Pu-erh Reviews

1934 Tong Xing Hao Antique Cake

Genre: Aged Green
Factory: Tong Xing Hao
Vendor: Sunsing Tea
Reviewed by tea junkie on 02/18/2007

Background    This is a pricey 10 gm sample of an antique pu-erh cake that I have finally gotten around to purchasing. I have always thought of this sort of tea as a right of passage that I was very hesitant of taking. I finally gave up and made the purchase because I had a few people to share with, and I felt that I needed this experience to give me a point of reference for the quality of other aged cakes. The tea itself was made during the Republican period of Chinese history between the Qing dynasty and the Communist revolution. The factory is no longer in operation, but there are always a few cakes or bricks that are special order produced that use the old traditional wrapper and ticket designs, though I cannot vouch for the methods of production and how traditional they are.

Dry Leaf Appearence:    The leaf was firm and somewhat leathery with a fine oily sheen to much of the leaf tissue. The leaves were also quite tight making it difficult to see the size of the leaves, though the stems were very thick hinting at large leaves. The section of cake I received was fairly loose and quite easy to tease apart with little leaf breakage.

Water to Leaf Ratio:     10 gr of Leaf in 140 ml of water

Brewing Method:    I brewed this up gongfu style with a porcelain guywan and served with porcelain pitcher and tasting cups. I chose these items for the inert nature of the materials, and the guywan allows for good leaf expansion and inspection of the leaf from infusion to infusion. I used spring water at temperatures from 212f to 195f, starting cooler and working to hotter. I started at fifteen secondsish and ended at pot twenty at about ten minutes.

Wet Leaf Appearence:    Now we see the beauty. The leaves were about 6 to 8 centimeters and still very dark brown and tightly twisted. There was alot of very large leaves, and a few two leaf and bud sets to be found. The aroma was still slightly musty and a bit floral.

1st Steep    About fifteen seconds with 195 degree water. Dominating the infusion was a mustiness that held hints of camphor. It was as smooth as silk and had a finish that lasted at least a minute with an ephemeral breath that I found quite soothing. I did do a brief rinse before this serving and allowed the leaf to stand for about two minutes after the rinse.

2nd Steep    Four breaths at same temp (about 20 seconds) revealed a more alert leaf that made a deep amber tinted cup with a rich loamy cup with a bewildering array of notes. I found blackpepper, anise, and rose to be the things I found, though others thought it was a bit fruity and a bit woody. The Qi was beginning to be felt, it was very light across the spine and electric on the skin and extremities. The breath was quite a bit fuller this time and lasted a couple of minutes, along with the salivation that was almost odd in its intensity.

3rd Steep    Again four breaths at same temp and this time the Qi hit me very hard. It was much the same as the last cup, but so intense that I had a very difficult time sitting still and containing the energy. I have had similarly strong experiences from tea, but it is astonishing that something so old could hold such a potent effect. The flavor was much more musty with notes of black currant, camphor, and the eternal blackpepper. The edges of the tongue were literally draining saliva at a constant rate that made me and the other folks swallow constantly. It got to a point that it was almost distressing to be salivating so constantly. This tea is a bit weird in its range of effects.

4th Steep    Six breaths with same temp for this infusion and I was bouncing in my seat. I had managed to contain myself up to this point, but I found it unpleasant so I just started fidgeting and explaining to everyone what was happening in the hopes that someone else was having this reaction. Nope-maybe I am more sensitive or maybe more psychosomatic, but either way I was a bit embarrased. Flavor remained earthy/musty/peppery with notes of leather and an oily kind of myrrh like aroma that appeared late in the cup and held well into the breath.

Subsequent Steeps    This went out to twenty infusion with the last being ten minutes from freshly boiled water. Flavor wise we all felt the tea really came into its own around infusion number 8, where the sweetness really exploded in the mouth wich made the whole salivation thing alot more pleasant. The mustiness faded and background notes became more dominant with alot of roasted pine nuts, myrrh like notes, rose absolute, and with the sweetness the anise became licorice. In fact at infusion 14 I found the flavor to be like a mild liquid licorice. Fortunately for my sanity the Qi faded pretty sharply around infusion 10, so that I could enjoy the tea in a more relaxed frame of mind.

Conclusion    Wow, what a dramatic experience. Everything one expects from the lasting breath, to the stimulated salivary glands, and the pronounced Qi were all to be found in bold relief in this tea. The flavor profile was also exceptional, with a very broad palate that left my olfactory lobe pulsing. I would strongly recommend this tea to anyone willing to front the money for it, I was in no way dissapointed by the experience. In the hands of a more masterful brewer this could easily be considered a work of art in the cup, though my skills made it more like an action flick. Maybe a fifties French one like The Wages of Sin, alot there to be mused over but a very bumpy ride along the way.

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