aged too. But a 357g beeng will likely get drunk up in seven years. A person really needs a minimum of two cakes and ideally an unbroken tong plus one taster cake. This is about $6000 in investment tea. I also need to know I can provide the proper storage. One big advantage of this tea over the currently available YQH is that this CYH tea is not yet overstored, there is no wet storage killing off some of the character, and not so much char needing that masking wet storage.
I could, of course, consider buying a sample tin next year. But a tin sets me back $300 just to drink this as “young” tea only. If all I want is a tea high, I can find that for less. It’s the difference between buying a whiskey already in the bottle and buying the whiskey still in the barrel. Or buying into wine before the grapes are picked. This tea really is best purchased by the tong. Or maybe two tongs in case you get divorced, because splitting a tong in court is a painful consideration. Two tongs cost the same as a car, and you can’t split a car either. If I lived in a city where I don’t need a car, buying two tongs is a good idea for a married couple, along with a clear pre-nup.
People talk about selling tea later on in life, and most of the teas we can buy online are not the kind that you can expect to sell well above market value. Teas like CYH or YQH are teas that you can invest in and probably sell for more down the road, assuming you can find collectors who will double your money and pay $24,000 for two tongs. That’s a big if. A better guarantee is buy the two tongs and forgo having children.