01 September, 2007

2007 Xizihao Dingji Gushu

I am aware that one of my failings is being a stickler for detail.

For example, I recently reviewed a 20-page submission for a book chapter, on behalf of a friend, and found that the list of grammatical and syntactical errors I had identified ran to 4 pages - 20% of the entire document's length. This is not a great side of my personality, I'm sure, but at least my friend knows what he's letting himself in for when he asks me to review chapters.

So, you will forgive it as a failing of character when I point out that the full name of this tea in Pinyin is in fact "2007 Chun Xizihao Dingji Huangshan Gushu Yangxin" [2007 spring Double-Happiness character brand best-grade desolate-mountain ancient-tree nourishing-heart]. Of this mighty list of buzzword-compliant phrases, the wrapper actually calls it "Xizihao Dingji Gushu", so that's what I've termed it in the title. I do apologise for my pedantry.

This tea is available from Houde, for $145/bing, where it is sold as "Xi-Zhi Hao Din-Ji 'Yan Shing'".

I've been looking forwards to trying this presumably rather special cake for quite some time - for unaged shengpu, it is second only in price to the 2006 Lincang sold by Teamasters for $200/bing.

"Scottish Mountain" @ 100C in 14cl shengpu pot; ~7-8g leaf; 1 rinse

Dry leaf:
Emotionally stimulating leaves. They are large, exceeding in beauty, and compressed to absolute perfection, coming apart easily, but not too easily. Rich and dark, the hairs on each individual leaf are visible, showing remarkable care in handling and processing. Sweet, rich leaf scents abound. This is quite the masterpiece for visual tea appreciation.

The rinse instantly alleviates fear over the processing, when a pure yellow soup is seen. Given the orange quasi-wulong nature of some of the other Xizihao cakes from this year, it's good to see that the showcase cake has got it right.

3s, 5s, 5s, 5s, 5s, 10s, 20s, 70s, 90s, >2m, >3m:

This tea is a multi-stager.

The first stage runs from infusions 1-4. The tea is instantly alive on the lips and tongue - funnily enough, just like the 2006 Lincang. It is vibrant, effervescent, and clearly active in some interesting way.

It becomes a big mouthful of sour mushrooms in the middle of the palate, and I am grateful to see that the ku has not been processed away. It is an "impatient" tea, sprinting through the mouth to become a pleasing, tongue-aching huigan.

One of the fascinating aspects of this tea is how it changes as one watches it. Over the course of perhaps 30-60s, the soup in the gongdaobei changes from lucid yellow to rich orange. I've never seen a tea so very active in the presence of oxygen; it's like watching an apple turn instantly brown in the air. I attempted to document this phenomenon in the accompanying photograph, in which the two (slightly misaligned) central images are taken 45s apart.

Commensurate with the highly active sensation of contact in the mouth, there is a bright chaqi that flushes my neck and shoulders.

Guang's notes point out a "numbness" at the top of the mouth, and this is clearly evident from the effervescent nature of the tea's contact with the tongue and palate. In fact, Guang's description of the product, in terms of flavour and aroma analysis, is very accurate.

That was stage 1. Stage 2 runs from infusions 5-8, and the flavour has collapsed. This must be due to the fact that I let the leaves cool, due to my absence for 20 minutes. On return, it was vapid, uninteresting, and shallow in aroma and flavour, though the active character remained.

Stage 3 ran for the last 3 infusions, at which point I went into overbrew-mode to try and reclaim the flavour. This was successful, and I got better results by really pushing the tea on at the end.

Wet leaf:
Healthy spring leaves, kept in excellent condition.

Overall:
Amazingly active, the sheer quality of the leaves is beyond question.

However.

It is light. It is a good tea, but it is rarified and refined - like a thin, fine porcelain piece of crockery. It's sheer quality of workmanship is not in question, but it lacks serious substance. This is very much a question of personal taste, but I long for chunky, robust characteristics in my tea - particularly when paying such large amounts - and this tea doesn't really meet those (personal) goals. I used a lot of leaves, hoping to achieve this, and while the result was really very beautiful, it didn't pack the array of eye-opening flavours that I look for.

The energy was, like the 2006 Lincang, beyond compare in young shengpu.

If money were no object, I would buy several of these for the sheer energy and refinement alone. However, I must weigh expenditure with received pleasure and, for me, there are other cakes that more urgently warrant my capital.

6 comments:

MarshalN said...

Since you're being detail oriented today -- I believe "Yangxin" is actually much better translated as "nourishing the mind" rather than the literal "heart" in the case of "xin". In the case of "Yangxin dian" in the Forbidden City, for example, it is often translated as something like "Hall of Mental Cultivation". :)

That's the historian talking.

Now for MarshalN the tea drinker... I think it sounds like the tea merits a repeat visit -- and also it merits a little longer steep in the "second stage"? You said the flavours collapsed -- but what about the mouthfeel? How did it feel in the mouth when you were drinking it -- flavour aside?

Impatient is, actually, a good thing in normal Chinese evaluation of teas, so long as you have a long and strong huigan. The faster the huigan comes on, the better. It doesn't mean the feeling of having some sort of flavour in your mouth should entirely disappear right away, but I do think a quick huigan appearing is indicator of good quality.

Also -- could you smell anything under the lid from the get go?

Now I need to go buy myself a sample.

perpleXd said...

I thought patience is essentially a measure of the huigan (aftertaste)?

speakfreely said...

I think I agree with you that the most special thing about this tea was the impecable intactness and beauty of the leaf. I did not experience the collapse you mention after the 4th infusion. I brewed this alongside the XZH Huang Shan Lin, and noted a definite strength differential - this tea was much more potent. I would not call it rarefied. Refined, yes, but this tea is strong where I found weakness in all the other '07 XZH's. But, it's just not special enough to justify the price tag IMO.

Hobbes said...

Dear MarshalN,

I should have realised, regarding the "xin" - it's a standard Zen term, in its Japanese equivalent. It's handy to have a scholar of oriental history knocking around!

The tea: I noted, apparently, a "smooth texture", but that must be taken against the background of the exceptionally active, almost "fizzy", nature of the tea on contact with the lips, tongue, and palate.

It's interesting to note that the rapid on-set appearance of huigan migth denote quality: it's certainly very pleasant when chunky flavours hang around in the mouth. Perhaps it is the seriously large magnitude of the huigan here that obstructed my continued enjoyment of the main body-flavours in the mouth.

The lid-scent was green, fresh, and buzzing against the back of the nose and throat. I do enjoy those cakes of sufficient potency to induce some sort of energy even via their aroma - that's quite something, and this cake has it.

Indeed, you certainly won't regret obtaining a sample of this one.


Dear Perplexd,

On the subject of my use of the word "patience", I'll refer you to the results of a previous discussion - I use it in its wine/cheese sense, indicating the duration of the progression from lips to throat.


Dear Carla,

The collapse has to be due to the fact that I let it get cold. The point to note is that I only left it for around twenty minutes - the pot still retained a little warmth. Even so, it was enough to nobble the session.

In the light of these experiences, I will very much look forward to having another session with this tea - I'm interested to see if I can agree with your assessment of potency and strength. While it was potent and strong in energy, I didn't seem to note any major flavour "chunkiness". The overall feel for me was, in that analogy to porcelain, fine but quite "high" and rarified. Now to find the time to drink it again!


Toodlepip all,

Hobbes

Neela Solomon said...

I love that you are here. I happened across your blog by sheer luck and I must say it pleases me thoroughly.

Thank you,

Hobbes said...

Dear Neela,

Well, thanks indeed for the kind words. I hope you enjoy it - the more, the merrier. :)


Toodlepip,

Hobbes