§ A BIT ABOUT 88 QING BING
The 88 Qing Bing ("88QB") tea in this post was obtained from a trusted tea collector extraordinaire in Malaysia. It has been stored naturally by the collector since the early 1990’s.
There are 2 important key elements to 88QB:
- They are Menghai Factory-produced 7542 tea cakes from 1989-1992, and
- They are dry-and-naturally stored † (see endnotes for more information)
§ TASTING NOTE
For the sake of brevity, I will defer all visual observation and description to the accompanying photographs.
Basic parameter: ～5.5 grams in a 110ml Yixing pot; Volvic spring water at 100°C/212°F.
A true powerhouse in taste and energy! The scent of the tea cake radiates far and robust with attractive medicinal/herbal scents, preserved dates or plums and a sort of oriental spices that is mildly sharp. It’s quite a wonderfully intoxicating perfume. There was no hint of smoke or wet-storage smell. The tea soup feels thick and oily, yet it still possesses a finely-textured astringency that forms a necessary backbone for further aging. Of its taste, the phrase “iron fist in a velvet glove” fits the bill accurately. It packs power and punch! The concentration of flavors and aromas is very dense…herbal/medicinal, spicy, plummy, extremely cooling, numbing of the mouth cavity, all in an explosion of activities before it goes down smooth. It’s never bitter in the slightest. The aftertaste is sweet and long with impressive staying duration. The energy (chaqi) feels clean and powerful.
After 8 steepings, there is an unmistakable feeling of euphoria. It’s unlike that of being tea drunk. The tea continues to steep well for about 15 steepings before I transferred the leaves into a large pot with a tea warmer underneath for an extended extraction. 2 days and 25 generously-sized cups later, it still refuses to give up.
In 2007, I had the opportunity to taste the 88QB, albeit one with a very different expression. I was not impressed by the tea to say the least. It was unpleasantly smoky, very woody and the aftertaste was metallic and somewhat akin to cigarette smoke. According to my old notes the tea was thin-bodied. That tasting session many years ago made me feel unwell and disappointed. Ever since that tasting, I hardly ever thought of 88QB with much regard. I assumed (wrongly) that it was just another overrated and overpriced tea.
In more than 20 short years of tea learning, I can only count a handful of times -- spaced over many years apart -- when I encountered a tea so singularly exceptional. These are the kind of teas that shook one’s understanding of what great tea is all about and why we make such a great fuss about them. This particular 88QB is one of them. The learning never stops.
1. Because dry and natural storage is a key aspect to 88QB, any example that exhibits wet storage exposure would deviate from the intended expression that is responsible for 88QB’s high acclaim.
2. An 88QB that has been humidly-stored (i.e. traditionally or wet) for most of its existence may not exhibit the same power and punch that a dry-stored specimen would.
3. Dry-storage does not mean bone-dry conditions, but rather an environment where moderate to high levels of humidity and temperature are natural without any artificial means.
4. Best Tea House in Hong Kong is the original proprietor of many well-known dry-storage pu’er teas. 88QB is considered to be the epitome of such storage practice.
5. Kam Pong, Chan, First Step to Chinese Puerh Tea, Taipei: Wushing Books Publication Co. Ltd., 2006. Print.
6. The photos of the wet leaves are less than ideal. Much of the leaves for this first session were from those that have fallen off of the cake and trapped inside the wrapper. For all intent and purposes, however, they clearly show all the necessary visualization for aged and dry-stored tea leaves. I will provide better photos of wet leaves next time.
7. External links and references on 88QB:
With the intent of providing a useful reference for everyone and myself, the photographs that accompany this post have been captured by using strict product photography standards to ensure accurate color representation.