Sunday, June 24, 2018

Internet Research: Authenticating a Stack of 1970s Zhongcha Guang Yun Gong Bings

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.

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.

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:






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