; Cwyn's Death By Tea: November 2021 ;

Monday, November 22, 2021

2020 Chen Sheng Hao Lao Ban Zhang

2020 CSH LBZ

Chen Sheng Hao is currently in the midst of their "Black Friday" sale which includes some good deals on samples and other teas in their collection. Until November 29, most samples are 20% off. The site is offering 10% off on teas older than 2019, excluding Lao Ban Zhang. Lao Ban Zhang is offered on sale for email subscribers at 5% off using promo code 5OFFBFCMLBZ. I had hoped to offer this review in time for the sale, but turns out the 2020 LBZ sample is not included in the 20% off sample sale, but appears to be included in the 5% off using the promo code. 

In the past week or so British Columbia has had record levels of flooding which has washed out roads and rail access to Vancouver where Chen Sheng Hao has a warehouse. I don't see any messages on the Chen Sheng Hao website indicating that shipping is affected by the flooding, but hard to imagine there are no snags if roads are under repair. Anyway, I think it's safe to suggest that if you plan to order from the Black Friday sale, expect some additional delay on top of what is already a busy shipping season. On the plus side, CSH does ship to Europe so order away if you can afford to wait. 

I bought this 2020 LBZ sample last summer when I ordered a box of samples and the box included another sample of this tea as well. As I have said before on my blog, just having the chance to buy these teas in the west is a wonderful opportunity we now have. Though I wonder if the flooding in Vancouver has got CSH thinking about heading back to China! I hope not. 

The 2020 LBZ purchased as a 357g beeng will set you back $932.00. The "short" of this type of pricing, if you are new to puerh, is mainly due to Lao Ban Zhang tea considered as the "best" puerh tea leaf. Chen Sheng Hao has a virtual monopoly on the location, so they can charge whatever they want. Market demand, collecting and other market behaviors are things we can discuss in endlessly long blog posts. There are people for whom $932 is less than they pay for a pair of sneakers. A tong costing $6207.00 is probably what a Chanel tweed bag will run you if you buy one of those every season. 

I don't think prices like these are part of any so-called puerh bubble. Lao Ban Zhang is fairly resistant to price falls because of the monopoly that CSH has on the tea, and how small the harvest is. I could say that "catastrophic market forces" might budge the price, but we are already in a catastrophic market situation with the pandemic and the prices have not moved at all, sale price aside. 

I think it's fairly safe to say that the vast majority of western puerh fanatics are not going in for the $932 beeng, at most these buyers are in for a 10g sample like mine at $38.30. In a way, this really impacts how to talk about a tea like this. If the vast majority of people reading this post are not customers at the $932 beeng level, any conclusions about the tea are completely binary. The question is simply whether or not the tea is "worth" $932 and the qualities the tea has are either stellar and worth that price point, or they are not and the discussion is no longer nuanced, it is done. For people who can afford this price range with little difficulty, a more nuanced discussion might affect a decision on purchasing this 2020 tea, maybe in tong form, instead of another purchase, such as maybe a 2020 Chen Yuan Hao upper end Yiwu in the same price range. This assumes that comparing "apples to apples" defines the apple by price only, without raising any question of whether this kind of pricing is appropriate at all. 

This question sort of bothers me, because from a purely puerh perspective I probably should have a nuanced discussion of a tea like this and leave it up to the reader to know whether they are a buyer at this price range or not. However I have a feeling that most people reading this are not a buyer, and the tea is going to be viewed in a simple fashion rather than a nuanced one. I think I can maybe do both sides a bit of justice and still keep it short. 

I brewed 5g in a Lin's porcelain teapot with one quick rinse. The first and second steepings show a remarkable color in the brew, it's that pinkish hue that you can find in some rare teas and that I have seen for example in Chen Yuan Hao's 2016 Mansa, and white2tea's 2016 Treachery of Story Telling. It's not easy to photograph but you can see it somewhat in the lower left corner of the cup. 

First steeping. The pinkish hue is more
evident in the lower left of the cup.

The first steeping looks somewhat watery yet is surprisingly bitter nevertheless. Subsequent steeps increase in bitterness, yet at the same time the tea is also sweet. The flavor notes are fruity, but also sweet like the smell of the white chocolate-coated pretzels my son was eating yesterday. The tea coats the mouth completely and instantly, and hangs up a bit on the throat, but I am not noticing long legs into the stomach. The caffeine and theanine levels are quite mild. The tea is overall very subtle. I did not get any feelings of intoxication or euphoria, just a pleasant mild warmth and a sweet aftertaste. 

Third steeping. Still a little pinkish.

Really this is excellent puerh tea, and the bitterness increases until about eight steepings, after which the flavor falls off quite sharply. I extended steep times to nearly a minute for steeps nine and ten. At no point did I really feel I was drinking too much tea, this is quite a gentle tea on the body despite the bitterness. I have found that higher quality teas, even when green, are often very gentle on the system. I didn't experience any gastrointestinal distress either, but I am mostly recovered from my recent medication fiasco so drinking puerh is easier for me now than a month ago. 

Looking at the spent tea, I see some chop and quite a few sticks in my sample. The leaves disintegrate when rubbed. The tea appears to be from younger tea trees. I would say the tea overall compares favorably with other teas in the same price range, such as from Chen Yuan Hao, and anyone who can afford these teas will want to purchase them over and above the gut-bomb, lower-end factory teas. I would take a session of this tea over really most factory teas I can think of, even though it's not the old-tree magic. 

At the same time, I do feel this level of quality is possible from western vendors, such as some of the offerings by white2tea, and even in the past from Bitterleaf and others. You are just going to pay more for the reputation offered by Chen Sheng Hao and Lao Ban Zhang and for many collectors this decision is easy. Most of us will not drink teas like this as a daily beverage and so look elsewhere for something more in our price range. It's worth the education, however, to give a sample of this tea a try if you can. Experienced puerh drinkers are likely to enjoy the session for the subtlety, if nothing else.