After spending a week-end camping (teabags, camping stove), it's great to be back drinking proper tea in a proper manner. Tea consumption while camping was limited to an essential breakfast cup, with little attention paid to it. By way of stark contrast, this morning's cup as the sun turned the dawn sky into a dramatic peach-colour was a welcome return.
The final of the three less expensive Xizihao cakes for this year, the 7542 of course denotes the 1975 recipe from Menghai Factory (where the processor, Ms. Dong of Guoyan Factory worked as a blender).
Brita-filtered water @ 100C in 12cl shengpu pot; ~7-9g leaf; 1 rinse
Dark and fairly large, these look fairly decent leaves. There exists a corresponding dark, sweet aroma about them. There are several thin, weak "yellow leaves" that I remove prior to brewing [pictured atop the pile in the chahe].
The rinse of the leaves is unusually frothy, given the cleanliness of the other 2007 Xizihao varieties.
3s, 4s, 7s, 12s, 18s, 27s:
A deep yellow soup that later tends towards orange. The first infusion is fairly smokey, which vanishes for the remainder of the session.
The flavour is light, quite thin, being merely "grain-like". The most notable aspect of this tea is its almost effervescent quality on the tongue. Even from the first two tiny pinmingbei, I feel the familiar, cold throb of sheer caffeine sitting behind my eyes, like a cheap coffee.
I do rather enjoy the thin, grain flavour which has a quality presentation, yet lacks the depth and richness of the Huangshanlin or the 8582.
By the third infusion, this tea is already on its way out, where the aroma is reduced to nothing. The fourth infusion sees the soup beginning to fade in its intensity of colour. The fifth infusion sees the flavour reduced to mere generic sweetness. The collapse is not elegant, whereas the other 2007 Xizihao have receded gracefully over time.
A few tips, some fragments of larger leaves, but mostly just plain mulch. Though the "grade" of this recipe (grade 4) is allegedly "better" than the grade used for the 8582 (grade 8), they don't look too great to me. Surely, the notion of pu'er grades is a touch specious anyway.
2007 Xizihao 7542: just say no.
I started the session thinking that I might get one cake for amusement's sake, but ended up deciding against even that. It's below-average at best, being far too uninteresting and so rapidly falling apart as it does. The strong energy is its major advantage (though no interesting chaqi was discernable).
Summary: 2007 Xizihao
The two expensive cakes, Yuanshilin and Huangshanlin, were discernably created from higher-quality leaves, and are (to my mind) the "real Xizihao". The former was disappointingly processed (dark fruits, with ku removed to make it appealing), the latter was more satisfying (robust, rich). We will buy two cakes of the latter, though its "incomplete" nature (being mainly high and grain-like) stops me from wanting too much of it.
The three less-expensive cakes were a marked step-down in the quality of the leaf, as is expected, and these are very definitely lesser teas. It is classic brand-based marketing to sell an "entry level" variety carrying the expensive brand marking (c.f., designer-label T-shirts, shopping bags, etc.) The overall impression of fragmented leaf mulch contrasts sharply with the luscious whole-leaf excesses of the expensive pair.
Of these three, the 8582 was robust and pleasant. The Longfeng [Dragon Phoenix] was pleasant enough, but getting towards average, while the 7542 was very definitely below average in most regards. I expect to get two cakes of Longfeng and perhaps up to a tong of the 8582.
Overall: they were good, but not excellent. Weighing their merits against the price, there are several other cakes that deliver similar pleasures which do not carry the brand-based price tag. This is my definition of "over-priced": you can get better quality for the same money, or the same quality, for less money. These factors are independent of your individual spending power, and are simply a comparison of perceived quality vs. financial outlay.
It is a good experience to acquire the sample set, at least, and I would recommend (as always) that the curious Reader forms his own opinions - take these notes as merely a "second opinion".