Storage comparison: 2004 YQH Dingji Yesheng
The 2004 Dingji Yesheng is one of the better (if not the best) YQH production and is described very well in James’ interview with Yang. I have had a cake since 2016, and I wanted to compare it to a sample directly from Yang’s storage in February 2021. This is a side by side tasting: the sample from Taiwan is on the left and my storage is on the right.
My storage: This was stored at 23C in a stainless steel latex-sealed onyx food canister with 4 other YQH cakes, with no added humidity. The dry leaf smells rich, sweet, and has a light scent of the typical YQH storage. Nothing off-putting.
Yang’s storage: Recently I have read comments that the YQH storage is getting heavier, or that his 2004 cakes are now shipping with stronger storage notes… This does not seem to be the case. The difference between these two teas is very minor and I don’t believe it is accurate to say that the storage on this DJYS is in any way heavy or musty. Roughly speaking, the tea is very similar to the way it was in 2016. I will outline the differences below.
This session was done in a pair of gaiwans, but I don’t recommend brewing this tea in a gaiwan – ideally it needs a stronger blast of heat than a gaiwan will give.
This tea is thick, herbal, sweet, with a light and subtle bitterness. It is definitely a gushu style tea and is lacking punchiness, bitterness, and astringency. What it lacks in up-front attributes is made up in its very strong energy, frisson, throat cooling, and really long lasting body effects. I won’t comment any further on these, but rather only on the difference between the two storage examples.
The sample from Yang has the same profile, is obviously the same tea, and is a bit softer than my stored example. There is a bit less bitterness, a bit less plumminess, and a tiny bit more thickness. But it is very subtle. In that sense it has lost a tiny bit of the interesting taste in favour of texture.
Yang’s sample is also a bit darker in profile, having a bit more leather and a bit more aged notes. The flavour of the tea is really good in my opinion, very complex and deep, with more aged notes. I would not say that the “yang storage aroma” is stronger, rather that other typical aged tea notes have entered.
Overall I prefer the tea in my storage but only by a small margin, due to the slightly punchier taste. But really the tea is the same, it is as good now as it was in 2016. Comparing against other YQH teas I’ve tried recently, I think it is significantly better than Zhencang Chawang, which has even more subtle taste and not as energetic, as well Chawangshu (though this one does have quite unique euphoric qi still) and significantly ahead of Tejipin, which does seem to have too much storage taste for my liking.
4 years of Taiwan storage obviously has an effect, even on a 2004 tea, making it very slightly thicker, sweeter, less bitter, and bringing in some darker notes like leather and clay. But the change is quite subtle, much like the difference between young teas stored at 23 vs 32C for a year. I do not believe that there is any “uptick” in Yang storage, at least in this tea.
It is unfortunate that Yang decided on such an aggressive storage system for such relatively gentle-tasting tea. On the other hand, I think the storage is quite unique, and my guess is that it is because it is at the sweet spot for growth of certain favourable yeasts and avoids mold and bacteria. That is why I have never been able to describe YQH as “dank” — in fact a lot of his teas are not as dark as they would be with a more typical humid Taiwan storage.
My guess for aging potential is that this will accumulate aged tea notes, it will have an increasingly gentle taste, and the energy and body effects will continue to be strong. So it might not be a bad idea to let it age more slowly, if you want to conserve the juicy aspects of the tea. I don’t think the strong qi will go anywhere, though, so if all you want is aged taste and qi, it should be fine with normal aging…