We recently got hold of a tong of the 2009 ChangYuHao Guafengzhai – a tea that’s been ‘sold out’ since 2009. The owner of ChangYuHao still had some in his own collection of course & recently agreed to let us have a tong to offer to western customers.
This was quite interesting for us, because it was pressed using leaves from the same garden that we’ve been pressing our Guafengzhai tea from for the past three years. Although we’ve had a cake personally of the ChangYuHao Guafengzhai for the past few years & been slowly savouring it, we’d never done a direct comparison with our teas. A few days ago, one of our customers got in touch and asked about the qualities and differences. I thought this might also be useful/interesting to more people than him since it also is a useful test of Malaysian storage.
From looking at the cakes the first & most obvious difference is the colour. As we’d expect, the greenness of the 2014 (on the right) has become a light brown. It’s only 5 years, so there’s still a long way to go, but the change has been relatively quick compared to the cakes we’ve been storing in the UK for example. The surface has an oily sheen and it’s smelling pretty good.
The 2014 cake has been pressed a bit looser, but also the leaves have been rolled tighter – this should provide better durability throughout the infusions, and may be a difference farmer to farmer, or a more general trend in better processing in Guafengzhai as the price and demands of consumers has increased… perhaps a bit of both.
This was really interesting for me. I was quite unprepared for how similar they were. I’ve done comparative tastings of different teas from the same mountain before and even when they shared a broadly similar profile there have always been striking differences. In this case though, the differences weren’t there. Setting aside for a moment the 5 years of ageing and the effects that has, the teas tasted almost the same. The flavour profile was the same, the thickness was remarkably similar – neither Kathy or I could agree which was thicker, first we’d think one was thicker then the other.
The 2014 tea seemed more vibrant & zingy in the mouth, the energy of youth. After 5 years this had settled, the energy was there, but it had calmed significantly becoming more controlled and elegant. The 2014 had some astringency, drying the mouth before inducing saliva, where as the 2009 cake induced saliva almost immediately after swallowing, without the drying astringency.
Both teas were exceptionally pure and clean, the characteristics of these ancient trees shone through and the sensations were really of a standard that is difficult to match in puerh tea of any region. It really highlighted to me how special this area is & why it has been sought after throughout the years.
Again, remarkably similar. They were both strong and thick – of a shape and character that seems specific to Guafengzhai and the surrounding area – they’re harvested with the thick strong stem attached and the leaves are large & veiny. Here the colour difference is even more apparent, the greenness having transformed into a uniform light brown. The refinement of processing was also apparent at this stage, the 2014 leaves were more uniform in their picking standard and the colour was very uniform. The 2009 had the odd bruising here and there, but not significant by any means.
This tasting has been quite reassuring for me, both that the quality and character of these two cakes from the same tea garden match so well, but also that Malaysian storage seems to be ageing the tea very nicely. The pure, clean quality of the ageing is very nice, letting the flavour and qualities of the base tea shine through, but also transforming the tea in a controlled manner & relatively quickly.
I hope this useful for some of you.