Following up the recent article on the 2008 Xiaguan "Dayi", here's one of the Feitai (FT) offerings for this year, under the "Nanzhao" [southern edict] brand. The last time that I drank this tea, flowers were blooming, which have since long gone.
The "Nanzhao" brand was first produced in 2003, and this cake is a blend of material from 2006 and 2007. Despite the irritating bubble typeface used for the wrappers, they do a good job of conveying the "southern minorities" feel...
...including some interesting text on the back of the wrapper which looks like Tibetan. I defer to Tibetan experts (cough Nada cough) on this one. It's nice to see recognition of the fact that there used to be a non-Han culture in Tibet, some time ago. Well played, Xiaguan.
The bing is tight, pressed using hydraulics. The thickness is approximately 1cm at its thickest point, giving you an idea of the compression. Tell-tale razor sharp edges further testify to the "tiebing" [iron cake] status of this tea. Not shown here, the dimple in the rear face of the cake contains the Nanzhao logo.
Unusually, the makers have seen fit to scatter a number of white tips into the mold before adding the maocha - they look a little stranded and superficial, and exist nowhere else in the cake.
Opening the cake reveals an instantly obvious aroma of purple-leaf fruitiness, with a touch of smokiness underneath. This sets the scene for the remainder of the session.
Xiaguan tightness means careful work with the pu'er knife. Gradual lifting and prying eventually releases enough for a brew. I am deliberately conservative, remembering previous sessions of overwhelming bitterness. Slowly, eventually, I am beginning to learn that fragmented, tightly-compressed Xiaguan teas really do require restraint.
My last encounters with this tea were positive enough that I acquired a pair of bing; today, I revisit those unpublished summer notes with the critical, pu'er-thirsty palate that drinking tea at 5 a.m. provides. I found myself awake and inexplicably thinking of Nanzhao, so decided to get started early this morning...
The original samples (pictured below) were kindly provided by Scott of Yunnan Sourcing, who seems to be able to pre-empt my selections rather well these days. This is at once reassuring and terrifying.
The brew is very honest in colour, being a solid, heavy yellow. I previously noted the aroma as being smoky and corn-like, but today it seems entirely "purple-leaf fruitiness", ending in dark sugar, following the aroma of the dry leaves. (The aroma of the dry leaves seems to be telling me quite a lot about a cake, of late. I'm not sure why this might be.)
The flavour itself carries on these twin themes of purple-leaf fruits and finishing sweetness throughout the session. The body is thick and wholesome, while the chaqi is brightening, which pushes me into the morning with a shove.
Like most fragmented-leaf Xiaguan, this tea can be excessively bitter and steps must be taken to avoid it. Between the 2nd and 5th infusions, particularly, the bitterness can really knock you for six. I look forward to seeing how these cakes turn out in a few years, once that edge has worn off, because what remains underneath is solid - there is definite content to this tea, which is what I'm after.
Though unenthralled by this revisitation, primarily due to the bitterness of the tea, I did find it to be welcoming by the 5th infusion, when the characteristics of the actual leaf began to show through as the bitterness receded. Certainly, I won't be buying more of these cakes, but time could turn them into something interesting, as the potential is there. Caveat emptor.