With the expensive pair of Yuanshilin and Huangshanlin already examined, we move into the Xizihao 8582. No daft poetic names here, just a recipe code, indicating its origins in 1985 Menghai Factory (notionally using "grade 8" leaves).
As the Yunnan Sourcing web-page for this bing notes, this cake promises to "take the drinker back in time 20 years". I must confess that I like the product pages at this vendor's web-site as they are usually very informative, combining detailed accounts of leaf providence and picking seasons with background on the factory of production. Plus, I enjoy counting how many exclamation marks the author can use within the space of a single paragraph.
I wonder if claiming that this cake will take me back to 1985 is a bit like claiming that eating a sandwich will take me back to the 1760s (when the Earl of Sandwich decided that putting meat between two slices of bread was rather tasty)!
Sales pitch aside, what's this cake like? CB has previously made the bold assertion in these pages that she has decided to acquire a tong of the 8582 - so let's find out if she's mad or not (in the nicest possible way).
Brita-filtered water @ 100C in 12cl shengpu pot; ~8-9g leaf; 1 rinse
Good and dark, yet broken - in contrast to the chunkier leaves of its more expensive cousins, and in keeping with the 8582. That ever-cautious part of my mind causes me to wonder if these leaves were the rejects from the two more expensive cakes. The compression, also, is much higher than the others.
3s, 5s, 7s, 7s:
Do not be diverted by the short number of infusions - this tea received the unusual dignity/ignominy of being taken to my office, where it was later brewed informally throughout the day while I went about my duties. It lasts much longer than this list of four infusions would otherwise suggest.
Magdalen tower rings in six o'clock.
The soup is thick and yellow, and it has a fresh, green nose that fades rapidly. This tea is thinner than its more expensive counterparts, and is more "impatient" (vanishing from the mouth more quickly), but is more balanced overall - it isn't oddly processed (like the Shanshilin) and it isn't missing bass notes (like the Huangshanlin).
There is some ku in the finish, giving it a mini-huigan, and it ends rather dryly - a little like the mouth-watering sour-sweetness imparted from the must of grapes.
The feeling is robust, with chunky mushroom flavours that appeal, while being a little tangy. The flavour is broad and decent for a 2007 cake, and I like it.
Mostly chopped, mixed with some young 3cm leaves, suggestive of a spring picking (well, it could hardly be a guhua [autumnal grain-flower] picking, given that it's still summer).
Decent. While being a clear step down in potency from its expensive cousins, it offers robust flavour, good ku, and fair smoothness. CB's sanity is clearly intact (as if there were any doubt), and I suspect that I shall acquire some of these for our tea cupboard, too.
We have recently been discussing the merits of the 8582, which reminded me of this Xizihao version. It is rather an important cake for me, because 100% of its life has been spent with us here in England - we bought five from Yunnan Sourcing for the very reasonable sum of £21 immediately upon its release in 2007, now four years ago.
It is, therefore, rather a good barometer by which to examine the effect of our storage. Perhaps more critically to my immediate concerns, three of its four years have been spent here in our family house, and I'm very keen to find out if our storage here is sufficient for good aging. (The first year of its life was spent in our university apartment, while I was finishing up my graduate days.)
It is a pretty cake, and I am struck by just how good the leaves are for what is, nominally, an 8582 clone. Whereas one would expect chopped, fragmented leaves, this Xizihao version is comprised of large, flat leaves; fragmented, yes, but otherwise looking very appealing.
Perhaps you can get an idea of their prettiness from the following image...
The aroma is low and sweet; it has settled into something heavy and dark, from the green spiciness of its youth.
I am impressed, and relieved. It starts out somewhere younger than the pine-like sharpness of a whole cohort of five- and six-year-old cakes that Keng generously provided, and yet it is still darker and richer than a green, raw shengpu.
It has a solid kuwei [good bitterness], and yet has deepened noticeably in character. This time around, I appreciate a thickness of body and a cool, active sensation on the tongue that I had not previously observed.
Progress like this gives me hope that we're doing the right thing, after all, with our storage.
English storage of pu'ercha? Whatever next? It's a strange new world.