Today, I would like to have a look at the 2001 Yiwu from Jinchanghao, sold by Essence of tea, and 2002 Yiwu from Yunnan sourcing. I had the 2001 Yiwu some time ago and when I recently got a sample of the 2002 one, I thought it remarkably similar to the 2001. Along my order of yancha from EoT, I piggybacked a small amount of the 2001 Yiwu for comparison. I used about 3-4g in gaiwans, 2min steepings.
Dry leaves: 2001
Dry leaves: 2002
Unfortunately, my piece of 2002 Ancient spirit comes from the center of the cake and is pressed brutally dense - therefore, the leaves look entirely different. Both teas smell of agedness and nuts.
The 2001 has plenty of dark nuttiness, which is accompanied by background taste of overripe fruit; not bad at all, very sweet. The 2002 is also basically dark-nutty and similarly sweet, but the fruitiness is weaker, its place is taken by a sort of woodiness. Hints of fishiness and tiny remnants of smoke can be detected, but they are not a big issue. I observed that the less leaves are used for the 2002, the more fishy it can get. When I used 1g in a gaiwan, using long steepings, it was not really that good. However, in gongfu, there is no problem.
Since the second steeping, the leaves if 2001 Yiwu start to smell of potato-earthiness, while in the 2002, more of the good caramel sweetness occurs.
1st steeping's liquor (2001 to the left):
2nd steeping's liquor (2001 to the left):
In the first image, the 2001 is a bit darker, while in the second one, the 2002 is darker. I guess that due to heavy compression of the 2002, it opened up more slowly, despite my best efforts. In my previous (unpublished) comparison, when I used 1g only, the color and character of the liquor was essentially the same.
In mouth, I find both teas entirely satisfactory, though not exalting. Both teas share very good thickness, solid active mouthfeel, pleasant caramel sweetness and nicely aged character, given their age - this manifests in a sort of aged nuttiness and light taste/feeling of forest floor. Both have pleasant aftertaste, which lasts long.
The 2001 one is, in my opinion, somewhat fruitier and a bit deeper, while the 2002 has more wood, spice and feels wider in mouth - like there are more tastes cooperating. The bitterness (not too strong) behaves differently - in 2001, the tea starts perfectly smooth and then the bitterness strikes, while in the 2002, weaker bitterness is present almost all the time. This holds for the teas being pushed - in gongfu, using shorter steepings, no real bitterness appeared.
In general, these teas taste quite similar. I could not tell them apart blindly back when I used only 1g for a gaiwan. I like their coherent nature (some could call it simplicity) and good (for me) storage.
I thought the tea quite different in qi. While the 2001 was ordinary young-aged soothing tea, the 2002 felt more powerful and distinct to me; it hit me harder.
Spent leaves: 2001
Spent leaves: 2002
Indeed, the 2002 Yiwu is not the sexiest looking tea under the sun - some breaking may be attributed to my manipulation with the rock-hard sample, but it seems to contain less whole leaves in general. The leaves also are not as thick as the leaves of the 2001 tea.
Even though the inspection of leaves suggests that the two compared teas should entirely different, the 2001 tea being a lot better, I do not find it so. I rather think that these teas are quite similar in general character, with small differences. Furthermore, the biggest difference - in qi - is probably personal.
This result suggests that either the 2001 Jinchanghao is quite overpriced ($180), or the 2002 ancient spirit is a great bargain ($53, used to be $38). I think that the truth lies somewhere between. I certainly would not pay $180 for a similar cake. However, I would not pay more than, say, $80 either. Anyway, I think the Ancient spirit is really a solid tea for its current price and if you can live with a bit of humidity in storage (or you enjoy it), it is a quite pleasant and free-of-big-flaws tea.