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Wednesday, July 5, 2017

2005 Autumn Guoyan Lao Ban Zhang

Fall 2005 Mengyang Guoyan LBZ
from Yunnan Sourcing US
A month or so ago Yunnan Sourcing offered a sale on Aged Puerh, a store category of tea that does not go on sale very often. With the addition of free fast shipping for purchases over $75 on the US site, I checked there first for any teas that might interest me. I found the 2005 Mengyang Guoyan Autumn “Lao Ban Zhang,” a 357g beengcha for $190 (regular price) that is not currently available on the China site. Steepster reviews for this tea are quite mixed, and I wondered how many of these reviews are based on a sample of the tea rather than the full cake. Certainly any tea review is worth perusing to get as much information as possible before purchasing any tea, and especially one hovering at the $200 range. Yet another review elsewhere swayed my decision to purchase this tea far more.

A puerh tea lover is fortunate when information on a tea is available on the Half-Dipper’s blog. While I very much enjoy Hobbes’ photos, poems and creative prose, I find more valuable still the careful notes made on each tea. With the 2005 Guoyan cake on my mind, I remembered the initial post of his Montana trip many years ago with the Americana kitsch photos, but not the painstaking effort of updates on this single tea. When I see nearly ten years of notated updates, dear tea friends, I am so moved and touched by this. How many of us take the time to check our teas, re-brew them and then make notes over the years? If a person loves the old monographs of the Royal Geographical Society, think about what a revelation it would be to view the old field notes from the explorers before they wrote the final monograph. Yet this is what we have in the Half-Dipper.

I must thank Mr. Hobbes for his gift of detailed note-taking to the puerh tea community. No one else is as dedicated to tea over time as this writer. And it was his years of notes and subsequent re-purchases of the 2005 tea in question that settled my decision to jump on it for a sale price. I’m fairly certain the Half-Dipper paid far, far less for the tea starting back in 2008 than I paid recently. Mengyang Guoyan was something of a budget tea at the time. But with today’s prices, I think Yunnan Sourcing is selling very low.

One must take care when purchasing a tea labeled Mengyang Guoyan Cha Chang  勐養國艷茶廠 and I suggest heading over to Babelcarp and acquiring all the possible Mengyang Guoyan spellings before you search on the net or on Taobao. Fakes abound, and this tea uses the second possible spelling used by the company, the one I have just above. I got very different results trying all the spellings on Taobao. I ask that if you look for this tea, please compare the wrappers carefully.

The wrapper itself is important in distinguishing this tea from possible faking. According to Yunnan Sourcing, the tea was made for a private sale to a Kunming dealer and was never sold by the factory publicly. Apparently, a spring tea version existed at one time. For all I know perhaps some will crop up. But I noticed a few things about this production on the wrapper.

First off, the wrapper is thin with no date stamp. The back had many crimp folds and a twist on mine, but that is not necessarily unique. Some key things to look for on this thin wrapper include the Te Ji red stamp, which must be located on the left side of the design, not located on the bottom nor anywhere else. Next, the tea leaf in the design must point between two specific characters on the top of the wrapper. Finally, there is what appears to be a hand drawn stylized character in green ink. This character does vary between cakes, and mine has some heavy ink on parts of lines which makes me conclude this is hand drawn, so it indeed may vary somewhat. But the presence of varied and uneven ink on the lines of the drawn character will distinguish it from a computer printing. Here is my photo again, and I drew in where to look.

Teji red stamp on left is key on this private production.
Also note the direction of the leaf and the possibly
hand drawn character on the left. 
Now view this example from Taobao. I reproduced one image, it is a small image but I think you can see the variances.


Any Mengyang Guoyan cake should at the very least have the leaf angled correctly, though details in wrappers from other years may vary.

I compared my cake with the one in the Yunnan Sourcing photo, and with Hobbes’ tea and concluded that all three are similar with the key marks mentioned above, but with slight differences in placement of the red stamp and slight differences in the hand drawn green character. Yet the Taobao cake I found for about $72 did not share the proper characteristics and had a red stamp on the bottom of the design. Also, the Taobao cake looks much less oily, and the tea itself on top and bottom appears less consistent though this might be arguable. Of course one wants to think we have the genuine goods. With Yunnan Sourcing, I do not question this very often, but of course we all want to know if we can get a good price.

Long, oily leaves.
This is a beautiful tea with long leaves and intact stems, and arrived to me with a floral vegetal nose and also a smell of cold water metal tap. I allowed it to sit a couple of weeks just to take advantage of the warm humid temps of summer where my teas are stored. I removed some leaves by hand as the side and top portions of the cake are looser due to time. I didn’t measure the grams brewed here because some leaves are so long, I doubt I can get exactly the same gram weight every time without breaking leaves or hunting about for smaller ones. Not worth it to break up leaves simply to satisfy a tea scale. I also needed to use a larger gaiwan to stuff those stems in after they hydrated.

Long leaves easy to carefully pry off by hand.
I threw away three rinses because the tea took time to open, and the initial nose is a bit of medicine, wood and the aforementioned cold metallic water. The brew is brown for at least eight steeps, the color of drier storage. The leaves are oily looking, and the brew has decent thickness but not as much as Yiwu tea. Early steeps have some bitterness, but also a complex array of flavors. This tea is far more complex than most teas I have had for awhile, and the complexity got me to fall in love with it. I tasted early on in the session some deep spices, like mincemeat, in addition to a bit of medicine/incense, honey nectar, wood and floral flavors. The cup retained a lovely floral scent after each brew.

Two leaves and one bud tea.
This tea has big yun in the throat and a large presence in the stomach, while dancing around the mouth in a lively way. After four cups of about 100 ml or so I stopped for a bit to assess its effect. I got really tea stoned behind my eyeballs which turned foggy like I used to get with some types of weed. Also, the tea is rather astringent after about a half hour in the tea stoned state. My eyeballs and mouth dried out and I needed water. Then of course I started in with the tea drunk emails, and sent one to Scott Wilson saying “you under-price your teas, why do you do that?” Really, the man is insane.

He said, “Not sure you are referring to all my teas…”

I tipsily replied, “Yes I’m referring to all your teas.”

I have had at least five cakes recently that I thought were under-priced. Easily that means his other ten thousand teas are under-priced too. Or so I thought while under the influence, a time when statistical concepts like large representative samples and random sampling etc. mean shite. Truth is happily much more relative when tea drunk than at any other time. (I swear I am committed to conservative objective truth and go to bed with Hume every single night when not drinking.) Mr. Yunnan Sourcing said something along the lines that he tries to keep his prices as low as possible because he is aware his loyal buyers are the ones who keep his unique business afloat, etc. etc. Remarkable that the man continues to politely and rationally reply year after year to tea- inebriated people like me.

Early light steep.
After eight steeps I start getting a taste of nuts, real objective nuts and not just crazy nuts. More like walnuts or filberts. Nuts combined with wood and honey. The tea has a little bit of char which accounts for the medicine flavor in the first few steeps. Recently someone asked me what char looks like, so here is a photo of my strainer.

Check your strainer for char bits on any tea.
This one has a few black specks, not many.
Char should go away after a steep or two and one can get rid of it almost entirely by breaking up a tea into a jar. The char will mostly flake off during the process, and any remaining will fall to the bottom of the jar eventually. This will mostly prevent the flavor from affecting a young tea as it ages, but over time the worked in smoke will affect the tea. Many people do not find this unpleasant. I find it unpleasant when overdone, but that is not the case here.

The tea settles into a peppery floral honey after about eight steeps, and benefits from several hours rest every two steepings or so. Many aged teas are like this, they seem to fade but then with a few hours rest, or even overnight, they have quite a bit more to give. I’m still holding those 1960s leaves that are mostly steeped out from a session two years ago. Every six months I fire up the kettle and give those leaves a couple more steeps to squeak out a bit more tea brew. Even when faint, I can taste the flavor of the old tea. Then I dry them out again and let them rest for another six months. Not every day will I get an old tea like that to brew out. One reason some old teas may rest and give is because the leaves are very sturdy and get a bit leathery, more like tree bark. As a good puerh ages, the juices go and leave behind a concentrate and very firm material, so unless you want to boil out the leaves in a pan in one go, they can continue to leech flavor for some time.

Exceptional quality of the two leaf-one bud picking.
Astringency continues in subsequent steeps the following day as well, something that may or may not appeal to you. Of course I take drying meds and that may affect me even late in the day. I also got hot flashes, something I had much of five years ago and not so much recently. Either it is a woman’s thing or maybe a heart issue, or just related to hot tea in summer weather.

Of course the tea is still plenty olive green because of the dry storage and I am not sure that years ago I would have liked this tea as much as I do now. The slow storage has preserved the main qualities in the taste, so I can really appreciate what good dry storage does. The tea is much more comfortable than it probably was some years ago, and the deeper spicy autumn flavors are coming to the foreground without loss of the higher notes. 

Steep twelve. Still darker than the early steep above.
Tea stoned and sweating, my foggy tea stoned eyeballs still evident to me after ten steeps, although I must admit to steeping longer, more like thirty seconds. Some slight sour around steeps 9-11, that middle storage sour of a dry session which usually gives way to sweet syrup later. How long you want to go on this tea is probably up to you, at steep twelve I let it sit 45 seconds and was rewarded with a bitter and astringent brew rather than the sweeter brew of a short steeping.

Steep 13, not gonna toss this yet!
I paid $171 for this with the sale on at Yunnan Sourcing. I can see why the Half-Dipper bought several of these and carefully watches them. I’m sure the tea retailed for much less years ago, but I can think of other places where this tea might cost more like $225-300 at this point. But this Guoyan costs much less than even the price for YS 2006 Autumn LBZ and the 2009 Spring which have received much attention on tea chat forums. The days of finding any LBZ for under $200, or even large intact two-leaf/one bud teas of any region pre-2006 are at an end. This tea might be one of the last. 



12 comments:

  1. Judge not lest ye be judged, so sayeth the tea drunks of the world. You know I bought a bamboo cage of 12 tongs (30kg) of this tea in 2007 and then carried it on my back home from the tea market. About 1.5 kilometers and 5 flights of stairs. It cost me a pretty penny and I was not about to let someone else deliver it. I once had a case of very expensive tea stolen by a taxi. I had one case in the trunk and another case in the front seat. I got out to get the one in the front seat, took it out, closed the front door and he sped off with the other case in the back. 9000 RMB of tea. I was beside myself with rage!!!

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    1. Are you saying my judgement was impaired?

      The price back then...well, that's like nothing compared to what you probably pay nowadays for many teas? And you still carry 12 tongs on your back too! Or is my judgement still impaired? ;)

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    2. At the time (10 years ago) 9000 RMB was an insane amount of money for a case of tea, but it was a 2002 Lancang Gu Cha production. There is an older woman who works the tea market circuit and makes our deliveries with her mianbaoche (chinese minivan) who (although being a terrible) driver is totally trustworthy. I made the mistake of letting her drive me to the airport once. Of course your judgement is impaired and so is mine, that's part of the deal. Lose touch with one reality to make gains in another.

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  2. Fun fact: I purchased this tea for $46 eight years ago. Yes, the prices on tea increases pretty much (but not as much in this particular one as, for example Xi Zhi Hao teas, so it's still a bargain)

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    1. I think I saw $48 somewhere too, maybe a later Half-Dipper post. I bet you are glad to have it now :)

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  3. Wow is Wisconsinites must think alike...I as well took advantage of Scott's afformentioned sale and picked up a cake of this. Agree that Hobbes and other blogs were huge in giving me the confidence to pull the trigger. Very happy I did! Thanks for keeping your prices low Scott! No way a broke college student(and tea Addict) like me would've been able to enjoy amazingly high quality tea on a regular basis if not for u!!

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    1. Cheers for a comfortable winter to look forward to...now if it would only stop raining!

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    2. Welcome... that's my mission. So... mission accomplished!

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  4. The tea is now sold out on Yunnan Sourcing. Any of you with stored cakes to sell are now in a good position.

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    1. Wow...the blogger effect is real! So happy I picked one up when I did.

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    2. I think there were only a dozen or so of these available.

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