Hongloumeng [lit. "Red Mansion Dream", usually "Dream of the Red Chamber"] is one of the world's books that you must read, no questions asked. It's one of the world's classics, typically selected alongside the likes of Shakespeare, Dante, or Watterson* as being the peak of their nation's literary prowess. Indeed, the Chinese say that no intelligent conversation can take place without reference to Hongloumeng. It's big news.
And this is a Xiaguan tuocha named after it.
I'm of the opinion that it is rather offensive to name what is (in all likelihood) a fairly standard tea after such a beautiful, graceful piece of human endeavour. In order for this tea to be worthy of the association, it would have to liquify my brains and cause me to rethink my approach to pu'er.
Given that this tea costs about $5 from Yunnan Sourcing or Dragon Teahouse, we have some strong prior suspicions that this tea might not live up to its billing.
The (tenuous) link between this tea and Hongloumeng is that one of the characters drinks pu'ercha as a remedy for drinking too much alcohol. This is mentioned just once in 120 chapters.
Despite the claims of the Dragon Teahouse description, this is "Big G" Xiaguan brand, and not "FT". However, the leaves are of good quality and there is a goodly number of tips mixed into the blend, appearing throughout the cake. Compression is, unsurprisingly, a bit on the tight side.
Unwrapping the tuocha reveals a potent leather-and-tobacco aroma. It is sweeter than its stablemate, the 2008 Xiaguan "Dali" tuocha, but just as provocative in its scent.
First impressions are good! Though the leaves are fragmented, they are not the ground-down mulch that fills the rank-and-file of Xiaguan's annual tuocha productions.
This is an early-morning session. I lift my wife out of bed, duvet and all, and deposit her on a sofa in the lounge, still wrapped in bedding. I put the theme music to the famous Chinese TV series of "Hongloumeng" onto the CD player. Offering her a book and a cup from the first infusion, she remarks: "This tea tastes great, because it is named after Hongloumeng."
It's yellow, honest, straight-forward, and decent. Given that the entire tuocha cost as much as a single pint of beer, I don't want to over-analyse the tea.
Its character is mushrooms, with a very decent texture, being satisfyingly thick. Surprisingly, it also shows signs of the cooling nature, felt on the tongue and lips, that characterises good tea. The Yunnan Sourcing description notes that a fraction of old-tree leaves have been included in the blend, and that might just be the case.
Some bitterness exists, but I was very cautious with leaf quantity and infusion times, and managed to avoid the inevitable. It has a sour body, a sweet finish, and a yunxiang [after aroma] of mushrooms and straw.
Refreshing and inexpensive, this even turned out to be thick-textured during an entire morning of extended brewing in my office. That sort of longevity is remarkable in a little tea such as this. $5, so you know what you're getting, but not really worth wasting valuable shelf-space to pursue.
Given their expensive tastes for all things refined, I can't imagine the Jia clan sitting down to a Xiaguan "Hongloumeng" tuocha, but it's better than naming your tea after a bank.
* The author of Calvin and Hobbes.