; Cwyn's Death By Tea: 1998 CNNP Green Stamp "Whatever 98" ;

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Sunday, June 4, 2017

1998 CNNP Green Stamp "Whatever 98"

Finally my tax refund shows up and like a horse wrangler after a dry, two week drive I head to the puerh bar and start buying rounds, with no intention on stopping until I fall the floor or lose it all in a hand of poker. First in from the mails is this CNNP “Whatever 1998” 357g beeng that I just had to have for some reason. I think what got me is the idea that Bitterleaf’s Jonah Snyder pried it out of the sticky fingers of a so-called “eccentric” collector in the Kunming area. I figure whatever it is that Bitterleaf dug up in Kunming, it will be dry at the very least. After that, nobody knows what this tea might be. We can always assume the worst and wait for any pleasant surprise.

Outer wrapper provided by Bitterleaf for protection.
Here is a scenario I can believe. Some puerh collector buys a few tongs of CNNP back in the day for a couple of dollars a cake. Fast forward nearly twenty years, an American guy shows up and offers $100 a cake, so maybe $700/tong. The collector sells a jian and suddenly has a cool fat wallet of nearly $3000 and laughs his way off to buy a nice used car, or tickets to Disney World. Haven’t we heard these stories before? So then Bitterleaf  turns around and sells for $200/beeng. But I don’t know what they paid the eccentric collector, I am just making up numbers.

Inside is the original wrapper, with a few welcome bug bites.
Not much of a clue to origins with this kind of wrapper.
Sometimes these teas got a "whatever" wrapper back in the day.
In short, this tea does not really line up with my experience of CNNP teas from the early ‘oughts. Plenty of Green Stamp teas around, but the others I have had are wet-stored, vastly different in character and much weaker than this tea. Overall it lacks the balance and smoothness that the recipe teas like 7542 would have at this point. On the plus side, the storage is dry and genuinely aged, the browning on this tea with absolutely no wet notes cannot be faked. The tea is more similar to late 1990s CNNP brick teas with the bitter start and sour middle, but the leaves are larger and more intact, suggesting a spring/summer mix, maybe more summer than spring and definitely Menghai origins.

I struggled with lighting to capture the leaves without the neifei looking
whiter than it actually is in person. The details are important, and
the neifei is a bit darker than this to the naked eye.
This is one powerful tea that requires wrangling and wrestling, and is definitely a cowboy tea, not one for the gentle teahouse types. The tea takes many brews to get to the actual leaves, and the tea has more strength than I’m used to from generic CNNPs. I spent a week drinking this tea, and did two sessions for 15+ steeps each, one in a porcelain gaiwan and one in clay. I don’t normally need to take many notes on a tea, simply because there isn’t a whole lot to write that I can’t keep in my head, but I took a lot of notes this time because I needed to, and because I feel certain most puerh drinkers would want more and the tea deserves some attention.

Dry Tea

Because the CNNP wrapper is thin and somewhat fragile, Bitterleaf Teas has added a heavy paper wrapper over the original and also a padded envelope packaging on top of all that. The CNNP wrapper shows a few bug bites, and the reverse side has no date stamp. The cake is uniformly brown with no odors except for perhaps a metallic smell, like a cold metal faucet, but not graphite as in wet teas. Leaves are on the larger side with some buds and a bit of huangpian. The mix has the occasional flavorless dark leaf, but not enough to concern me, and I scraped the dark leaves and found one that showed green in it, maybe just some old tea got added in to this cake.

A beenghole cannot hide what's in it.
The storage here is absolutely dry, but without loss due to dryness. No wet whatsoever here, and early steepings had a hint of florals. I really must congratulate Mr. Eccentric on his storage conditions; if it’s dry then you cannot do better than he has. One cannot fake this kind of brown and I can vouch for 14+ years on this tea. This is a very conservative estimate on my part of at least 2003, and I might believe older too. Again, the brown cannot be faked. Most CNNP teas you see still floating around are wet stored which makes dating very tough, and so this tea is a welcome cake that hides nothing.

Porcelain Session

First steep 8 grams/120ml porcelain gaiwan.

Leaves pry easily from cake, leaves on a chunk come apart with fingers. Smells of dry storage, wood, slight mushroom, some floral. No wet odors on my cake whatsoever. No medicine smells or flavors. Two rinses, and then taste/tossed first steep as it was a bit light.

Steeps 3-7 quite bitter, mouth coating type bitter, full yun in throat. On a Bitter scale of 1-10 with 10 being scalp-lifting, mouth punishing bitterness, such as Wilson’s 2008 Haiwan LBZ; white2tea’s New Amerykah more like 8-9, this CNNP tea is currently a 6 or so. This tea must have been undrinkable when young. These steeps 3-7 are still a little tough to drink with fairly bitter profile, and very mouth drying. The brew is orange with red brown starting, but plenty left to go. Viscosity is fairly decent, thick and oily going through the strainer. I really don’t see any char here in my strainer.

Around steep 10, storage off.
I poured an aroma cup on steep 3 and smelled nice floral nectar/honey lingering after I poured out the tea. The florals are not so noticeable in a drinking cup, I needed a tall narrow aroma cup to smell it at the bottom. Some humidity into this tea might open up the florals more, but too much might kill them too. A tiny bit of mushroom, but no Chinese medicine or incense, and no smokiness, just bitter wood, like peeling a sumac branch and chewing on the green wood beneath. Huigan is very slow, the bitterness seems to coat my mouth for more than an hour with hints of sweetness trying to come through.

Some qi after the first few cups, very light face melt and a bit in the spine but this isn’t a qi heavy tea. I personally do not feel this has terribly high caffeine either, maybe when younger but I hardly break a sweat and do not feel jittery myself. In fact, I could use a shot of caffeine because I decide to take a nap, not from the tea itself but because the tea isn’t keeping me awake.

Another note is dusty dirt, like a dirt road smell in early steepings and what seems like dusty dirt in the bottom of the cup. This comes through my very fine strainer and sinks to the bottom of the cup. I consider this an environmental addition I taste in long-stored teas. A person cannot put something away for fifteen years without it taking on at least some dusty dirt. Any tea in a closet will have a bit of this.

A bit of dusty dirt  at the bottom of early steeps that I poured into a tiny cup.
Steeps 7-10 after my nap, the bitterness is a bit less though still astringent, and I notice the dry storage sour in these steeps. With the bitterness fading and the storage not yet entirely off, my tongue has room to taste the sour dry ferment more. Leaves at steep 7 show some greener bits emerging. I get some stone fruit, but really nothing like hay, the tea has gone from hay to wood at this stage in its life.

Some of the leaves around steep 7. The leaves start off brown
and with continued steeping they show the green over time.
This tea is slow to open.
Some summer tea in here might also account for the bitterness and astringency. Leaves do not come apart with finger rubbing. At this point I decide I need to try this tea in clay to see how it performs. I feel tempted to toss the session at this point and start over in clay, but then having got through those early bitter and then sour steeps, I want to keep going and see what happens.

Steepings 10 and 11, I finally feel like I have the storage off, the bitterness is fading and the sour too, the reddish brew now turning more orange yellow. I get some incense, Chinese medicine but very faint. More spicy bass notes, peppery or grated woody spices

Day 3 on steep 12, what a shock and a surprise to resume the tea today and be greeted with a nectar honey of a cup. All that bitterness and the sour storage ferment punished me for two days just to get to this. I wouldn’t even recognize this tea had I not been drinking it all along. Maple syrup in oak, minerals like ice water melt. Right now I’m steeping about 30 seconds or a bit more simply to keep the thick viscosity as consistent as I can from steep to steep. Still rather drying in the mouth. Transferred the tea to a larger gaiwan as the leaves outgrew my 120 ml size.

This tea is like a bull in a ring that must be worn down through many steepings to finally get close to it. I realize how many tame and easy teas I’ve been drinking lately, mainly due to going easy with the stomach on medications. I have tried to stick to either gentle new teas or wetter stored teas, obviously reclining in a comfy, sleepy sofa with my tea sessions over the past few months. Now I am back on the hard bench with an order to sit up straight and stick out my knuckles. I went through some punishment in those early steepings and finally hit the pay day.

Most puerh teas will need 7-8 steepings just to get the storage off and begin to taste the actual tea. You really cannot judge cups 1, 2, 3 etc. of a semi-aged tea for much except for the storage and few early top notes. A puerh head will wait until after steep 8, and this tea is such a strong bitch it took 10 steeps to take off all those layers and get to the nectar beneath. But oh, she is so nice just now. She finally sits her arse down and lets me taste the innards. The brew is more yellow, the reddish orange is gone. Here’s where I’m finally down to the actual tea. Now ideally when this tea is completely aged, the early cups will have much more honey sweetness. The level of bitterness is what’s left to convert, and a good dose of humidity might move this along nicely.

I go fifteen steeps altogether and then I take a photo of the leaves. The leaves are plushy; they bounce in punishing boiling water like lily pads, without shredding in the waves from a gaiwan lid like insipid seaweed. I chewed the darker leaf bits to make sure they are not shou, they are flavorless and a bit like dried leather. Maybe some older tea got added.

Leaves at steep 15, quite a difference from the earlier photo above.
Some thick sticks amidst the leaves.
I am at about 40 seconds per steeping when I decide to start over with clay. The tea is now lighter and consistently sweet with not much else to taste. With a few longer steepings I could get 18-20 out of this tea. It might stretch for more brews down the line a few years when the remaining bitterness converts, but the main brews are done for now.

Clay Session

8g in 90s Yixing

Oh god, I’m starting over now. I really had to take that ibuprofen, should I dare put this tea in that medicated stomach? I need to beg the clay teapot for mercy. Need full-ish stomach as a buffer.

Rinsed twice, first seven steepings seem less bitter than the porcelain session, even though I am using the same parameters. The sourness is still there too, but muted somewhat. The downside to clay is I am missing the floral notes, the price to pay for muting of the more challenging flavors. I also had to deal with the Yixing clogging. Of course it’s normal to need a toothpick with a single-hole Yixing, but when dealing with a rather bitter tea I need to keep the steepings short, a problem when the spout clogs during a pour.

Yixing session, steep 6, a bit reddish early on that fades to yellow.
Overall the brew is much more balanced but mainly in tempering the bitterness and dry storage. I prefer the Yixing session purely for drinking purposes, but really if I am checking on the progress of a tea, I need the porcelain which will not hide anything, when clay adds a uniformity to the steepings across the session. However, the Yixing makes the tea more satisfying to drink, if a person wants to drink this tea now rather than waiting a few more years.

Photo from my Yixing session.
One of the old brown tea leaves found here and there in the mix.
They don't change much, and have a bit of a leather flavor when chewed.
Fifteen plus steepings is certainly respectable, and I figure that if this tea is treated correctly in storage, it may have even more to give someday.

Storage

The long session shows that although the tea starts out rather brown, beneath all that is still some green tea. Because of the dry but not overwhelmingly dry storage, I am very pleased with the condition of this tea. My hat is off to Mr. Eccentric Collector, he can have my phone number and Tindr link. This dry storage cannot be faked, and the tea has a semi-aged flavor. I wish the tea cost more in the $150 range, but this is a bit unfair when most CNNP teas available now are either wet stored or lack the longevity in the tea pot. I cannot blame Bitterleaf for recognizing they have a find here for those drinkers who want some power in an aged tea and drier storage too.

Now that the tea is in my hands, I plan to give it the summer’s heat and humidity here. When the summer is over, I will wrap the tea in plastic for the dry winter. I do not use plastic with any of my teas, save one cake which is wrapper-less and arrived in plastic, a cake I have saved intact with the plastic merely as an example.

I am concerned about retaining what remains of the top floral notes. The strong bitterness of the tea recommends it for a more humid climate, but the risk is losing those faint top notes in exchange for trying to push the bitterness along. The cake is worth the babysitting. Not many CNNP teas of this strength and dry storage left to buy these days. I think a name like "Whatever 98" is certainly appropriate because we just do not know much about the origins here. Yet I will look forward to tasting this again over the summer and again in the fall. What a pleasure this tea is!




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