by kate on September 13th, 2011
Elliot: It’s always nice to see when Western tea vendors begin collecting mao cha and pressing their own puerh cakes; the decision allows for an even closer relationship and direct supply chain between tea grower and vendor, and it gives consumers and vendors alike an opportunity at an even higher quality and more distinctive product. Canton’s 2011 Yiwu is just one such tea.
When it comes to traditional puerh sources, few (if any) are more famous than Yiwu mountain, whose teas are known to some aficionados for their distinctive sweetness. I get the impression that it’s possible to travel to Yunnan and have a farmer or broker sell you just any old mao cha, so I admit my expectations of Canton Tea Co’s first house label puerh were prepared to be forgiving. Luckily, no such forgiveness was needed—this is good puerh!
The first thing I noticed when opening the 250g cake’s wrapper was that the small cake is really rather well-compressed. These days it seems most puerh producers are attempting to compress the cakes on the loose end of things in hopes that they’ll age faster. When it comes to the aged puerh I’ve tried, though, the cakes are usually of pretty snug compression. Seeing that this mini bing has been pressed to ideal tightness (not falling apart when you remove the wrapper, but not tight enough that it’s difficult to remove individual leaves without breaking or even insert a pick or knife into the side of the cake) was a good sign for the rest of the cake’s processing, which turned out to be old-school in the best of ways.
The cake’s informative nei fei states that it’s composed of grade 6 (medium-large) leaves with a few buds (as well as a few welcome huang pian [yellowed leaves], from the looks of the cake’s surface), and I’m inclined to agree. The ticket also mentions that the cake will retain its floral freshness for five years and will begin to mellow around 10 years, which is a sensible and realistic estimation of its potential aging process and a far cry from the standard “tonic of everlasting life” claims often found in standard “chi tse ping cha” inner tickets.
Once the leaves are rinsed and the first cup is poured, I’m inclined to believe that this cake’s materials have been well-represented. The liquor is golden yellow, a good sign that the leaves were withered and fixed before any unnecessarily high oxidation occurred. The tea’s flavor follows suit, retaining a very green profile full of floral notes and a touch of a darker, more leathery and woody character that develops and returns persistently with the aftertaste. This is probably facilitated by the tea’s moderate bitterness, which shows up in the finish right where it should but is not bold enough to detract from how tasty this cake is, even in its infancy. While I’m no connoisseur when it comes to identifying specific Yunnan terroirs, I do know that this tea certainly falls in my own parameters when it comes to a balance between greenness, sweetness, and that ineffable robustness that separates a well-made raw puerh from typical Chinese green tea.
I look forward to seeing where this tea goes as the years pass by, but I’m probably looking forward even more to the next Canton Tea Co. brand puerh cakes—this first attempt is extremely promising of further successes to come.