Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Menghai, Douji, and Mengku -Trifecta of Factory Puerh/ Reliable Old Friends

When things go off the rails in life who do you go to?

Your oldest best friends of course!

So recently when I realized that my puerh stash will soon be gone, I did what I know is a sure bet and called on my reliable old friends to get me out of this situation fast… factory puerh.

These friends are not the overly flashy types, they are a little rough around the edges, and to be honest they can be a little cheap but there is an honesty, a reliability, and a familiarity to them.  It doesn’t matter how long it’s been since you last met, a true friend will be there in a time of need.

If you have been drinking puerh tea since the early/ mid 2000s it is inevitable that you have a spot in your heart for big factory puerh.   If you look at the old school puerh bloggers Hobbes, Marshal’N, Bears they all still hold them in some kind of respect.  You never hear these puerh drinkers entrenching themselves in the debate of factory vs. boutique because they are wise enough to see value in both.

Back in the day there was pretty much just the Zhong Cha wrapped mystery stuff, CNNP, and big factory puerh.  There were smaller factory pressings as well but in Korea these were rarities.  So this is what you drank back then.  All the puerh drinkers in Korea knew that fresh puerh is not good for your health so quite naturally we would drink a lot of stuff from the 1990s 10-20 year aged stuff even 80s stuff at the tea table.

At this time there were three big factories that were generating lots of excitement amongst my puerh drinking buddies and tea shop owners.  A trifecta of factory puerh if you will…

1-      Douji in 2006 really lit up the puerh drinking universe.  Their 2006 offerings were especially epic and turned the puerh drinking universe on their head.   They were based in Yiwu and the cakes they offered from that region were absolutely delicious and they brought with them a new style of processing that made their puerh very delicious to drink now as well or to age for later.  I remember trying this stuff and really feeling like it is something special.  I remember that by the time I decided that I needed a tong of this stuff in 2006, no dealer or friends would sell any to me.  It was so delicious I think I drank through a 2006 cake of Douji Yiwu in one year.  No big deal, everyone was expecting their 2007 offerng to surpass their 2006 stuff so I picked up a tong of the 2007 Yiwu which turned out to be noticeably in superior to the 2006 line up.

Douji was definitely my Yiwu factory go to but even before I completely checked out, Douji was demanding very high prices.  Personally, I think they somewhat deserve these prices (Okay maybe not that high).  This comes from someone who has tested the resiliency of Douji puerh and has found that it ages brilliantly even in the face of unideal and varying aging conditions.

Unfortunately, the West is pretty mute these days about Douji.  Even the once active China Cha Dao has stopped marketing new Douji puerh (although it would be likely they could special order anything).  Last time I extensively sampled Douji was at a time when I was not paying much attention to the puerh world- during a blogger China Cha Dao tasting event hosted by Hobbes of Half-Dipper.  We didn’t sample much from YiWu in that event and my favorite was not even from Yiwu.  Douji is definitely a case of being priced out of the market.  I kind of feel like my old friend ditched me and is now hanging out with a wealthy group of friends, the popular crowd… not cool… but that’s what success does.

So I am currently in the hunt for a solid YiWu that is priced more accessibly.  Any suggestions?

2-      Mengku RongShi Shuang Jiang Tea Company was another factory that was doing really exciting things in the mid- 2000s.  Many of my puerh drinking friends and the tea shops we frequented gravitated to the very fresh, clean, crisp and pure examples of Lincang such as their Big Snow Mountain (Da Xue Shan) and Wild ArborKing (Qiao Mu Wang).  Something I never knew at the time and learned recently from reading Yunnan Souring website, is that it could have something to do with their processing which takes place right on the mountain in portable huts.  Did I also mention they never shy away from big, bold, chunky cakes?  Often enough they were the only Lincang teas in these shops and left us with a pretty impressionable picture of Licang puerh.  As a result Mengku is my Lincang factory of choice.

Unlike Douji, there is still lots of accessible Mengku Shuang Jiang out there.  I think this is because of its general location outside of the more traditional and popular Xishuangbanna.  I too have much less Lincang because of my preference for Xishuangbanna.  You will be sure to see lots of reviews on these teas in the coming months.  I hope our relationship will be as fresh, unique and enjoyable as I remember!  What are some of your favorite Menku Shuang Jiang puerh?

3-      Menghai Dayi Tea Factory is an old classic.  Ten years ago I would drink a lot of aged 80sand 90s Dayi hanging out in tea shops.  It was so popular that when I first started learning about puerh tea I thought that “Mengahai” meant “Menghai Dayi Tea Factory” and was unaware that it could be referring to a tea producing area.  That really sums up Dayi’s dominance and presence during this time.  Dayi = Menghai!  I remember there were some shops that would deal exclusively in Menghai Dayi puerh.  I didn’t spend too much time at these shops that were mainly ran by more traditional, conservative, less open minded to the changes in the puerh tea industry kind of people (maybe I would love these now… hahaha).  They were usually older men dressed in traditional Korean clothes in the old district of town.

For me Dayi is really the classic aged puerh tea taste.  It’s familiar, it’s home.  It’s your reliable and wise friend that is a little harsh but has the experience to back his reputation up.  Despite me being so chummy with Dayi I have never purchased a cake.  Mainly my puerh drinking friends and I thought that the stuff being produced in the mid 2000s was somehow not of the same quality recipes they once were.  Besides, there were more interesting and exciting things happening with other factories like the ones mentioned above.

Cakes that I tried or simply passed by when they were young years ago are now on their way from China.  I guess we will be exploring the ins and outs of the 2006-2008 line.  I wonder if they will even be close to the 10 years aged 1990s stuff I would drink regularly oh so long ago?  What are some of your favorite Menghai Dayi puerh?

Friends change and you change too - so is life.  I wonder if my relationship between these old friends will be much the same or completely different?



Cwyn said...

I am definitely curious as to what you think of these teas today. As you noted, "boutique" teas weren't available in 2006. EoT and YS started their productions in 2009. Thus factory teas were all you could buy back when. Today there is some consensus that quality has declined in some teas like Dayi. I am going to venture a guess, however, that a good number of those "exciting" factory teas are not so good, and looking back are not teas people would choose again to buy. Either the teas weren't so great to begin with, or tastes change, or both. The issue is, people don't want to admit to owning some rather bad tea.

I suspect that some of the "debate" about factory or boutique consists of people defending purchases, and some of the debate due to what one puerh collector has called an accustomed taste, that many drinkers "prefer a super strong taste, even if it's smoke/retired smoke, dirt, or whatever, instead of a narrative told by the leaves themselves."

So, if I may be blunt, I think people are never going to admit some of the factory teas are crap, that they own crap, or that they prefer crap. No one wants to fess up how much they spent on what later turned out to be something they don't drink. People will crap on me for saying this, and defend those teas until the end of days. There are certainly some good factory teas. But I think people will defend whatever they own so the truth is really just relative, isn't it?

Matt said...


Well the first one, the 2006 Wild Arbor King, was a good one but I'm much less optimistic about the Menghai Dayi Factory plantation stuff. Sometimes I ask myself, "Did you really just buy THAT much Menghai Factory stuff?" hahahaha... I think even amongst low expectations it will be a great experience to document.

The role of the big factory has changed in recent times. It is my understanding that they used to be a place where tea pickers could go to sell their leaves. Nowadays, there are many more options for that same tea picker.

Thanks as always for your comments here on the blog and for stimulating interesting conversation.