[Finally, I translated and made unique updates to this English version. Since Puerh is new to some English speakers, I will upload more photos for this articles later so that you may know some definitions by photos.]
Time flies! There has been more than 3 years since my first Internet article in relation to the 1970's Zhongcha Brand Simplified and Traditional Chinese Characters Aged Tea Cakes. My first Internet article was originally posted on http://www.wwwart.com.tw/tea (Chinese version ONLY) at 08:36:57 p.m. 24 Oct 2002 under the thread called "【中茶牌簡繁體－圖文論述】". 3-year has gone and it's time to update it. If you want to view the very first article which was released on 24 Oct 2002, please click here (available in Chinese ONLY). Certinly, if you know Chinese, you may first read the very first one which reflected the market in 2002 and then read on this 2006 update.
----------------- (Updates made on 7 February 2006) -----------------
Cloud has not written a word about the Zhongcha Brand Simplified Chinese Characters Seven-son Tea Cake (hereinafter called "Simplified Characters") on the Internet in the past 3 years. I was busy with my work. Apart from my work, in fact, Simplified Characters has been discussed by Puerh aficionados in varies Chinese discussion forums for many times. However, the Simplified Characters has changed. I will modify some of my views and post some new photos, if necessary. But, bascially, this update is made upon the original text released in 2002. Surely, I will write an update tasting note to say what this tea is offering me in 2006. I believe Simplified Characters in 2006 will differ from the one in 2002 because 3 years aging time can lead to substantial differences in taste. This drives me to update my old Internet articles.
Nowadays, tea lovers from Taiwan seldom come to Hong Kong for searching those 1970's to 1980's dry stored tea cakes having very good aging quality such as Simplified Characters (中茶簡體字), Traditional Characters (中茶繁體字), Snow Mark(雪印), Thick Rough Paper 7542 (厚草紙7542), varies batches of 1980's 8582, Green Mark Junior (小綠印, also known as "Hand Stamp", 手工蓋印) and including a one which was not even mentioned 3 years ago, the Eighty-eight Raw Tea Cake (88青餅, 1988 Qing Beeng).
The reason why they do not come is because those good aged tea cakes were already sold and shipped to Taiwan in late 1990's. I dare to say that Taiwan's tea vendors have more aged good tea cakes than Hong Kong tea vendors have in 2005 to 2006. This leads to an interesting phenomenon that whenever Hong Kong has demands for aged good tea, Hong Kong tea vendors will buy back the tea from Taiwan even though the tea cakes were originally from Hong Kong. However, this situation starts to change dramatically in early 2006 that these well aged good Puerh tea cakes were almost all sold to Mainland China because of the enthusiasm of Puerh tea. Of course, some of these well aged tea cakes were also bought by Korean Puerh aficionados and tea collectors.
Why does Cloud still have a lot of Simplified Characters today? What I can say is that it was due to my courage at that time. My idea at that time was that tea was an art must be appreciated personally in order to understand it. The best way was to buy and buy and then brewed them frequently. If I did not brew the aged tea frequently, I would forget the aged taste of a particular tea easily . Whenever I saw some aged tea I did not have in my own tea collection, I would buy several tea cakes or even several stacks for study and research so as to learn what happened to the aged tea no matter whether it was wetly or dryly stored. Of course, if it was too wet, I would not buy.
Even though the prices of the tea cakes might be a little bit higher than the general and reasonable market price at that time, I still bought some (I mean intact tea cakes) as samples to home because I understood that if I did not buy that cake(s) at that particular moment, I would miss it/them in my collection forever (or I would have to buy it by inflated premium). In fact, my concept was very simple that I just bought Puerh tea for the consumption for the rest of my life. Why didn't I buy these tea in advance? That was the budget I would have to spend whatsoever. Therefore, I accumulated a lot of tea cakes in the past 5 to 7 years. If the price was higher than the reasonable market price at that time, I would demand for selecting those pieces one by one. I bought those tea cakes with good quality and left the worse for the tea vendor because there is no reason for you to buy those not beautiful tea cakes with such a high price. If you can afford to pay, pick those good one. You will not be comfortable to drink if the condition of a tea cake is too poor.
Just not long ago, whenever I met some of the tea vendors (becomes friend now) who sold me the tea cakes , they are always concerned about whether I had enough Puerh tea to drink or not. Surely, I know, they would like to have those extra quantity from me. Sorry! Cloud's Tea Collection (aged tea) is Puerh tea for Cloud's private use. Sometimes, I love to brew these aged Puerh with tea friends and tea aficionados. I admit that I have less than a hundred Simplified Characters. By comparing this stash amount to large tea wholesalers, my collection is just a small sum. But by contrasting this quantity to tea friends, my collection amount is comparatively substantial.
This is the result of my decision 3 years ago. However, you know, I was looked stupid and awkward when I bought those tea cakes 3 years ago because people think that I was paying higher prices for the tea cakes. Unfortunately, they did not know that the rationale behind the higher price was that I was actually screening out those disagreeable tea cakes.
Many tea vendors did not understand why I spent a lot of money on Puerh several years ago. However, judging from the tea price today, it is hard to say whether I was clever or stupid at that time. At least I can say, I do not have to pay high price for those aged tea as I have them in hand for several years when they were inexpensive. But, in 2006, a lot of people said that buying tea in early day is smart and would have asked you why you have known the inflation of Puerh tea. In fact, I am not a fortunate-teller. I do not expect the enthusiasm of Puerh tea nowadays. What I was doing 3 years ago was to buy Puerh tea cakes for securing my future consumption. I knew that Puerh tea is consumable just like red wine. If I loved particular kind of Puerh tea's tastes, why didn't I buy more for my future use. My rationale is simple and direct.
I have not bought any aged tea for 3 years because I have enough aged Puerh tea to drink for rest of my life. What I can expect is that my Simplified Characters, which is truly 1970's, will have unbelievable price when I get retire in 30 years.
By the above concepts, I bought a lot of Simplified Characters and Traditional Characters. Although it seems that the quantity I bought is over my actual consumption, this is just the right amount for my future use until my retirement. Simplified Characters is my favor. Therefore, I should buy more.
That is the reason why I am able to write an Internet article on the Simplified Characters because I brew a lot of them. Viewing the photos is better than to just reading the droughty words.
This is the "Simplified Characters" (for the full name, please refer to the 2nd paragraph).
And then, we should take a look on the "Zhongcha Brand Traditional Chinese Characters Seven-son Tea Cake" (hereinafter "Traditional Characters").
Characteristics of "Simplified Characters" and "Traditional Characters"
How to distinguish between "Simplified Characters"/ "Traditional Characters" from General Yunnan Seven-son tea cakes?
First, both the "Simplified Characters"(SC) and "Traditional Characters"(TC) have common differences between those general Yunnan Seven-son tea cakes:-
1. The wrapping paper of SC and TC do not have any English words or letters;
2. The tea cakes of SC and TC do not have any Trademark Ticket embedded;
3. The tea cakes of SC and TC do not have any Description Ticket;
4. Sometimes, a stack of TC contains a Stack Ticket. However, this stack ticket might have been thrown away in the old days;
5. This Stack Ticket is special because it is different from the Description Ticket of a general Seven-son tea cake. The difference is that the Stack Ticket of TC is double-side printing with Chinese and English which are on the front and the back page while the Chinese and English texts of Description Ticket of general Seven-son tea cakes are printed on the same page.
"Simplified Characters"(SC)The Chinese full name of SC is "中國土產畜產進出口公司雲南省分公司". In this name, the "國", "產", "產", "進" characters are Simplified Chinese Characters. However, it is quite interesting that some other Chinese characters which have their Simplified font counterparts do not appear in form of Simplified fonts such as "Yun"(雲) and "Cake"(餅)
"Traditional Characters"(TC)The Chinese full name of TC is "中國土產畜產進出口公司雲南省茶葉公司" . They are all Traditional Chinese Characters. Apart from the fonts, the name of SC and TC has a little bit different. You may pay attention to the last part of the full name. You will notice that SC is "雲南省分公司" (Yunnan Province Sub-branch) while TC is "雲南省茶葉公司" (Yunnan Province Tea Leaves Company).
Simplified Characters (19 Chinese Characters version)In fact, apart from the above mentioned SC and TC, there is a Simplified Characters with wrapper of 19 Chinese Characters version.
The full Chinese name of this tea is "中國土產畜產進出口公司雲南省茶葉分公司". In this name, "國", "產", "產", "進", "葉" characters are simplified fonts. However, it is very interesting that it combines the name of the normal SC and TC that this 19 Chinese Characters version contains both "茶葉"(Tea Leaves) and "分公司" (Sub-branch). Somehow, it looks like a mixed version of SC and TC at that time. I am of the view that the quality of this 19 Chinese Characters version is in between the above normal SC and TC. Since this version may be a trial version so that there was not many tea cakes available in the market. I just bought one for myself as one of my collections for study. By my experience, I judged this 19 Chinese Characters version should be a later one because it is not as old as the normal SC.
How to distinguish between "Simplified Characters" (SC) and "Traditional Characters" (TC) from its Chinese Characters and Fonts?
Their differences are as follows:-
1. The printing on SC's wrapper has "分公司" (Sub-branch) while that of TC is "茶葉公司" (Tea Leave Company). It has no sub-branch Chinese characters (分) anymore;
2. In SC's title "Yunnan Seven-son Tea Cake" (雲南七子餅茶), the style of the character "Tea" (茶), the last stroke is written like a square or rectangular shape;
3. However, in TC's title "Yunnan Seven-son Tea Cake" (雲南七子餅茶), the style of the character "Tea"(茶), the last stroke is written like a round dot;
4. By examining the printing ink, the ink used on SC is somehow like traditional Chinese cinnabar style (in fact, it must not be cinnabar. I mean the ink style like traditional ink);
5. Besides, the printing method is traditionally handmade because I could found a red exterior square vestige left on the wrapping paper;
6. While the printing of TC just like contemporary commercial printing;
7. (This is a point I did not notice in my previous article) In the title of "Yunnan Seven-son Tea Cake", the Chinese Character "Tea" (茶) of SC has a hook style in the stroke while the TC does not have a hook.
We can see from the photos that this condition of Simplified Characters can be regarded as dry storage. However, the degree of condition of dry storage does not reach the level of being absolutely dry. We can infer this from the damaged wrappers.
In relation to the taste of the "Simplified Characters", I mentioned in another Internet articles titled "Zhongcha Sub-branch". I quote the relevant paragraphs again here:-
"Simplified Characters (SC) is an interesting tea, the adjectives and words used by Mr. Y (a nickname) is very closed to the reality. Mr. Y said, '(SC) emerges special, rich and unique sweet floral aroma. The tea broth is thick and rich so that this tea could have long lasting infusions.' Yes, I agree with Mr. Y that when I brew this tea casually, it still offers me over 10 infusions. Counting the average costs of each infusion per unit price, in fact, I could save money. SC is a good quality tea which can still offer you a stable aged mouth sensations just like the taste of the 5th to 6th round in around the 10th infusion. This is amazing. "
Aroma       Taking a deep breath, you will feel the smooth, pleasant, rich and sweet aroma from the surface of the tea broth. This is one of the aroma Cloud likes most. That is the reason why Cloud loves this tea very much although Cloud also loves to appreciate the "Small Yellow Mark Seven-son Tea Cakes" and the "Conscientious Prescription". SC is a wonderful tea for present and future enjoyment.
By comparing it with the Blue Mark Round Tea Cake ("Blue Mark"), the Blue Mark has so-called "camphor" aroma [Remarks: I am of the view that the so-called "camphor" is just a special aroma of the Masterpiece Vintage from 1950's to 1960's. Therefore, in fact, the aroma is not like the "camphor" in reality. However, in Chinese, we call it "camphor" aroma. I just translate it directly.]. The taste of Blue Mark was very smooth and mellow which was obviously resulted from the long time of aging. On the other hand, the remaining strong taste of a strong tea (the SC) after 30 years aging still has it aftertaste. In Chinese, we call it "gan". The level of "gan" taste of the SC is rich enough to provide you a satisfactory enjoyment during the tea broth staying in your mouth. Apart from the "gan" taste, the SC also offers you a satisfactory and rich sweet taste. The sweet taste is not like the strong sweet taste from candy. It is a mild sweet taste from natual tea. Therefore, the SC is actually offering two graduate changes of tastes during many rounds of infusions. These were quite different styles. The strong taste came out first and then the natural sweet taste.
Color of tea broth       Viewing from the top to the bottom of my little cup, which in fact is like a cylinder, I can still see through the clear liquor and appreciate the whole tea broth from the surface to the bottom. That means the tea broth was not unclear. The tea broth was not black neither and it is somehow like deep amber color with a little orange-red color tone.
Personal Sensation       In fact, I did not have much to say on this because by describing the mouth feeling by pure text is just a cliche. You must be able to feel the tea when you actually can taste it yourself. Therefore, I would advise you to just take a glance of this paragraph.
When you sip the tea broth into your mouth, you will be able to feel that the tea broth is rich and thick. The remaining strong raw tea taste after decades aging still stimulates your tongue. This stimulation is somehow not too strong and "moderate" could be used as the adjective to describe it. However, if the storage of the SC is not too good, the stimulation might be like stitching on your tongue. The mouth is full of the aged sweet raw Puerh tea which is a special SC taste. After the tea broth is smoothly swallowed, the "gan" aftertaste can last for quite a long time. I think this is the most attractive point of appreciating the aged raw Puerh tea. At this moment, if you try to close your eyes and your month and take a deep breath and to exhale very slowly, you will feel that the SC's mild sweet aroma is still staying in your throat and the air will bring along that sweet aroma to your nose so that you can enjoy the aroma again and again. Having this kind of enjoyment, I think it is perfect enough, especially the well aged tea is extremely exhausted.
The conclusion from Cloud about the Simplified Characters ("SC") is that it should be a tea cake manufactured from 1970's to the middle of 1980's. Therefore, the earliest batches of the SC should be around 30 years right now. Even though some of the SC is younger, it still has at least 20 years of aging. The younger one will have a stronger raw taste than the older one. Certainly, the older SC has more time to age so that it is not surprised for a connoisseur to valuate the earliest SC is mellower. However, although the taste of the SC is mellow enough to taste today, the sensation offered is not on the same level as the Masterpiece Vintage such as Red Mark and Blue Mark which are the well aged vintages from 1950's to 1960's. Certainly, those Masterpiece Vintages are very expensive right now, having those may be seriously out of budget. Therefore, sometimes, having the Simplified Characters with friend is another choice. Some of Cloud's friends are also very appreciated on the SC because it is rich and mellow enough to enjoy. Sometimes, the SC is even better than some Yellow Mark (I mean the not well stored Yellow Mark. If the storage is proper, the Yellow Mark has richer changes from infusions to infusions which give you amazing appreciation enjoyment.)
As Mr. Y (a nickname) said, "the sensations offered by the SC is not simple and direct." In fact, it is quite complex that Mr. Y encountered 3 different tastes of the SC from different kinds of storages so far, i.e. different tastes from different SC tea cakes. Mr. Y mentioned them as follows:-
The first taste of some SC is its strong state. It is even so strong that the tea broth still carry the raw tea green taste. Owing to the mild wet storage at that time, the aging process is still going on. Therefore, it is not surprised that the tea is still green.
The second taste of some SC is the aged taste. Sometimes, you will feel that the SC is somehow like the Blue Mark when you brew the SC in a stronger way.
The third taste is the fresh taste which is not a sticky sensation after you have the tea broth in your mouth. However, the fresh taste may confuse you because it is somehow like a very young tea cake taste which is likely to be less than 20 years. You will not believe it is the genuine SC if it is not unpacked from the original package. I must emphasize that some very dryly stored SC may have this taste which is not even have a single moment of aged taste. SURPRISED.
Please pay attention to the tea leaves shown in the left. The SC shown there is the one with the aged taste like the Masterpiece Vintage. The taste offered by the shown tea cake is different from the general SC's taste. From the tea leave formula, its aging conditions and it's taste, I will draw a conclusion that this batch of SC may be consecutive to the Blue Mark. Therefore, it should be what we called "Early Simplified Characters". By judging its tea leaves from the tea cakes, it looks like Masterpiece Vintage. Owing to the consumption of the Masterpiece Vintage tea cake nowadays, the SC may also be included as one of the Masterpiece Vintage in the future.
Today, I have nothing to say when I see the popularity of Puerh tea nowadays. What I bought in the past was inexpensive becomes very expensive right now. I wonder how many people would take my advice in 2002 when I introduced some "best buying" tea. If those people start to realize that they should have bought some aged tea cakes in the past, I think the history is repeating just by different people and different tea cakes because many people had expressed that they should have had bought a piece of Red Mark when it was just US$100 something. However, they did not and has not and will not buy it anyway.
[P.S. Some pictures are different from the original articles (the Chinese Version) because I made some updates to this English version.]
7 February 2006 (date of release of original Chinese version)
6 April 2007 updated
Cloud (Hong Kong)
[Cloud's Tea Collection - Internet Articles]
Cloud's Tea Collection - Private Tea Album