Scouring the Chinese shops in the Turin Chinatown, scraping by on my very poor Mandarin (in preference to my yet worse Italian), I found a pile of boxed tuocha selling for virtually nothing ($4 each). Just for fun, I thought I'd grab one and see if it's worth buying one or two more.
After buying the tea, I headed to the conference social event, which took place in the vaulted underground space underneath one of the city landmarks. Happily, there was a long, chrome bar running its full length. As if thrown back to the world of Austin Powers, all of the tables were illuminated from the inside, as were the chairs - and the colours slowly cycled.
Sadly, my entirely inadequate Mandarin skills prevented me from finding out which year this tuocha was produced, but it's most likely to be a 2006. I since found an Italian boutique tea-shop selling something similar, for a little more money, which was all 2006. It costs nearly nothing, at $4/box, and so my expectations are limited!
The box is CNNP, and the wrapper is labelled "Yunnan Province Xiaguan" - let's see what they've managed.
Turin tap-water @ 100C in 9cl gaiwan; ~5-6g leaf; 2 rinses
Short and dark, and scented like every other average shupu in the world - of which there are many.
6s, 12s, 30s, 90s:
Odd-looking infusion times, no? They reflect my efforts to try and get something amusing out of this tea.
It starts off generic enough, with a sweet aroma. The soup is surprisingly clean, and a good orange-red. There is a truly extraordinary mintiness to the flavour. Other flavours are almost absent, save a background-hum of standard shupu.
Doubling the infusion time from 6s to 12s, and the tea is still light, fresh, and thoroughly minty. There is absolutely no bitterness, nor huigan. I step it up to 30s, and then triple it to 90s - pretty dangerous for a fourth infusion! Still, after such immense overbrewing, the tea remains muted, mediocre, and minty.
Tippy and small with a few whole leaves, the grade is fairly decent. I wonder if Xiaguan are still boxing up "export-grade" leaves in this way. Some leaves stand out as being quite green, reminding me of a shengpu/shupu blend that VL showed to me recently.
It costs nearly nothing and is worth every penny. Again, this backs up my prejudice against modern-day CNNP. I'd be surprised if this were truly Xiaguan Factory, unless they've got into the habit of producing ultra-mediocre quality produce for foreign export.
The ability of this tea to remain unchanged and generic despite massive overbrewing is as startling as its mintiness.