Tea-related news from my intrepid travelling spouse. While visiting her home in China's central Henan province, she has been drinking tea with the owner of the local tea shop. Her hometown being in the shadow of the Xinyang, the inhabitants (perhaps understandably) drink only Xinyang Maojian, one of the "Shi Da Ming Cha" [Ten Great Famous Teas]. They don't drink pu'er at all. The shopkeeper has been in business for fifteen years, and claims to have many pu'er cakes that have been gathering dust in his shop (literally - it's a dusty place), which he "just can't sell".
Xiaomao's first instinct, and mine, and undoubtedly yours, was "are they real?" She has spent the last few days trying a variety of the "dusty" shengpu and shupu and has come to the conclusion that they are a) tasty, b) probably the real thing. This is good news, along with the fact that their mean price is $6/bing (her hometown is quite remote). The bad news is that she now has 29 bingcha to try and get back to England, somehow.
Amusingly, the shopkeeper has apparently been calling his brother in the nearby city of Luohe to obtain more at a similar price. Stay tuned for samples coming your way.
To cap a great day, "Chinese Mama" [pictured] has even been so kind as to part with one of her taiji swords for her son-in-law. A tip for the married: show extreme caution around a mother-in-law skilled in the sword form.
Continuing the theme of kind gifts, today's tea was a surprise present from the ever-generous Dictator of Mars - thanks again, Phyll! It was created by Changtai factory for the 1st Pu'er Trade Fair in Malaysia, in 2005.
It's a delightfully chubby bing, which fills the room with rich, woody scent upon opening. I have "English Mama" visiting currently, who was seated at the other end of the lounge as I rooted around in the tea cupboard. On simply unwrapping the bing, she lifted her eyes from her book and commented that the aroma was delicious - and I have to agree.
~10cl Caledonian Springs @ 100C in 20cl shengpu pot; ~5g leaf; 1 rinse
Luxurious, full leaves make a pleasing, fat little cake. Internal leaves are more tightly compressed than the outer, and smaller. This bing is labelled "yinhao" [silver tips], and the proportion of tippiness to normal leaves is quite high. I wonder what this will do to its long-term aging prospects.
5s, 10s, 10s, 15s, 20s, 20s, 90s, 45s:
As you can tell from the infusion times, I received a 'phone call that caused a hiccup in brewing!
The body is silky and full, courtesy of the yinhao. It is fresh and young, but not overly penetrating in its bitterness - this has clearly been blended with the emphasis on current enjoyment, and it certainly is a pleasure indeed.
The flavours are rounded and broad, reminiscent of the rich tobacco-style flavours of the celebrity 2001 Menghai Yiwu. The character is sweet and high, with a long bamboo beidixiang that carries on throughout the flavour, sitting well in the nose.
Even when the unexpected 'phone call extended the penultimate infusion, the result was full and enjoyable. The colour is a solid yellow-orange.
Large and broad, with good strength. They are healthy indeed. The blender has done a fine job, as have the farmers.
I knew that I would probably love this cake simply because it was a generous gift. However, it does stand alone on its merits, which amply justify the praise. It is well-blended and very enjoyable in its current state. It has the rich flavours that I would like to see in an aging candidate, but I wonder if it has the pure bitterness, so oft cited as being beneficial to aging prospects, blended out of it to such a degree that it should be consumed soon.
Of course, this isn't really an issue as I suspect that I will have consumed this cake within the next year, given my attraction to it. Maybe if I found somewhere to buy more of these, though...
Addendum: 21 October, 2007
My original notes did not recognise how similar this brew is in flavour and aroma to brown sugar - some muscavado variety, perhaps. The similarity is quite striking after returning to this cake, and using a large quantity of leaves. It has plenty of the muscavado "maltiness" that remains in the nose. It is a decent, chunky tea - but not the tobacco deliciousness that I remembered.