Friday, June 29, 2018
After drawing on personal experiences, gathering as much background information as possible from the seller, extensive internetresearch, and tasting this tea extensively I have come to the following conclusions about whether this is actually a 1970s Guang Yun Gong Bing…
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 to them.
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.
In the end, I am left feeling like these cakes are simply an unpretentious, aged, everyday drinking tea which is just my style, really. But as a puerh drinker and not a collector, I am a bit torn what to do with these cakes that might be worth a fair bit and are one of a kind. What would you do?
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 Asia.
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 cha)
Wednesday, June 27, 2018
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 weeks ago…
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 distinct now.
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 dominant.
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 infusions.
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!
Sunday, June 24, 2018
If you have little personal experience with a particular production of aged puerh, after you gather as much information that you can about the puerh from the vendor, you can always use the most wonderful tool of all… the internet!
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.
“Gong” means “tribute”.
“Bing” means “cake”.
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 controversy.
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.
They still offer samples of an early 1960s Guang Yun Gong. The description on their site is as follows:
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.
This article by Janice and Steven of J-ase Tea on the GuangYun Gong Bing offers a great descriptors and comparisons of the 60s and 70s series. The information is what you would find in a Chinese puerh collector book:
The 1960s Guang Yun Gong
- 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.
The 1970s Guang Yun Gong
- 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 38mm.
- 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.
The controversy regarding the Guang Yun Gong has to do mostly with the fact it has been processed with mao cha from areas in China outside Yunnan province, likely pure Guangdong province maocha starting in 1973. In 2008 the Chinese government restricted the name “puerh” to only include tea made from 100% Yunnan tea leaves. This declaration left the 1970s and onward Guang Yun Gong cakes to be technically referred to as a type of heicha not puerh. Production of cakes that contained likely 100% Guangdong mao cha continued to the 1990s.
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 chronologically:
Tuesday, June 12, 2018
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.
“Wow! 500!” I replied.
“Yes, so many”
“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?”
“A long time ago.”
“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.
Saturday, June 9, 2018
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 starting point.
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 series.
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 this tea.