I suggest you read these post and the comments that follow before continuing:
Okay, the first thing I want to say about this cake is that I was almost certain it was a fake when I bought it. First of all, there is the semi disclosure/ wink-wink nudge nudge that Guang wrote into the description of this re-release. When a vendor does this- this is a disclosure that it is fake. Secondly, the photograph on the site of the cake doesn’t really look like any Menghai Tea Factory official production. You don’t even have to look closely on the site to see this if you have even a very general familiarity to what wrappers look like from Menghai Tea Factory from this era. The paper is that super super thin transparent cotton-like paper that rips when you touch it, the shape of the cake itself seems too fat, the ink on the paper is neither faded nor distinct and it doesn’t fit on the cake properly. This is a pretty good site and has good pictures on what a real Red Dayishould look like in its wrapper. Specifically, look at how the back of the unopened cake is wrapped- nothing like this one. You can gather much from the look of a cake if you know what to look for. Cwyn, who has always brought a more keen observation of the wrapper as well as wet and dry leaves to the puerh blogging world, made this point in this post here.
So, I guess the question is… why would you then want to knowingly buy a fake?
For me there are a few reasons but one of them is simple… If the material used for the fake is 2001 and it is made in a similar factory style to the original then even if it was half as good as the original, it would be a good deal. If it happens to be this, an old school factory style 20 years aged cake from 2001, it would fit my tastes nicely. The pictures themselves look like nice material anyways.
The second thing that convinced me to take the risk was that I seemed to remember Shah8’s glowing review of this cake. Specifically, was his comment “Frankly, its what a factory tea should be (and what you generally find in the 80s or earlier)” and he has also repeated claims that he believes it will age well. I am very fond of this old-school-ness and have pretty much drank through all of my 80s/90s puerh of this style. What I failed to remember was his other frank assessments that this is fake and other reviewer’s bad reviews of this fake. I understand the risk of Shah8’s bias towards vigorously defending his own purchases and vendors he grew up with. I also will give Houde some trust that they would not sell a garbage puerh. The combination was enough for me to buy.
I guess something else that should be mentioned is the price. In 2011 Houde sold this fake for $150.00 for 357g cake which would be scandalously overpriced for a fake at this time. I give them the benefit of the doubt that they were unaware that it was a fake back then but they apparently sold some other faked famous cakes including the famous 88’ Qingbing for $1000.00… that’s real crazy and I appreciate Marco’s very subtle, timely, and polite reminder that there are definitely some risk in blind caking offerings from places that have a history of either knowingly or unknowingly selling fakes as the real thing. The re-release of this cake sold out in a few hours for $350.00 for 357g cake and although it is more than double the price 10 years ago, it is essentially a white wrapper cake with no authenticity to collect or re-sell nor any market price to reference. It also represents the smallest price rise of all the re-releases from Houde. For me, whether it is worth it or not always comes down to the taste and feel of a puerh, this no doubt comes from my experience of drinking old puerh which were likely most often fakes. Taste and feel are the end all of puerh and not much else… tea is for drinking no?
The material in keeping with the old school vintage of this cake has lots of randomness. In prying off my first sample I find 2 small pebbles, some hay, and lots of leaf variability some bigger leaves and mainly lots of small whole and chopped leaves.
The dry leaves smell of hay, grains, and a faint almost mineral-woody-leaves sweetness. After, the rise the leaves have a strong spicy pungent vibrant smell to them.
The first infusion has a syrupy honey straw incense with a long creamy sweet almost marshmallow talc cherry finish. The mouthfeel has a fine powdery finish on it and coats the mouth. There is a strong talc, cherry incence mineral powdery taste to it up front but not too much for aftertaste. There is a pond like finish on the breath. This first infusion indicates that it is very dry stored, even if early notes indicate that it was more humid stored early it definitely tastes very dry stored now. The pond and straw kind of remind me of Bulang and Bada.
The second infusion has a strong honey, straw, incense, and kind of briney woody taste that comes strong initially with a more faint talc marshmellow cherry incense sweetness. The mouthfeeling is an almost tight powdery sensation with suggestions of cherry talc. The throatfeeling is kind of empty but a mid-upper throat coolness lingers there. There is a faint throat scatchy driness. A deep warming energy sweeps over my body and my mind has a resounding clearity. There is a nice big Qi sensation to greet me. A Good bodyfeeling of floating limbs. The aftertaste is a pondy kind of taste.
The third infusion has a stronger syrupy incense onset with some talc, cherry, almost a mushroom hay like taste. The incense taste dominates here. The mouthfeel is a tight powdery and unfortunately there is a bit of scratchy throat sensation going on. The Qi is really big and pushes me into a warming euphoria with a strong high floating sensation. Very strong stoner Qi here. Warming chest. Clarity to details. Damn scratchy throat- often a sign of rogue humidifying early on. Pondy finish in the mouth.
The fourth infusion has a strong incence taste with a bit of mineral and faint talc cherry. This infusion the complexity of taste bows out to a stronger incence taste. The Qi of this one is really really nice big Qi sensation with strong bodyfeeling. Wow! Its kind of a Bulang experience to me. Pond mouth breath. Throat scratch with fine powdery almost tight full mouthcoating. There is a nice caramel sweet incense taste in the cooled down infusion. Big Qi for me in the body as if my arms have fallen off my torso and I’m kind of floating with heart pounding.
The fifth infusion has a hay and incense taste with an emerging cherry talc marshmellow dry storage taste. There is a kind of oak barrel wiskey taste here and a smooth faint caramel. There is not any throat scratching either. More of a full powdery mouthcoating. Pond/marsh finish in the mouth. Big Qi here.
The sixth infusion has a richer oaky barrel wiskey incense taste. It seems the throat scratch is gone now. And a smooth inscence complex taste is left behind with the faint talc marshmellow cherry sweetness almost gone here as well. A bit of woody leaves and mineral with not really caramel tastes. Intense warming Qi breaks me into a sweat. Floating limbs. Feels really clean in the body.
The seventh infusion is a strong incense chalky talc mineral taste. The flavor has dropped off quickly, the mouthfeeling is less intense and the taste is mainly a flat mineral taste with a strong warming Qi sensation.
The eighth is much the same mainly just mineral and incense. Little bit chaky coarser mouthfeeling on the tongue. A flat mineral barely pond aftertaste with a flat bitterness undernieth. Qi is warming and breaks me into a sweat.
The ninth is kind of just a brackish bitter bland tasting thing with warming Qi and some intensity left over…
I put the spent leaves in a mug and grandpa steep them out and it is quite bitter, with some incense and root beer tastes. You can see in the picture the spent leaves are pretty random with even some weeds in there and some tippy 2 leaves and a bud with larger intact leaves but mainly factory chopped some tea seed pods. I think this is going to be a pretty diverse blend to put it nicely.
This is believable 2001-2004 material but it doesn’t taste at all like Menghai Factory. To me it tastes and mainly feels like Bulang area and with it comes insanely good Qi sensation and bodyfeeling which drops off quickly. There is also interesting complex flavours in the first handful of infusions. Some of the flavours are a bit weird like a strange hay but others are quite tasty. Some of these hay tastes kind of remind me of Bada area. There are also nice signs of good dry storage aging of a marshmallow, cherry talc taste. Something old school factory like this that is also dry stored gives it some inherent value as it would be rarer to find. It would be much more brilliant but maybe too intense if it didn’t undergo some humidity early on in the storage but it is minor and is on the whole a dry stored old school blended fake. The negatives of this puerh is that there is not much complex aftertaste or interesting throatfeeling. In fact, a big negative would be the throat scratchy sensation during the active phase of the profile.
*Today is my second shot with this puerh and I’m drinking this in a larger yixing with harder water and there is absolutely no scratchy throat so I hope this was a bad sampling. The Qi is similarly strong. The flavours are more bitter coffee and less sweet and complex today.
Compare to these…
This puerh would contrast well to the 2001 Naked Yiwu in that they have a similar storage, and aged incense profile and strong Qi and complexity but are from very different regions and do very different things. This also has a similar feel and storage to 2004 Nanqiao Bulang King ($125.00) in that they are both likely bulang with a long period of dry storage and some resulting complexity. In some ways it would also compare to the 2006 Rustic Zhongcha from TeasWeLike with a similar old school processing and randomness but I think the Rustic Zhongcha is much much better in storage, flavor, and mouthfeeling but maybe not in Qi. This fake has great Qi. Of course, the I think its price should be closer to the 2001 Naked Yiwu ($168.00)or 2006 Rustic Zhongcha ($174) than the $350 that I paid but it seems that all of the re-releases from Houde are a bit overpriced so this fits. It also is not as smooth or rounded as the 2000 Hai Lang Hao Bulang Mushroom that Yunnan Sourcing was selling either. I would also rate this lower in both value and enjoyment to some of the other re-releases at Houde. But I don’t think any have the wonderful Qi and bodyfeel of this unusual old school fake.
So was it a Good Fake or a Bad Fake? I suppose it was neither a bad fake nor a good fake overall… but this is coming from someone who enjoys the old school if you were expecting Menghai Factory quality you would be really disappointed with this one.