; Cwyn's Death By Tea: August 2021 ;

Sunday, August 15, 2021

2020 Chen Sheng Hao Naka

Chen Sheng Hao sampler box

I have had a bit of a break on my blog here, mainly due weather. We have had a very hot and humid summer this year, living on the edge of the western heat domes plaguing the nation. In the north where I live, houses are built to hold in heat in frigid winter which is misery in a hot summer. My AC is barely tolerable, and drinking hot tea late in the day holds little appeal. I continue to enjoy my a.m. tea, but by midday I am quickly turning to iced beverages to keep cool. Finally we have a few days break in the heat and humidity so I can get in a nice evening session without feeling like I am dying from overheating. 

The blue bags are blends,
the brown are single-origin teas.

Thank god because I have been looking at my tasty new sampler teas from Chen Sheng Hao with some anticipation all month. I could not resist getting this sampler set. For one, just the box alone is tea Disney for me. I know fancy packaging is ubiquitous factory fare in China, but ordering anything in this kind of packaging direct from China is just asking for crushed boxes. Most of my tea orders arrive from China all accordion-pleated. Once, I ordered some Dayi shou cakes in a metal tin, and the tin arrived crushed even with the whole box wrapped in layers of bubble wrap. That tin was so smashed one of the bottom corners split open. So when I opened my CSH sampler box shipped from the new Vancouver warehouse, I felt like I'd ordered a perfume bottle from Saks Fifth Avenue. The presentation is just gorgeous. 

Naturally I am starting with the 2020 Naka because over the years I have covered some Naka teas in this blog, and want to see how this tea compares. The sampler packets contain 7-9g of tea, and this Naka sample weighed 8g. I can see right away this is the small leaf Naka varietal, the real local varietal and not imported plantation tea. Chen Sheng Hao signed a "cooperation agreement" with Naka village in 2012, and first produced their 357g label beengcha starting in spring 2013. You can buy 2013-2021 vintages from the Canadian website, which means they moved a lot of tonnage to this location. I note that years 2020 and 2021 are 250g teas pressed into a square shape. If you want a 357g round beeng, you will need to buy 2019 or older. The 2020 square costs $73 currently, and the 2021 is $68.

CSH Naka area factory
photo cspuerh.com

A few years back LiquidProust organized a Naka sampler tasting on Steepster featuring CSH Naka teas from a range of years. Quite a few people participated in that opportunity, but few posted any notes on how they liked the teas. That is rather regrettable because we could have a real catalog of notes to help with choosing teas from this new Canada warehouse, but we have nothing to go by really. I have some blended CSH tea samples in my stash that I didn't think are particularly wonderful, but they also have storage issues. 

I brewed my entire sample in a porcelain gaiwan as I always do when testing a tea. The tea is completely separated with no chunks, it's all loose tea. Brewing loose tea like this affects how the session brews, so steep 1 the tea is already presenting strongly rather than slowly loosening up. 

The tea hits the tongue with strong bitterness and very quick huigan, and more fruity than floral. The wet leaf smells like cantaloupe rinds left to sit out in the heat. Bit of a dark whiskey undertone, but no smokiness and very little char in the strainer. Processing is top notch, I am not seeing any oxidation nor oolonged sweetening. 

Steep 2

Five steeps in the tea hits with eyeball and face numbing. Clearly I have been off the sauce for a few weeks now. My fall from the wagon probably makes me love this tea more than I probably should, I really enjoy the hot heavy fumes in my throat and stomach. There is a reason I love puerh tea, at its best I feel like I am drinking a toddy rather than tea. So I might be a tad over-enthused, but this Naka is very clean and the processing is less..shall we say...traditional. It lacks the wood smoke processing notes my older Naka teas have, and none of the tobacco-ish finish. One of my Naka teas is of course bamboo-pressed, so I have a really traditional one. White2tea's older 05 Naka has all that traditional wood processing, but the body effects are so nice one can overlook that. But Chen Sheng Hao is a premium factory charging premium prices, and so I am glad to see the processing is at least up to scratch.

Steep 5

Overall the tea is quite peach fruity with a slight floral note and a touch of hard liquor and vanilla. Very tongue coating and bitter. After steep 6 I got hit with a strong astringent mouth reaction, and a glass of water did not dispel a squeaky-clean tongue sensation. My face-numbing dispelled after about 15 minutes. Most of the action was over by steep 8. At this point I was brewing at about a minute per steep, but the leaves started to get a little bit overcooked and stewed. The gaiwan smelled a bit compost-y like old fruit peels. My 8th cup still retained some bitterness and the tea can clearly brew longer. With loose leaf like this it just won't have much left in terms of flavor. 

I really like this tea for $0.30/g, and anyone enjoying fresh sheng or looking for something to hold might enjoy this single-origin Naka. You can keep your forum '"factory" creds rather than fessing up to buying something boo-teek, but this is every bit as good as boutique, if lacking somewhat in leaf quality. I see some buds in here, however the tea is mainly chopped with a bit more stems than a boutique tea offers. But really all of the Naka small leaf quality is in here and it matches the price quite nicely. 

More important to me is what Chen Sheng Hao is offering us who live in North America. I am not going to quibble over anything when we have the ability to order small leaf Naka, or any of the other teas this company is selling. I don't care what the price is, whether it's this $73 2020, or an over $1000 beeng of Lao Ban Zhang. The important thing for me is that by opening this warehouse in Canada, we can be sure that China is taking sheng customers in North America seriously. We are no longer a potential market for dumping excess summer shou tonnage. Chen Sheng Hao is one of the premium factories, one of the best really. 

I do wonder if there is any other motivation for the company to move this amount of tea to North America, whether costs of storage are part of the issue, or maybe drier storage. Because it seems to me that although we have a decent sheng market here, I am not sure we have the market for the $1000 beengcha and $6000 tongs. Their market is really in Asia for these prices. Even if we did do this kind of buying, servicing our market here would not require a full range of Naka vintages, the last year or two would do nicely. That's why I wonder about the storage issue, because we know about the current preference in Asia for drier stored tea. Apart from storage I can't think why else CSH would move years of tea vintages over here only to ship them back to Asian customers. Unless warehouse storage is just so much less expensive here, but I cannot entirely believe that when the company has every capacity to build a warehouse anywhere in China. Maybe I am missing some essential knowledge here and somebody else knows more. 

What is important to me is that really for the first time we have the opportunity to buy factory tea direct without any Taobao nonsense and no middleman. I am not sure the prices are any better, but I appreciate that Chen Sheng Hao is here. I am glad to access premium factory teas, new and aged, without needing to order from China and getting a mashed box and agent fees. I don't have to worry I am getting fake tea. This is a long time coming, when you think of the 20 years or more we have waited to buy anything direct in our locale other than shou bricks at a local Chinese food market.