1990s Guangdong bing 廣東餅 (圓票)
When I read this remarkable post by Matt of Mattcha’s blog I did not expect to ever taste his incredible find of a stack of decades-old Cantonese puerh in a local Chinatown shop in Regina, Saskatchewan. When we recently exchanged blind sample sets earlier this year, I was absolutely blown away when I found, tucked underneath the mystery tea samples, a little round neifei staring back at me:
I still can’t quite believe he sent me an entire cake. Many thanks, Matt, for your amazing generosity. I hope to repay you one day soon.
I was informed this is a 1990s example of a Guangdong bing, sometimes sold as “Guang Yun Gong”, a very well known line of cakes which were produced from the late 50s up to the 90s. It is unclear what material makes up the cakes, in the sense that it may be from Guangdong or Yunnan or some mix of the two (as Deng Shihai believed, he termed it GuangYun gong for that reason, apparently).
The cake is quite strongly compressed, with a flat back and a domed front, as you can see from the profile pic:
The storage on this cake is very dry, as far as I can tell. If it experienced traditional storage, it must have aged out long ago — I can’t detect any trace of it. What is detectable is a flavour and aroma which many people mention when they try the GYG: a very strong Chinese herbal medicine note. It’s not so much ginseng as it is the complex mixture of herbs that you get in a Cantonese medicine shop, exemplified by these Po Chai pills.
Let me shorten my usual tasting notes to give the reader a clear idea of what this tea is like. The dry leaf, damp leaf, and liquor have a unified taste and smell of herbal medicine. I feel that this cannot be simply the aging of the tea, but must be a result of storage in an actual medicine shop.
The wash and all steeps are very clear and dark orange. The taste is strikingly bitter and medicinal. Old paper. The empty cup aroma is sweet caramel. Frisson after the first steep — this is a very strong tea. Sides of the face are a bit numb and tingly. The wet leaf smell now becomes quite nice, sweet and beautiful, like cinammon bark and fragrant wood.
Steeps continue, with strong bitterness and rich astringency. Woody and strong. Some juiciness and minerality, but no funk of any kind, geosmin or wodui. If the tea is left to cool, it becomes extremely bitter and astringent.
In the mid and late steeps, there is an increasing note of sandalwood and other more perfumed incense. After about 4 or 5 steeps, I had to lie down, this is extremely potent and bitter. I am so thankful to have the opportunity to try this, and will put this away in the hotbox for what could be another 20 years …. !!