08 January, 2009

2008 Xiaguan - FT "Baoyan Jincha"

I often write that one of the reasons I drink shengpu because I can't smoke a pipe. I get my vicarious appreciation of tobacco leaves from chunky, bombastic pu'er. I must look entirely deranged, sniffing the aroma of leaves from my chahe [tea-lotus, shown below]. I love nothing more than to find an excuse to stand in the tobacconist and soak up some delicious, dark scents from the rows of leaf-urns lining the walls.


2007 Bingdao Maocha


Every time we go back to my family home, I enjoy some private conversation with my father. This Christmas, he was standing out in the frozen morning air, wandering the outer reaches of the back garden. Like a Dakota scout roaming the North American plains, he was visible only by the thick plume of pipe-smoke working its way up to the chilly blue sky. I grabbed an old coat, slipped into a handy pair of wellies, and ran out in the direction of the base of the plume of smoke. Like chasing rainbows.


The Willow


Standing under the leafless trees, that pipe took me back to days past. Aroma is so closely linked to memory. Even though it burns away in a matter of minutes, there is something eternal about burning tobacco and its lingering scent.

I don't remember the words we spoke, but I remember the feeling: ease, humour, peace.


2008 Xiaguan FT Baoyan


Which brings me to this Baoyan tea. The experience of this tight little mushroom is similar to that of pipe tobacco, in flavour, aroma, and comfort. (I distinguish pipe tobacco, and it's big, sumptuous leaves, from cigarette tobacco. One seems a complex delight, the other a cheap and convenient substitute lacking the depth of its cousin - but I'm not a smoker.)

Baoyan means "precious flame". Readers who happen to be Buddhist monks (hi, chaps) will know that this refers to the Buddha's Dharma. Despite the stance of the CCP towards Buddhism, it is encouraging to see that exports to Tibet still take place. Xiaguan seems conscious of this culture, and unafraid to promote it in marketing literature and tea-wrappers. Sometimes, it plays safe and celebrates ancient Yunnan kingdoms no longer in existence, but I am impressed that someone in the company has the backbone to make references to Buddhism.


2008 Xiaguan FT Baoyan


Shown above, the imprint into the mushroom reads "FT", denoting that this tea is destined for the Feitai Company of Taiwan, and consequently constructed to a higher degree of quality than the usual rough charms of Baoyan.

Unwrapping the tea is like popping open a tin of my father's tobacco leaf: thick, black scents of superdense, rich leaf jump into the air and rapidly fill the room.

That beautiful, dusky orange brew! Long scents of burned brown muscavado sugar persist in the wenxiangbei [aroma cup]. As ever, these dwell in the back of the nose once I sip the tea, combining so well with the hoary tobacco flavour. The FT quality is obvious from the clarity of the soup (compared with the standard Baoyan production), and its sharp, well-defined flavours.

The tiniest hint of smooth smoke in the nose completes the illusion, and I am back in my wellies, talking with my father.


2008 Xiaguan FT Baoyan


It's probably redundant to conclude that I like this tea. The complexity introduces something of raisins in later infusions, and I am always drawn back to it, never bored. Stare longer at the shifting patterns of flavour and detect hints of preserved fruits, whole-grains, wild herbs. The more you look, the more you find.

I've bought quite a bit of this inexpensive tea, and look forward to enjoying more sessions while the cold winter continues. I'm a sentimental fool, but it comes to us all in the end.

25 comments:

Scotto said...

Great review that captures the charms of this mushroom perfectly. I think this was one of the better teas to come out in the last year, and the fact that it is at such a reasonable price point makes me happy. I bought a few to keep around.

If I had to have one complaint, it is that the neutron-star density is going to make for some seriously slow aging.

Hobbes said...

Sir,

So true. It's a bit brutal as compression goes. At the low price, I'm considering buying a few more for experimentation, to see what happens if I steam some apart.

The compression used to be a real problem for me until I gave up trying to separate leaves from the "stalk" of the mushroom, and instead concentrated on the overhanging fringes of the cup - as I'm sure you've found, they come away more easily and allow layers to peeled away from the top with minimal leaf damage.

Have you tried the Duling Fengsao yet? It's as close as we'll come to a Baoyan bing, I suspect!


Toodlepip,

Hobbes

Brian Lavelle said...

That's a beautiful review, Hobbes. And I share your vicarious pipe-tobacco indulgence with smoky sheng!

I have one of these mushrooms but have yet to break it open. I might just do that this evening.

Best wishes,
Brian

Hobbes said...

Get stuck in, Brian!

Arcane-Dissonance said...

Hobbes,

I’ve been tempted to buy some Xiaguan tea for a while but couldn’t commit to do so until I heard the prospect of tobacco scent. The question is which one? Puerhshop.com offers at least three Tibetan flame products:

2007 Xiaguan Tibetan Flame Brick – USD 0.02 /g

2008 Xiaguan Tibetan Flame Cake - USD 0.04 /g

2008 Xiaguan FT Tibetan Flame Mushroom Tuocha - USD 0.06 /g

Being a poor college student, would one loose the tobacco scent by choosing a cheaper grade?

tieguanyin said...

Dear Hobbes,

You are spot on with the tobacco comment and the connection between flavor and memory.

I recall recently being a spectator in a rather dull work meeting when my memory randomly triggered the remembrance of tobacco flavour found in shengpu. Needless to say, I could not wait to get home for a tea session. Thank God (or in this case Buddah maybe?) my work day ended after that meeting).

Have a great tea,

Alex

PS: I also own one of these tuo's. Love smelling the mushroom.

PPS: AD, if you are feeling a surging need for an impulse buy, Puerhshop would be the quickest avenue to satisfy a puerh~tobacco urge

eileen said...

Olfactory memory is the most persistent right up there with memories, dreams and reflections but actually surpassing them. I think that's pretty much been proven. A rediscovered scent from many years past evokes the strongest, often most touching of memories. A very beautiful post.

Hobbes said...

Dear Dissonance,

Those basic Baoyans are really lovely. I've not tried the cake (an actually didn't know it even existed until I checked Puerh Shop after reading your post!), but the bricks are really great. They're rough and delicious. The "FT" label means that it's been produced to the standards of the Feitai Co. of Taiwan, and so it's more refined and probably a bit better for the long-term (the basic Baoyan bricks seem to get mellow quite quickly). You can't lose. :)


Dear Tieguanyin,

I get that in boring meetings, too. I start thinking about which tea to enjoy when I get back home. :)

That said, I have been taking pu'er into meetings for some time now, which keeps me going...


Dear Eileen,

Thanks for the kind words :)


Toodlepip,

Hobbes

Terje said...

Exprimere verbis non possum quantum mihi gaudium attuleris magister (I have no words to tell you, teacher, how much pleasure you have given me "by")describing this tea, and it compelled me to order one from Scott at YS, who was kind enough to give me a small discount(even though I messed up a bit with the ordering, being a newbie to eBay). I've never tried this kind of pu-erh, but I don't look forward to breaking the mushroom - when someone makes something like this out of tea, I can't help feeling a bit honoured to enjoy it. As we all are, I think.

Terje

Hobbes said...

Dear Terje,

I'm glad to read that you're ordered one - it's dark and smoky, but very pleasant.


Toodlepip,

Hobbes

P.s. Declensions!

Terje said...

I've just tasted this pu-erh and it is great - smoky and tasteful! Might be my best pu-erh moment so far. Regretfully I have a lecture now, but I do believe I'll spend the evening with this tea and my newly aquired Blu-Ray copy of Quo Vadis!

Hobbes said...

Dear Terje,

I'm very glad that you enjoyed it - this is a great tea for the money, and the very nadir of the dark-tobacco genre.


Toodlepip,

Hobbes

Unknown said...

I just received 100g of the 2008 Xia Guan Bao Yan Tuo Cha and brewed a cup.... To my surprise the 15s 2nd steeping came out the colour of coca-cola! The taste was very mild, with very little tobacco detectable. I ordered it from the excellent Dragon Tea House and here is a link of the product:
http://www.dragonteahouse.biz/xia-guan-bao-yan-jin-cha-pu-erh-tuo-cha-2008-raw-100g-loose-sample.html

Is this a different tea or am I just going crazy?

shah8 said...

The review is for a brick version. Your tea is from a mushroom shaped cake--jincha.

I had this tea to, today, for all of coincidences. This one came from Houde.

shah8 said...

Whups! Hobbes has done early bricks, but '08 jincha, so your tea is an old version of what was reviewed here.

Hobbes said...

Dear Unknown,

Aged Baoyan typically retains quite a bit of that "darkness", but I couldn't comment on this particular one as I have not had it since buying it, as far as I recall. Reading your notes makes me wish to do so, however! I am resolved to sit down with it once I return from Beijing, next week.


Toodlepip,

Hobbes

Unknown said...

I am the unknown poster from above. You'll have to excuse me, I have only had a few pu'erhs... I am in love with the Xiaguan FT Happy Tuo Cha, I really like the slight bitterness and berry flavour mixed with smokiness and mushroom. This Bao Yan is VERY different indeed. It is almost bland to me. I tried increasing the brew time today, but to no avail. It is still too subdued for me. Maybe I just like young sheng?

Hobbes said...

Dear Unknown,

How interesting! Perhaps the storage was extremely dry? I have not heard of Baoyan running out of steam, but there is always a first time. It might sound elementary, but you might also consider using more leaves. Fascinating!


Toodlepip,

Hobbes

Unknown said...

It's me, unknown: I've decided to chalk it up to a bad sample. Adding more leaves didn't change the flavour much.. the wet leaves filled the cup.. still no tobacco (very strange!) Oh well there are so many other teas to try! Thanks for the great site Hobbes.

Unknown said...

Unknown poster here.. I gave this tea another go with more leaves (wet leaves filled the cup) but found the bland flavours only slightly stronger: earth and metallic. This must be just a bad 100g sample. Heck, even the Menghai Dayi 8582 had more bite. Thanks for the excellent site Hobbes. Disappointments like these are just part of the adventure!

Hobbes said...

Bear in mind that Baoyan is not the most complex tea in the world! It is, after all, intended to be combined with multiple teaspoons of salt, in the Tibetan manner. :)


Toodlepip,

Hobbes

Tofu Miso said...

Hobbes , have you revisited the 2008 Baoyan Jincha since the comments made by Unknown poster ? I would be interested to know your thoughts and findings if you have .

Hobbes said...

Dear Tofu Miso,

Not yet, but it's a nice idea. :)


Toodlepip,

Hobbes

teadictos said...

Hi Hobbes,

I'm thinking about buying a pair of this mushrooms (but the 2011 version as it's easier to get). Do you think that are worth for ageing? Do they improve much?

Kind Regards

Hobbes said...

Dear Teadictos,

A great question! I shall try to remember to try them this coming week-end... Modern Xiaguan (i.e., "black and smoky") tends to age reasonably, as far as I can tell, but we haven't had sufficient time pass to be able to determine for sure. Of course, older Xiaguan are very reliable, if not massively complex.


Toodlepip,

Hobbes