June 4, 2011

1990's Small Yellow Label CNNP 7532

It's been a while since I promised Matt a post about this tea--partly because Seattle's weather has been pathetically uncooperative for tea photo shoots.  Anyone who's followed the online pu-erh market for any length of time has surely noticed the most recent surge in prices of both aged and young pu-erh.  Unsurprisingly, a lot of us have felt a bit alarmed and have made attempts to nab up a few teas before their prices reach unpurchaseable levels--nothing like a good old market panic to drive the prices up even more.  Having avoided buying much aged pu-erh for a while, I decided to join in the frenzy and purchase some teas I'd been eying for a while.  Like most of the aged pu-erh I tend to post about, this tea comes from Essence of Tea, which means that the strength of the British Pound Sterling versus the US Dollar is an additional factor.  Thankfully it's been pretty stable around $1.60-$1.65 as of late--about average for the last few years, but thankfully nowhere near the $2ish levels it reached around '06.  I suppose the point is that, for once, I actually planned a bit before plunging into this purchase.

Let's find out: One, two, three...three.

So, this is only the second full tong of pu-erh I've ever purchased.  What was the first, you ask?  Back in 2007 when I knew very little about pu-erh I bought a tong of this tea on sale from Royal Puer in celebration of the shop's first anniversary, thinking it'd be good to have a large amount of "some pu-erh," as if all pu-erh is pretty much the same.  Talk about falling down the rabbit hole.  For the foolish but fairly inexpensive $70 investment, it's a pu-erh of acceptable quality, though I have my doubts as to how well it'll age starting from complete immaturity in the Pacific Northwest.  My main regret is the fact that I ripped the bamboo wrapper completely off right after receiving the tea and the cakes have been loose ever since.  With my most recent tong purchase, my past mistake resulted in behavior of a polar opposite nature--perverse neurosis.  So obsessed with keeping the tong whole for who knows how long, I decided I needed to buy one more cake to work on in the meantime.  Perverse neurosis. 

Oh no, almost gone!  Better buy another cake so I don't have to break into the tong!
Now that I've so greedily hoarded a substantial stash of this tea, perhaps it'd be a good time to try it for the first time?  Joking!  Only joking--I tried numerous samples of this tea before making the purchase.  What do I look like, 2007 me?  This 90's cake is by no means an exceptional aged pu-erh.  Like very few aged pu-erhs, though, it actually inhabits a sweet spot of agedness, quality and price I like to call "value."  Since the tea's only labeled "90's," I assume it's toward the late end of the decade.  If considered as a twelve-year-old aged tea, it's remarkably mature (even for a tea from the mid- or early-90's, I'd say).  There's very little in the way of astringency remaining, the liquor is quite dark and it's only bitter if egregiously oversteeped or too many leaves are used.  I can only assume that it's gone through some fairly humid storage, though the cake surface is really quite clean and mold-free.  There is, however, an attractive staining of the wrapper and tickets that would indicate a bit of humidity, juiciness or both.

 Flavor-wise, it's no paragon of complexity--the notes are mostly what I'd expect from my past experiences with 90s CNNP--standard pu-erh plus a solid dose of sticky huang pian sweetness.  There's plenty of humidity and earth in the flavor to corroborate the other evidence, but this tea's storage is by no means as tough to handle as the stomach-churning (for me, anyway) Hong Kong storage of its similarly-priced EoT brethren, the Late 90's Grand Yellow Label.  There's no sparkling complexity that can be found in more special aged sheng, but it's a far cry from the one-dimensionality often exhibited by aged loose teas, for example, providing a handful of simultaneous flavor and mouthfeel experiences and a noticeable progression during a long brewing session.  This is a tea I thoroughly enjoy drinking now and will be happy to continue drinking whether or not its aging progresses, which gets at the primary motivation behind this purchase. 

I find myself less and less often looking for amazing, unparalleled examples of a certain type of tea, but more often for good, solid examples that are "the way I like it" and can be enjoyed repeatedly without the stress of budgeting a tiny quantity.  Not that I don't appreciate amazing tea, but I can't afford a ton of it and tea drinking is such a part of my lifestyle that I can't always pay the kind of attention that extremely expensive, good tea deserves.  This tea fits bill, and after buying so much of it I can virtually drink as much as I want without any fear of running out before finding out whether or not it's continued aging.  Also importantly, if I simply feel like casually drinking "some pu-erh" I can turn to this tea instead of a much more expensive one, thereby making my more modest stocks of those teas last much longer.  In the months since I special ordered my tong I see the full cakes have sold out.  I'm hoping David and Kathy restock this tea soon, as I feel it's probably the best value for its agedness on the Western-oriented web--what an affordable way to learn about aged pu-erh!  At roughly $90 for a cake, this tea is priced below innumerable cakes of 2005 or later vintage that provide no insight into the experience of drinking aged pu-erh, an experience I feel is usually unjustifiably difficult and expensive to achieve in the Western tea drinking world.


Anonymous said...

Of course to keep drinking this tea you'll eventually have to crack open the tong! ;)


tieguanyin said...

Glad I bought a cake of this one before you tong'ed it !

Elliot Knapp said...


I'm just now realizing that it looks like I bought out EoT's whole stock of this cake--in fact, I special ordered it while David was traveling in Taiwan for resupply, so the quantity I purchased was never in their stock. I have to assume they picked up some more for the store, as it seemed like there was a pretty ready supply, but I guess we'll see. Sometimes I feel like by the time I get to know a tea well enough and get around to posting about it, it's almost always sold out!

Anonymous said...

Hi Elliot,
I own both this tea and the grand yellow label from EOT. I encourage you to try the grand ellow again I feel as though the Grand Yellow is Much better tea. Just give it three good rinses and ou've got 15 more infusions of good tea. While I think the small yellow is a decent tea I think that it has been slightly shu-ified.

Elliot Knapp said...

Sure--I'm not opposed to trying a tea again, especially when the price is as right as these two teas. I remember the Grand Yellow cake lasting quite a while too, but for me the issue was that the storage made me feel physically unwell, so it might be tough to overcome that reaction.

Interesting about the Small Yellow--what about it reminds you of cooked pu-erh? In my experiences with it I haven't detected any shou processing in the wet leaves, though the blend does seem to include quite a few huang pian.

tieguanyin said...

Hey Elliot,

I own both these teas. The Grand Yellow definitely has a strong wet storage dimension to it. Have you tried maybe "drying out" a chunk of it to see what would give after a bit?

I recall reading on a tea blog somewhere (can't seem to remember which one) about a heavily wet-stored tuo the writer bought. He found it revolting, demanded his money back, got a refund and promptly forgot about it. He found it back much later after it had dried out and found it to be quite enjoyable. The post closes with the dilemna of what to do? Reimburse the vendor :)? Just a thought...

Have a good one,


Anonymous said...

Oh yeah any of that GYL I had I revitalized for at least a week.
I complely agree the taste is pretty humid but I feel like by the seventh infusion its a realy decent tea that will turn into something better with dryer storage down the road.
I'm curious to see what seatle storage will be like that seems to me like a possibly good ageing environment.

Elliot Knapp said...

If I remember correctly I purchased about 25g of the Grand and after not loving it left most of the chunk in a small paper bag for a couple months before finishing it. I remember hoping that it'd be mellower when I finished it but it was still pretty funky. Yeah, I figure you're not going to love every tea--I don't think I'd ever ask for my money back from a vendor, especially not without returning the tea. I've got a couple of teas I don't completely enjoy that I'm hoping ease off on the storage taste and mature a bit (one is the 1996 8582 from EoT, but its flaws are milder), so we'll see!

I definitely remember the tea lasting forever. Now I'm getting curious about buying a cake or two whenever I've got some spare cash. Seattle seems to be OK for pu-erh aging. I'm more intuitive than scientific when it comes to aging and drinking my teas, but my current abode is an 80+ year-old house with plenty of air/humidity exchange, so I'm guessing it's as ideal as a storage can be in Seattle. The only thing is that the humidity never gets TOO high, though it's higher than some. I often wonder how the south or east coast might fare for storage.