Friday, March 7, 2014

A question about the 1999 '7542' Neifei

1999 '7542' CNNP/Menghai cake
1999 '7542' CNNP/Menghai Neifei
A reader asks a good question about the Neifei of my 1999 '7542' cake: It mentions the name of the China National Native Produce (CNNP) Corporation Yunnan Province Tea Branch. But it doesn't mention the Menghai Tea Factory as producer, as it does on the 1988 '8582' cake I showed earlier this week. So, is it evidence that this cake is fake?

This is a very legitimate concern when it comes to any famous or popular puerh. Imitations and forgeries are numerous, especially when it comes to older puerhs that can sell at high prices.

The paper that accompanies a puerh can be used to spot inconsistencies between a real and a fake puerh, provided the forger made a mistake. But it isn't sufficient evidence to prove that a cake is genuine, since paper (wrapper, neifei and neipiao) are actually easy to imitate.

So, why doesn't this 1999 Neifei mention Menghai Factory as it would have in the 80s? Then, in the 1980s, the CNNP still had a monopoly on all food products in China. Menghai factory belonged to the CNNP, which belonged to the state. The relationship was transparent as there was not conflict of interest.

It started to become more complicated during the transition period to full privatization and market liberalization. Menghai was privatized in 1996, the CNNP lost its selling monopoly in 1999 and private puerh factories emerged around 2002. As an independent firm, Menghai Factory couldn't use the CNNP brand/logo and used the DaYi brand it had developed. However, during these transition years, the CNNP was still an active seller and still had customers who ordered the same products as from the past. So, the CNNP would place an order to the factory who would best do the job. And in 1999, the only factory who had the skill and the facility to produce a good 7542 was Menghai Factory. But then, for obvious branding reasons, the CNNP would request a new Neifei that only emphasized their name.
1988 '8582' Menghai Neifei
1999 '7542' CNNP/Menghai leaves
This is the reason why there were still CNNP wrapped 7542 puerh cakes made in 1999 (along those sold under the Dayi brand). And they were made by Menghai, even though the Neifei didn't indicate it anymore.

The Neifei is therefore consistent with puerh history, but this still doesn't prove anything! Paper is easy to forge, but tea quality isn't. Old 7542s are mostly popular for their great taste and aging potential. So, the best way to check if it's real is to examine the cake and evaluate if it looks like it should look like. And then to taste it and evaluate if it tastes like a 7542 should taste.
1999 '7542' Chaxi
The 7542 recipe emphasizes smaller size leaves (than the 8582, for instance), so it's no mistake that we should see so many buds. The color of these buds is the best indicator to estimate the age of the leaves. They darken very slowly.

This large amount of buds and smaller leaves also impacts the aromas of the tea. It should be on a rather high and fresh note. The taste won't feel as thick and full body as a 8582, but still have a very long aftertaste. And, very important, the taste should feel very clean and comfortable. You should easily feel it's an above average puerh.
1999 '7542' brew

Thursday, March 6, 2014

L'infusion sèche

Je connaissais l'infusion à froid (leng pao), mais je découvre aujourd'hui l'expression d'infusion sans eau (gan pao)! C'est un concept qui peut s'avérer très utile dans certaines circonstances.

Je vous sens un peu perdu. Prenons un exemple: Vous recevez un jour de la visite d'une vague connaissance pour laquelle vous n'avez pas d'affinités particulières. En hôte poli, vous proposez de déguster un thé ensemble et lui demandez d'en choisir un. Vous lui montrez votre armoir à thé et, malheur, il désigne le thé le plus ancien et rare de votre collection. En plus, on dirait qu'il s'y connait et sait que ce thé est l'équivalent d'un 1er grand cru classé.

Ce thé, vous avez envie de le partager avec un de vos meilleurs amis ou bien pour marquer un moment fort de votre vie. Mais là, vous avez surtout l'impression qu'on veut abuser de votre générosité. Une demande si déplacée vous met dans l'embarras. Eh bien, pour sortir de cette mauvaise passe, vous pouvez lui répondre: "Avec ce thé, je te propose ce que les Chinois appellent une infusion sèche: je vais te laisser sentir tous les arômes de ses feuilles sèches! Tu verras, ses odeurs sont à la fois boisées et minérales. Un délice! Rien que ces odeurs provoquent déjà une réaction salivaire dans la bouche!"

Ainsi, vous avez tenu parole et gardé ces feuilles pour un jour meilleur!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

5 things Oolongs are most afraid of

Spring 2011 Hung Shui Oolong
1. Bad storage.

Tea changes easily and quickly absorbs smells from its surroundings. That's why it needs to be protected from foreign scents that could corrupt its natural fragrances. Don't store tea in the kitchen among all your spices. Keep it in a cool, clean and dark place.
2. Bad quality water.

The surest way to spoil good leaves is to brew them with water so heavy with minerals that they cover all the fine tastes and aromas of the leaves. Choose a light and sweet water with great care.

3. Sleepy water.

That is water that hasn't reached a boil. Such water hasn't opened up and come alive yet. You won't be able to unfurl the leaves properly. The tea will only release a fraction of its aromas. The result will be dull and taste watery.
4. Comparison.

On its own, each tea has something to be enjoyed if someone knows how to brew it. Its defects and quality level isn't easy to evaluate. Side by side comparison, using same brewing standards, is the surest way to judge teas and tell which one is best. Even untrained drinkers can quickly spot the better tea through comparison.
5. Your lack of attention.

Unscented Oolong tea is subtle and underwhelming at first sip. It requires focus and calm to prepare well and enjoy fully. The more effort you put in to learn about tea, the better your brews will taste!

Conclusion: the fact that you are reading this post shows your dedication and love of tea. Next time you brew, reassure your leaves with these words: "Don't be afraid! I will take good care of you."

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Mardi gras et jeu d'enfants

Puisqu'on célèbre le carnaval en Europe aujourd'hui, faisons une place pour les enfants et la décoration!
Voici le Chaxi que ma fille a créé pour préparer du Baozhong organique de Wenshan du printemps 2013. Avec ce Chabu long, elle a choisi une petite théière en porcelaine qingbai et des coupes assorties. Elle utilise aussi un bol qu'elle a eu l'occasion de tourner chez un potier!
C'est mignon et touchant de la voir préparer son thé 'comme papa'! Et je suis aussi agréablement surpris par la fraicheur et la finesse de ce Baozhong. Il n'a pas pris une ride et signale l'arrivée prochaine du printemps.
Mon fils participe aussi à ce jeu. Il va nous un Hungshui Oolong jade de Zhushan. Il aime bien disposer les coupes autour de la théière! C'est son idée et je ne veux pas entraver sa créativité.
Il a le geste du père pour délicatement déposer les feuilles au milieu de la théire Xishi en hungni assez dure.
Pour éviter les taches de thé sur ce Chabu long gris design, je lui ai simplement suggéré d'utiliser une petite assiette comme au moment de remplir les coupes de thé.
Eau proche de l'ébullition et première infusion assez longue permettent à mon fils d'obtenir un thé aux arômes fruités bien concentrés. Ce Chaxi enfantin est un festival de couleurs, de goûts et d'odeurs.
Joyeux Mardi Gras!

Monday, March 3, 2014

8582 Menghai chi tse beeng cha

8582 and 7542 cakes are considered the descendants of the red mark and green mark puerhs. Now that puerh from the 50s and 60s has become too rare and expensive, those cakes from the mid 70s to the 90s have become the 'must-have' cakes for aged puerhs drinkers. They provide the benchmark for the best quality from that time period : the organized monopoly of the CNNP during the first stage of China's rise.
I call it organized, because it's in 1975 that the CNNP's Yunnan Tea Branch started to introduce a better classification of its puerh products. They started to have 4 numbers to identify them. The first 2 numbers for the year of invention of this recipe, the third number for the grade of leaf used the most in this cake, and the fourth number to identify which factory produces the puerh. 
This standardization had its limits, though. The production year wasn't indicated on the wrappers. This is where it's difficult to tell the age of those cakes. Some people rely on the analysis of the wrapper, neifei and neipiao to determine the age and authenticity of the cake.

If you'd compare the paper of the 8582 in this article to this one, you may probably think that it is younger because the color of the wrapper looks brighter. The problem with that analysis is that the wrappers were printed by handwork. This caused by discrepancies in color and sharpness of the printing within the same batch. Besides, paper is cheap and easy to copy nowadays.

What can't be imitated easily is the quality of the leaves, of the tea itself. That's why it's best to learn to read the tea leaves themselves, rater than just the paper!
The pressing of this 8582 is very well done. It feels like a discus! The color of the leaves isn't uniform, but varies according to the type of the leaf. The buds are light golden and lightest in hue. Bigger leaves contain less moisture and turn dark faster. This is an interesting example of how a puerh cake from 1988 looks like. It shouldn't have a uniform red/brownish color: this would indicate some wodui, artificial humidification process to make it look aged faster.
A close up shows that there are also buds included among the leaves of this 8582. This shows that the '8' in he number doesn't mean that this cake is made with leaves that are all from the grade 8 (= big, mature leaves), but that the majority of these leaves are big and include more stems than a 7542, for instance. The cake looks marvelous!

The leaves on the sides of the bing are easy to flake without breaking them. They have a wonderful solid and elastic feel.

For my first brew of this cake, I measured 3 grams of leaves and brewed them in a porcelain gaiwan in order to get neutral and standard results.

I have acquired this puerh recently, so it's quite normal that it should still have a storage scent. It would be best to air these dry leaves a little for better results. There are scents of dry wood and more particularly oak sawdust.
I don't rinse and brew the first brew for several minutes (between 3 and 4 approximately). My goal is to test this tea with this infusion. I obtain a very rich, concentrated tea soup, but it hasn't turned black.
What strikes me first is the camphor smell. Then, it's this very contradictory feeling of having a very thick taste combined with a purity and lightness. Such a concentrated tea should feel heavy, but it doesn't! It melts away and leaves a very sweet velvet taste on the palate, the tongue, the throat... I salivate with pleasure and my whole mouth experiences a long lasting 'tension', like a massage.
The transparency of the brew is excellent.
My second brew is shorter and therefore less concentrated.
This emphasizes even more the lightness and purity of this tea. The aromas are still full of power with notes of camphor and lots of sweetness. This sweetness is carried by tannins that have a slight bitter taste, but that help make this feeling last so long.
For the third brew, I pour my boiled water slowly and increase my brewing time. The tea turns out softer, but the incredible power I felt with the first 2 brews diminishes.
The coating of the mouth effect isn't as strong anymore. But there's still a very nice warm chaqi felt in my belly.
On the fourth brew, I pour with strength again. The sweetness of this puerh reminds me of the Yiwu region. This is consistent with what I learned about these cakes. The taste is a little bit less elegant than on the previous brew, but there was little loss of power.
I made several more brews with these leaves. They were less intense, but very enjoyable.

The open leaves look still so young! Some green color is still to be seen. That's why they have so much energy and freshness. We can also see many stems: they provide the thickness and the backbone for the great light bitter, strongly sweet tea.
Conclusion: this is a great example of how what great puerh tastes like as it reaches 25/26 years of age. It makes not only for a wonderful tasting experience, but also teaches what to aim for in a tea of that age in terms of aftertaste, energy and purity.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Dis-moi dans quoi tu bois ton thé

... et je te dirai qui tu es!

Si la théière semble prendre la place centrale dans la préparation du thé, il est un autre accessoire qui occupe une place encore plus intime, plus sensuelle: la coupe. Ronde, la plupart du temps, on la touche, la porte à ses lèvres, on y plonge le nez pour la sentir. Elle se fait souvent discrète, petite, malgré son rôle essentiel. 

Sa taille, sa forme, sa couleur, son matériau... tout a une influence sur le thé qu'on y boit. Boire le même thé dans des coupes différentes est un exercice de découverte de ces variations.

Dis-moi dans quel coupe tu bois, et je peux savoir où tu en es dans ton apprentissage du thé. La coupe de thé est aussi un reflet de notre esthétique, de notre conception du beau et de sa place dans notre vie quotidienne. Cela aussi fait partie du sentier du thé.

La coupe que j'utilise le plus souvent est ma coupe Dehua de blanc ivoire avec 2 dragons qui jouent avec une balle. Je la prends même lors de mes ballades. Elle est simple vue d'en haut. La couleur du thé y est un peu plus chaleureuse et dense, mais on peut bien voir son degré de transparence. Les fragrances s'y reflètent fidèlement, naturellement et longtemps. Le contact avec la lèvre est doux et agréable. Le petit pied donne élégance à la forme. La porcelaine de Dehua est aussi appelée 'Blanc de Chine' car elle représentait ce qui se faisait de mieux comme porcelaine exportée vers l'Europe aristocrate au 17ème siècle et début 18ème.
Le ballon que poursuivent les 2 dragons symbolise la lune. Et cela résume bien ma passion du thé: c'est un jeu où je lache le dragon en moi afin de décrocher la lune!