A non-traditional Pu-er full of surprises.
Menghai is a recognizable brand of pu-er tea. They were one of the first companies to find success in creating post-fermented teas. Their brand recognition has fueled many counterfeits sold across China. The company has responded by including security features with each tea cake. Along with increasing security the company has released media about how to spot counterfeit product.
This tea cake bears the label “8592.” The first two digits represent the year this tea recipe was first used. “85” means 1985. The famous recipe dates from 1975 when Menghai first found success with commercial pu-er. The third digit represents the leaf grade. Lower numbers mean higher quality and higher numbers mean lower quality. The last digit stand for the factory where they produced the cake. Numbers 1 and 2 are the Menghai factory in Yunnan, China. As you can see this is a later generation recipe using lower quality leafs.
This cake has standard Menghai packaging. The tea is bundled in porous paper and sealed on the back using a security sticker. Once unwrapped the scent of pu-er fills the room. Pungent, earthy aroma. Between the wrapper and tea there is a page describing the Menghai brand. It's in English and Chinese, and there's a brief graphic on how to brew pu-er. Nice to have a little info but its a poor translation. The graphic is basic and it advocates using a long brew time. I think this would create a bad experience for those who have not tried pu-er before.
The cake is standard disc shape for Menghai. The cake is firm to the touch. There are no sign of spillage or mold. I find another paper molded into the outer layer of the cake. The paper has the same branding and security features as the sticker. Another confidence you’re buying authentic pu-er. After a light steaming the cake blossoms. Breaking the tea into small pieces allow for easier storage. Purple sand or earthenware pots are ideal. This is good for storing and long term preservation. A low price point suggests it’s for people who can differentiate between leaf quality. The plain packaging mean this isn’t a tea you would gift.
The cakes are well formed and no dust lies at the bottom of the package. The leafs show care and I find only whole leafs throughout the cake. These are lower quality leafs than other pu-er so I expect the flavor to be one dimensional. Not a bad thing if you want a pu-er for everyday. I see black leafs with some lighter leafs mixed in the cake. If I were to store this tea the leafs would darken. The pressed cake shows no damage and the leafs were folded instead of crushed. This will give a pure taste with little bitterness.
Make sure to wash your leafs before you begin brewing. This involves pouring 100C water over the tea. Once the leafs submerge let it sit at least 20 seconds. The color will be dull and this is normal. Discard the water. I started by using my standard method for pu-er (7g of tea, 100C water, brew for 30 seconds.) This pu-er should yield at least 7-8 brews if you choose.
The first brew gives a light amber color. This is familiar with other pu-er’s from Menghai. There is a faint taste of fermentation. The tea flavor is not awakened at this point. There is light mouthfeel, not normal with pu-er. I suspect it will get heavier. There is a mellow aftertaste with hints of what’s to come.
The second brew gives a few surprises. The water is suddenly dyed by a deep red color. It’s bright and unlike other pu-er I’ve seen. The taste is fermentation, soil, and black tea. The earthiness is dominant over all other tastes. The mouthfeel increased drastically. There is a heavy sensation as it coats my mouth. It leaves little to no bitterness. I find it dampens other tastes like snacks or fruits you might eat with the tea.
The third brew is now fully red. Not like an artificial color. The hue is natural much like goji berries. This is such a surprising color for pu-er. I find the taste is now balanced between earth and black tea. The mouthfeel remains heavy but it leaves less residue. The taste and mouthfeel remain but decrease in intensity during the rest of the brews.
The first brew emanates earth. It is a heavy soil, mold smell. I can almost smell the wet piling technique. As if the leafs lie fermenting in warm, humid conditions. This is not an off-putting scent like it seems. It is like walking into a musty, old bookstore. Strolling a mountain path after a summer rainstorm. During the second brew scents become more grounded in black tea. But the third brew bring stronger notes of soil and earth. The aroma grows stronger and encompasses the whole nose. There is no smoke or soil. With the fourth brew my nose finds balance with earth and tea scents. This balance remains for the remaining brews.
A nice departure from traditional pu-er Menghai offers. Affordable and widely available makes it a superb choice if you don’t want to buy vintage pu-er. It’s a good choice when you want to look beyond popular pu-er. It left me warm and satiated. Perfect for cold days when you want a little coziness.