We've moved house - let's drink some tea.
This is the first of the five Xizihao samples from Sanhetang, produced by Guoyan Factory. For previous purple-faced, vein-throbbing vitriol regarding the correct pinyin spelling of this tea, see here.
Market diversification is working its course with this premium range of teas, which is now being sold by Yunnan Sourcing (and also, though not yet on sale, presumably to arrive soon at Houde).
Five cakes are on offer: two premium expensive varieties, and three cheaper offerings - presumably capitalising on the "strength of the brand" while selling to the lower end of the market (the cynic in me thinks of "Calvin Klein" t-shirts).
The two expensive cakes are named "Yuanshilin" [virgin, untouched forest] and "Huangshanlin" [abandoned, desolate forest]. Again, the cynic in me wonders if these are merely poetic ways of saying "yesheng" [wild], the usual claim for upper-end pu'er. As with claims to being yesheng, the sensibily wary consumer treats virgin/desolate forest claims with an equal measure of caution.
This introduction serves, no doubt, to underline that in pu'er, much as in other largely unregulated ventures, the consumer has to be exceptionally careful. "A fool and his money are soon parted", runs the phrase, and modern brand-based approaches to marketing tea seem no different.
The origin of today's cake (the aforementioned Yuanshilin) is, according to Yunnan Sourcing, Pasalaozhai. This could be Mengpashashan, which is used to make organic Haiwan Factory cakes, as they have similar-charactered names, and are both "South Menghai County". More information, as ever, is always welcomed.
Enough providence - is this expensive tea any good?
Brita-filtered water @ 100C in 12cl shengpu pot; ~6-8g leaf; 1 rinse
This is aromatic tea. Even though sealed in a plastic bag, the room somehow smells of rich, young pu'er leaf. It has an edge of smokiness around the main, tobacco body though it is often noted that this smokiness lessens with age.
The leaves are small, suggesting a spring picking. For such young tea, it is surprisingly dark. Alarm bells commence their ringing, and I wonder if this has been processed (read: partly oxidised) in order to capture the attention of the immediate market.
3s, 3s, 4s, 7s, 15s, 25s, 40s, 60s:
Right from the very first infusion, this is a thick, dark-orange tea. Concerns about the processing abound.
The beidixiang is immense in its duration, truly. It is deep, and rich, and lasts several minutes, before eventually fading into a somehow even longer lengxiang of sweet-sugar. Will this endurance continue in the pinmingbei?
This tea has two characters.
The first is seen in the initial three infusions: it is thick, orange, and a "dark fruits" pu'er, indicative of the old favourite processing techniques for making a tea immediately appealing. See the central illustration (taken from the second infusion) for an illustration of its unusually dense orange colours at this initial stage. There is an up-front tartness felt right at the lips, which then gives way to a rich set of tobacco flavours, especially present in the yunxiang [lingering aroma after the swallow]. It has a decent, potent ku.
The second stage appears around the third or fourth infusion, where the tea abruptly changes character: the orange colour changes to pure, solid yellow; the "dark fruit" character changes to a mushroom sweetness.
By the sixth infusion, it is becoming simpler, though the ku continues onwards admirably.
Lei came in from her laboratory while I silently poured the eighth infusion, and sat down to a cup, saying, "Is this the eighth infusion?" I'm impressed!
Tiny and pretty, though mostly fragmented and inclusive of many leaf-free stems. It's quite messy - something I have heard attributed to the current trend in Taiwanese pu'er manufacturers.
Some leaves are darkened, and partially oxidised, as if they have had a nudge away from their (I would argue, preferable) green state by some interesting processing choices. Hence, the initial solid orange soup, and "dark fruit" character.
It's clearly a good leaf: it has tons of power, and lasts a very long time. I have objections with the leaf fragmentation (I don't like the mulch-based approach to some modern pu'er manufacture), and I have objections with the processing (just give me a pure, unoxidised pu'er leaf for mercy's sake! It's not dancong!).
It is tasty, it is a quality tea, and, obviously, it is overpriced. Each of us weighs these points in conjunction with what we're prepared to spend in our tea. It does deliver a pleasant experience, but it does not deliver value for money. I would be happy to own perhaps 1 or 2 of these cakes for amusement's sake, but buying a tong is absolutely out of the question for me - it's simply unjustifiable, to my mind.