1988 Menghai 8582
The 8582 collector
Cultivar: Big arbor and plantation puerh
Harvested : Spring 1988
Origin: Menghai Factory, Yunnan, China
Process: raw, sun dried, blended and pressed as a cake
8582 and 7542 cakes are considered the descendants of the red mark and green mark puerhs. Now that puerh from the 50s and 60s has become too rare and expensive, those cakes from the mid 70s to the 90s have become the 'must-have' cakes for aged puerhs drinkers. They provide the benchmark for the best quality from that time period : the organized monopoly of the CNNP during the first stage of China's rise.
I call it organized, because it's in 1975 that the CNNP's Yunnan Tea Branch started to introduce a better classification of its puerh products. They started to have 4 numbers to identify them. The first 2 numbers for the year of invention of this recipe, the third number for the grade of leaf used the most in this cake, and the fourth number to identify which factory produces the puerh.
This standardization had its limits, though. The production year wasn't indicated on the wrappers. This is where it's difficult to tell the age of those cakes. Some people rely on the analysis of the wrapper, neifei and neipiao to determine the age and authenticity of the cake.
If you'd compare the paper of the 8582 in this article to this one, you may probably think that it is younger because the color of the wrapper looks brighter. The problem with that analysis is that the wrappers were printed by handwork. This caused by discrepancies in color and sharpness of the printing within the same batch. Besides, paper is cheap and easy to copy nowadays.
What can't be imitated easily is the quality of the leaves, of the tea itself. That's why it's best to learn to read the tea leaves themselves, rater than just the paper!
The pressing of this 8582 is very well done. It feels like a discus! The color of the leaves isn't uniform, but varies according to the type of the leaf. The buds are light golden and lightest in hue. Bigger leaves contain less moisture and turn dark faster. This is an interesting example of how a puerh cake from 1988 looks like. It shouldn't have a uniform red/brownish color: this would indicate some wodui, artificial humidification process to make it look aged faster.
A close up shows that there are also buds included among the leaves of this 8582. This shows that the '8' in he number doesn't mean that this cake is made with leaves that are all from the grade 8 (= big, mature leaves), but that the majority of these leaves are big and include more stems than a 7542, for instance. The cake looks marvelous!
The leaves on the sides of the bing are easy to flake without breaking them. They have a wonderful solid and elastic feel.
For my first brew of this cake, I measured 3 grams of leaves and brewed them in a porcelain gaiwan in order to get neutral and standard results.
I have acquired this puerh recently, so it's quite normal that it should still have a storage scent. It would be best to air these dry leaves a little for better results. There are scents of dry wood and more particularly oak sawdust.
I don't rinse and brew the first brew for several minutes (between 3 and 4 approximately). My goal is to test this tea with this infusion. I obtain a very rich, concentrated tea soup, but it hasn't turned black.
What strikes me first is the camphor smell. Then, it's this very contradictory feeling of having a very thick taste combined with a purity and lightness. Such a concentrated tea should feel heavy, but it doesn't! It melts away and leaves a very sweet velvet taste on the palate, the tongue, the throat... I salivate with pleasure and my whole mouth experiences a long lasting 'tension', like a massage.
The transparency of the brew is excellent.
My second brew is shorter and therefore less concentrated.
This emphasizes even more the lightness and purity of this tea. The aromas are still full of power with notes of camphor and lots of sweetness. This sweetness is carried by tannins that have a slight bitter taste, but that help make this feeling last so long.
For the third brew, I pour my boiled water slowly and increase my brewing time. The tea turns out softer, but the incredible power I felt with the first 2 brews diminishes.
The coating of the mouth effect isn't as strong anymore. But there's still a very nice warm chaqi felt in my belly.
On the fourth brew, I pour with strength again. The sweetness of this puerh reminds me of the Yiwu region. This is consistent with what I learned about these cakes. The taste is a little bit less elegant than on the previous brew, but there was little loss of power.
I made several more brews with these leaves. They were less intense, but very enjoyable.
The open leaves look still so young! Some green color is still to be seen. That's why they have so much energy and freshness. We can also see many stems: they provide the thickness and the backbone for the great light bitter, strongly sweet tea.
Conclusion: this is a great example of how what great puerh tastes like as it reaches 25/26 years of age. It makes not only for a wonderful tasting experience, but also teaches what to aim for in a tea of that age in terms of aftertaste, energy and purity.
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