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First, we know that this tea has to be produced in the 1990s
at the latest because that’s when the production of the series ended. This gives us an end point on the date of
this tea. The start date can be
determined by a visual identification- the use of the very unique “zhongcha
round ticket”. This type of neifi was
used exclusively on the Gong Yun Gong cakes, I believe. My research indicates that the use of the
round ticket started in the 1970s, but not in the early 1970s. This gives us a possible start point. From what I’ve read the 1970s cakes are more
“pre-cooked” than other years and as such have darker or blacker looking dry
leaves. These productions of Guang Yun
Gong tend to be more shu puerh like.
Both the dry leaves, wet leaves, are in line with this observation.
The information I obtained from the vendor seems to roughly
match this visual id as well as the tasting notes. Mr. Chan told me that this tea was stored in
non-traditional Hong Kong storage for at least 13 years then was very very dry
stored in Regina from 1993 onward. It was wrapped/sealed sometime in Regina. It is obvious that this tea had a least some
more humid storage as per the look of the dry leaves and wet leaves as well as
taste. There is also a distinct dry
storage taste as well as the preservation of high notes in the first handful of
infusions. In my experience the dry
storage taste like this would need at least 15-20 years of dry storage. If it was dry storage in the ultra-dry
prairies 30 years seems more reasonable.
That would place this tea in the mid 1980s. However, pictures and descriptions of the
1980s Gong Yun Gong that I have come across don’t support this at all. The leaves are more sheng puerh looking than
shu and the dry leaves look more like sheng as well in these 80s Guang Yun Gong. The tasting notes don’t fit with the 1980s
notes as good as the 1970s notes I’ve read.
The qi of the tea is an old qi feeling but I can’t distinguish an
approximate year or even a decade from qi alone. Who out there can?
A really interesting thing about the stack is that they all
look a bit different- some are redder and others more black colored, come look
like they might have got a touch mold that was removed in chunks but most are
clean. Some seem to be completely sealed
where others have tears, gaps, or holes in the plastic film. I think each one will have a slightly
different personality and taste to them.
It will be fun to explore this aspect of this stack.
So in the end, I have determined that this is quite possibly
a 1970s stack of Guang Yun Gong. I feel
like I need try to sample more extensively from reputable dealers or to send
some samples to those people who own some of these to be surer of my
conclusion. But, really, I don’t know if
I really want the price of samples used to validate these cakes to be more than
the actual price I paid for them! It
might be something I might explore for fun in the future though.
In the end these cakes aren’t super complex, special tasting
or even that amazing tasting. These teas
weren’t ever intended to be that. They
were produced even in the 1970s to be accessible and drinkable while containing
the full effect of cha qi. Does this
stack accomplish these things? Yes. Even in the early days of puerh
connoisseurship these cakes were used as everyday drinkers. Interestingly, this increased the rarity of
them because many were consumed rather than collected. Nowadays they have a nostalgic collectability
I kind of agree with classifying these as heicha rather than
puerh. They actually have a unique,
almost between heicha, shu and sheng taste to them. I don’t believe these contain any Yunnan mao
cha in them but my lack of experience with the Guang Yun Gong restricts me from
stating this confidently. Readers of this
blog might remember that I am a bit picky when it comes to what exactly is
classified as puerh (see here and here). Hahaha…
The qi is quite wonderful though and the aged taste is a
real treat. The iron pressing mixed with
the dry storage imparted this cake with some nice high notes still in
there. Something quite rare for a cake
this old. In fact, I have never ever
even heard of a cake that was dry stored in the West for 25 years, have
you? In this way these cakes are a real
treasure- the only known example of 25 years dry storage in the West-
apparently since 1993! That’s something
really interesting, I think. Maybe I
should try to get them certified as a Western puerh drinker’s cultural
intangible property… hahaha.
The main reason I find these so interesting is because it
gives us Westerners an idea of what basically unattended, long, overly dry
stored puerh can become and the outcome is not all that bad at all. If anything it supports the idea of sealed storage and iron machine compression. This doesn’t say much because obviously the
storage on these cakes could have been a lot better.
Also something should probably be said about the “herbal
medicine storage taste”. There is a
cultural difference between what tastes are valued in puerh amongst Westerners
vs Southeast Asia vs South China vs Mainland Chinese. In Asia, a strong Traditional Chinese
Medicine storage taste is not valued the same way it is in the West. For Westerners, this is a new taste with very
little memory attached to it. It
is exotic and interesting and can give the aged tea a different dimension and
depth to it. For those in Asia, they
often associate these tastes with very strong and bad tasting medicine that
their parents or grandparents forced them to take when they were small children. As a result a taste aversion to such things
can even occur. For Westerners it would
be like their puerh tasting like banana penicillin or cherry cough syrup. These Guang Yun Gong bings seem to carry this
herbal medicine taste, which I enjoy but which would command less attention in
So there you go, the long and the short of it. I hope you enjoyed my detailed assessment of
these cakes over the last few posts. Thought
it would be both an interesting story and also an educational tool for those
trying to determine the age of an old puerh.
In some ways, I feel like I have only scraped the top of the ice burg
with these cakes… so is the mystery of puerh (… or hei
If you are really trying to confirm the authenticity of an
aged puerh, you got to sample it for yourself first. You should never buy blindly. Although, a vendor might give you some misinformation, the taste rarely lies and the qi almost never does. As long as you have some experience with
these things as a comparison you can generally or roughly confirm its
authenticity based on trying the tea.
This is how I realized that it is likely the real deal.
When initially trying this tea I assumed it was not what it
is. Two things about this initial sampling
changed my mind. Firstly, it had an aged
storage taste to it that can’t really be faked.
Second, it had big qi both in a strong sensation in the body and very
mellow sensation in the mind that is a signature of old puerh. This is the type of feeling I get and is
common among old tea before the times of plantation mao cha. Although younger puerh can have sensations
similar to this, it is not the same, but hard to put into words. It’s almost as if the qi of older puerh is
deeper level qi and very good quality young puerh qi is more superficial. This
tea had some of the former.
After the qi tipped me off, I began to research online what others experience of the Guang Yun Gong qi felt like and it somewhat
matched what I was experiencing. So the
first thing I did was research what the qi sensation of the Guang Yun Gong
series, specifically the 1970s bing.
Below are some specific notes I took from a session a few
I really pack the dry leaves into a pot for a strong
infusion early this morning pushing this tea more than I have to date. I’m looking for a bit of a boost half asleep
this morning. This is going to be a bit
on the stronger side, I think to myself.
The dry leaf smells of faint distant herbal medicines and is
rather inert smelling.
Rinse opens the tea up to dusty, sweet fruit, hay, and
legumes there is a creamy dry stored sweet fragrant odor in there as well as
some storage notes of dustiness and even distant medicinal smells.
The first infusion pours a browny, slight reddish and delivers
a rich initial slightly bitter taste of roasted legumes and beans, it’s almost
coffee-like then there is a slowly evolved transition of a molasses-like
sweetness which turns into a talc like strawberry sweetness which lingers long
on the breath and in the mouth along with a cool finish in the mouth. The mouthfeeling is sticky and slightly
astringent especially the tongue surface and roof of the mouth. The throat opening is deep but mild.
The second infusion packs another powerful taste
package. The initial taste is almost
coffee-like thick dense molasses sweetness with a beany slightly bitter
edge. There is more storage taste in the
middle profile of faint herbals underneath the sweet syrupy taste. The finish is of talc very sweet strawberry
notes in camphor. The mouthfeel has a
strong sticky coating in the mouth. The
qi is big, strong, immediately clearing but very very relaxing. It is more deep and mellowing than it is
strong in the body.
The third infusion delivers a slightly bitter, dense earth/
dirt tasting initial taste which turns into a bean and earth taste which then
shifts to a very syrupy sweet taste. It
finishes with a talc light fruity and mineral sweetness. Even minutes later there is the finishing
taste over top a deeper dense beany note.
The fourth infusion is getting more dense and syrupy in its
initial taste. The initial taste is now
a syrupy sweet almost maple syrup and molasses taste then the bean taste
develops with medicinal notes. The
returning sweet taste is less here but still significantly menthol, slight
mineral, slight fruit. The mouthfeel
becomes more astringent and dry here.
The qi is significant and makes the head wobble.
The fifth is becoming more beany and bitter and less syrupy,
sweet, nuanced. The flavor starts to coalesce
as the beany tastes dominates and more storage notes of medicinal herbs are
more obvious in the middle profile. The
taste still evolves throughout the profile but is more dominated by a bean, legume,
slightly bitter taste. The aftertaste
remains cooling and sweet, slightly talc.
The sixth is much the same as the base flavor now spreads
all the way through the profile now. As
the thick beany taste covers the profile and the taste becomes slightly
bitter. The lighter notes become less
The seventh infusion has a talc mineral cherry like
sweetness veiled in bean and woody tastes.
The mouthfeel is grainy and thick and the aftertaste is cooling. The beany, woody, almost dirt like taste is
The eighth infusion tastes dusty and old storage initially
with a long beany slightly astringent undertone. The dusty storage taste is predominating here
now with the bean, wood, earth taste underneath. The coolness is still obvious in the breath
but the sweetness here is substantially less.
The ninth infusion has a bean and bitter dirt like taste
with a woody profile underbelly. The
sweetness is not present to offer a polarity in the initial taste which is a
touch off putting. In the aftertaste it
emerges as a light cooling sweetness.
This tea is fading quickly now.
The tenth infusion has a cooling bitter woody bean initial
taste with a pungent coolness up front and lingering into the aftertaste. The sweetness is becoming less apparent
underneath the dirt, aged taste and bitter astringency.
The eleventh is starting to get a touch watery in its
initial taste. It opens up the profile
to more minerality and sweetness. A
faint fruity sweetness lingers on the breath.
The twelfth, thirteenth, fourteenth infusions are much the
same. With each infusion comes a
thinner, more watered down taste. The
medicinal herbal notes from storage are also the most apparent here which, to
me, are interesting to imbibe.
Overall, this session was a bit stronger and rougher than my
other sessions with this tea. I have had
about 5 sessions with this tea experimenting with different brewing vessels,
amount of dry leaf, and steeping time.
It seems to do well with pots with a very quick pour and a little less
leaves than I normally use. Flash
infusions for the first 10 infusions then longer. This seems to string out the best of this tea
which resides in the first infusion’s high notes and last infusions aged notes. It can get a touch nasty in the middle especially
when steeped too aggressively. When this
happens a bitter, astringent, beany dirt like taste emerges as we saw in this
session. If too little leaf is used you
don’t get as nice depth of flavor in the first handful of infusions. So this tea can be a testy one to drink for
sure. It’s good up to about 12-14
Overall, this tea carries significant aged storage
notes. These notes resemble longer dry
storage recently but the deeper dirt tastes suggest more humid storage at the
first years in storage. This tea kind of
tastes like a mix of the following: lightly fermented shu puerh, dry stored
sheng puerh, and hei cha similar to a fu brick.
It is a very unique and unusual beast!
I hit the internet hard with days of research trying to
authenticate a stack of “1970s Zhongcha Guang Yun Bings”. I found a lot of information, descriptions,
history, notes, and pictures which really does help. First, I would like to thank all those who
contributed to this body of knowledge online.
Anyways, this is what I found out about the history of this rather
infamous production the “Zhongcha Guang Yun Gong Bing”…
I’m sure if there are any readers into old puerh reading
this they will know a little bit about this one. It is a bit famous or infamous depending on
how you look at it. Personally, I had
never seen this puerh in South Korea so identifying this tea through
familiarity with it online played a big part in my acquisition. I had heard and
read about this tea throughout the years before coming face to face with it.
“Zhongcha” simply refers to the “zhong” (Middle Kingdom aka
Chinese) Chinese character and the “cha” (tea) Chinese character that we see
gracing so many old puerh wrappers.
“Guang” refers to Guangdong province in China where this tea
is produced and where at least some of the teas leaves come from nowadays.
“Yun” refers to Yunnan province in China where some of the
leaves for these cakes used to be imported from and where 100% of the leaves
used to come from.
Another name of this tea is the translation of the name in
English is “Guangdong Yunnan Tribute Cake” or “Canton Yunnan Tribute Cake”. You may have heard
this tea called either of these names. The
name of this cake speaks to its uniqueness in puerh circles as well as its
From what I understand about this unique tea is that it was
first developed in 1958 using a unique machine hydraulic pressing system which
gives the tea its trademark machine pressed look. At this time all of the leaves were imported
from Yunnan Province and pressed in Guangdong for export. David of Essence of Tea used to sell a 1958
version of this cake with a description and pictures but the link has since
been broken. His writings have
been a valuable source of information on the internet about the Guang Yun Gong
series. He is also a very reliable
source which I trust for true old puerh.
These early 60's Guang
Yun Gong pu'er tea cakes display exceptional storage. The leaves are clean and
vibrant, displaying just a very slight touch of frosting in places. The early 60's GuangYunGong cakes are the
pinnacle of the Guang Yun Gong series in my opinion. Using 100% Yunnan maocha,
very little (if any) of the process used to 'pre-ferment' the later cakes, and
well aged, they display a powerful qi and excellent taste. They differ quite
markedly in my opinion from the later 60's and 70's productions. The price of Guang Yun Gong in the market is
much less than other bings of the same era since the taste is not as complex or
thick and hence not so highly sought after by collectors. From my point of
view, this leaves an excellent opening for those who wish to enjoy the qi of
these old teas without being overly motivated by complex flavour profiles. All
this aside, this is a lovely tea to drink.
David’s description is full of lots of goodies to help give
us context of the history, collectability, production and storage issues of the
Guang Yun Gong. As well it gives us hints at would the taste, mothfeel, and qi
notes could be as well as a comparison to later years. I am willing to bet that David has come across a lot of these especially the 90s and 80s series. The reason David hasn’t likely bought up
tones of this in his maylasian warehouse is likely due to the fact that many
were really poorly stored because they were (like all puerh from that era)
produced for medicinal purposes not for collecting or recreational
drinking or connoisseurship. However,
this series is especially prone to poor storage because of how it
was packaged (cakes were not individually wrapped), the climate it was most
commonly exported to (Hong Kong and other very hot and humid cities), as well
as the fact that it most commonly sat for many years next to the distinctive
odour of Chinese herbs.
- Tong was wrapped by softer bamboo shells than that used for 1970s and
later guang yun gong.
- Only raw Yunnan arbor leaves were used.
- Cakes have neifei, but no nei piao and wrapper.
- The size of neifei is 38mm X 38mm for 1960s guang yun gong.
- The 1960s cakes were made of Yunnan mao cha, with bold leaves and
stems like used in pre-1960s pu-erhs, and a more red color.
- The tong emits a beautiful sweet woody fragrance with a quite cool
feeling when opened.
- Exceptional clarity from the first to the last infusion (as many as 15
are possible) and a rich reddish to red-brown color.
- Tong was wrapped by stiffer bamboo shells than that used for 1960s
guang yun gong.
- Started using tea leaves from other provinces such as Sichuan,
Guizhou, and Guangdong, among others.
- Cakes have neifei, but no nei piao and wrapper.
- The size of neifei is slightly larger than the 1960s size of 38mm X
- Appear more black than the 1960s.
- Exceptional clarity from the first to the last infusion (as many as 14
are possible) and a rich reddish to red-brown color.
There are also 1980s and1990s guang yun gong.
After the mid-1980s tongs were wrapped in paper bags instead of bamboo shells.
In that article they also give some great advice. No matter if the storage is good or not, if
you happen to come across Guang Yun Gong cakes you should buy them up because
the taste is usually not off putting due to the processing method.
The processing method is a very interesting and unique thing
with the Guang Yun Gong. You can see in
both David’s and Janice/Steven’s descriptions that sometime in the 1970s (around
the same time that the processing for shu puerh was being developed and
refined) the production included a proprietary step of light “prefermentation”
giving the bings an appearance of a “darker” or “blacker” colour than the 1960s
bings. This process is sometimes refered
to as “lightly cooked”, “half cooked”, or ”partially cooked”. The Guang yun Gong
also has a very unique shape and size.
It used iron pressing technology that has given it a very distinctive
and unique 320g disk-like shape.
The “prefermention” processing also curbed the aggressive edges
of strong raw puerh and imparted it with a more mellow taste while the tight iron
bing pressing preserved the raw materials nuanced flavour. That is why it is said that this is a more
approachable aged puerh with a mellower, not as full, flavour and mouthfeeling
as aged puerh of the same age. This
coupled with the fact that these Guang Yun Gong cakes were usually stored in
high humidity areas imparted these cakes with a more mild taste.
At some point in the 1970s a Zhongcha round neifi was used
after the discontinuation of 1970s ticket mentioned above. This is another unique feature of the Guang
Yun Gong series and can be seen until the end of production in the 1990s. I am unsure what exact year they switched to
the “round ticket”.
Below are tasting notes and vendor descriptions
When trying to determine the age of an old puerh, I think
vendor information should be taken with a grain of salt. The older a puerh is, the more likely it has
either changed hands, making its real age hard to determine. With the passage of time, its exact age has often
been forgotten. More importantly, if a
vendor is claiming to have a very old tea it is more likely to be fake. Sometimes the vendor was simply given misinformation. Also old puerh never has a date stamped onto
its wrapper during production- that started in the Mid 2000s along with the push
for Quality Control standardization (that blue “Q” you see on the puerh
wrappers). If you are buying aged puerh you
should always always go to the most reputable and trusted of vendors. But if you happen to stumble upon a
potentially old puerh by accident, getting as much information from the seller
will at least give you a starting point.
After picking up two of these old bings, I wanted to go
back and try to get as much information about the cakes as I could from the thick
accented, old, Cantonese herbalist, Thomas Chan. Thomas Chan is a Traditional Chinese
Herbalist and was trained by his father who was tired by his father. The family owned a herbal medicine shop in
the Kowloon peninsula of Hong Kong named Yan Tsu Hong Herbs. The sign in his shop in Regina, Saskatchewan was
made in the 1970s and used to hang in the original Hong Kong location.
When I asked him to tell me about how he acquired the “1970s
puerh” he told me that his family’s herbal shop in Hong Kong was much much
larger than his very very small retail space in Regina. He told me that he initially placed a very
large order of this puerh in the 1970s. He couldn’t remember the exact date but
was sure in was the 1970s.
I asked him, “How many did you order?”
Thomas replied, “500 maybe.” As he motioned with his arms
about the size of a pallet or two full.
“Did you do many orders or just get them all in one order?”
“All in one order. When I moved Yan Tsu Hong to Regina in
1993 I might have moved around 300 here.”
“You had 300 of these in Regina?”
“Yes. I only sell a few every year.”
Then, to my surprise, I see another two bings of the same
tea back on the same spot on the shelf!
I had thought I had picked up the last two. It turns out that he has 9 more bings. I offer to buy out all remaining cakes and he
packs me up the remaining cakes. They
are all sealed in plastic and some look a bit redder than others. Some are missing chunks from the edges. Some have zhongcha stickers where some the
zhongcha lable has been rubbed or has aged off.
Some are completely sealed but most are imperfectly sealed with holes
and rips or spots that the plastic didn’t completely cover.
I then go on to ask
him about the storage of the cakes…
“Where were these puerh stored?”
“In my herb shop in Hong Kong and then Regina when I moved
here in 1993.”
“When did you seal each puerh cake in plastic?”
“What else can you tell me about this puerh?”
“Nothing. It’s just
old puerh, you know. It’s very good to
promote Digestive Fire in old people.
Old people can’t have new tea like Tie Guan Yin or new puerh. It’s not good for them. All you need is a little bit of this tea every
day, not that much, and it’s good to prevent arthritis. Research in the New England Medical Journal
shows it’s like an anti-inflammatory.”
After pressing him a bit more about the dates of this tea he
just laughs and says in a Cantonese accent, “It’s 70s puerh from my herb shop
in Hong Kong, Ok.”
I guess this is all I can gather about this tea’s
interesting past. Content with this and
9 more of these cakes. I leave the shop
with my arms full of these iron pressed cakes and a big grin.
First, I must say, it is not super easy to confirm this puerh’s authenticity. There are a few
reasons for this. But on a personal
level, I have never ever tried this famous production before. I have had a sizable amount of puerh from the
70s as well as some cakes of my own to base my judgement but have never tried
this unique series before. This
immediately puts me at a disadvantage in authenticating the vintage of this “1970s
Zhongcha Guang Yun Gong Bing”.
Personal experience with old tea, lots of experience, is
very important in validating the presumed age of any aged puerh you might
encounter. This is why people who drink
puerh will always recommend sampling a wide amount of puerh- anything from old
stuff to new stuff to puerh with different storage and shu and sheng. If you have a wide experience with lots of
puerh, you are more confident in drawing your own educated conclusions about
the information the vendor supplies about a given tea.
If you have no experience with old, aged puerh then how will
you even know what it is? You won’t. You will be at the whims of what others tell
you it is, which, in the world of puerh, is a dangerous place to be. And there is no way you would even be able to
find a treasure like these. You never
know… that 1970s puerh could be at your corner store or in your local Chinatown
and you wouldn’t even know it!
The first step in validating an old puerh is to rely on your
own past experiences with puerh of that production and age and storage. As I stated before, I have no experience with the famous
Guang Yun Gong Bing series. I have only
enough experience to visually identify one, that’s it. This tea does look like a 1970s Guang Yun Gong. Well, at least that’s a
If you don’t have the experience, don’t worry. You may be able to acquire some tea of a similar vintage for comparison. You can do this by going to trusted vendors
who have samples of the same production, age, storage. Or you can even send a free sample of the tea in question (please
contact me) to or swap with someone who claims to have a similar tea. I think a lot of people who have extensive
knowledge of aged puerh will have a lot of experience with the famous Guang Yun
Gong production. David of Essence of Tea, Varat of The Guide to Puerh Tea, and Phil Sheng are some
people that, I imagine, have some significant experience with the Guang Yun Gong Bing
If you don’t have extensive experience with a certain aged
puerh you can always do some serious research online or go back to the vendor
to acquire as much information as you can on the tea. This is what I had to do. The next posts will explore what I have found
for online research on this tea, as well as my experience going back to the
vendor to gather as much information as I could on this tea. Of course I will be posting extensive tasting
notes as well…. Hahaha.
For this “1970s Guang Yun Gong Bing”, my experience with
aged teas tells me that it looks old, smells old, tastes old, and feels old. So the question really is how old? 70s? 80s?
or 90s? That’s the real question with