23 April, 2009

2008 Xiaguan - FT "Yun Mei"

Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears;
I come to bury Xiaguan, not to praise them.


Oh, 500g cakes. With your weighty splendour - whenever did one of these massy beasts turn out to be anything other than disappointing? And yet, I run ahead of myself.

Xiaguan, purveyors of decent factory pu'er since time immemorial, now experimenting with all manner of concoctions - which of your many cakes are we supposed to enjoy? You spoil us with choice, and offer us no clues, for the gamut costs approximately the same throughout. Which are your good teas? Is this Yun Mei [cloud plum] a good tea? Have the madmen taken over the asylum, and five hundred "special" varieties produced every year without differentiation?

2008 Xiaguan FT Yunmei

If fans of Xiaguan can exist, then I consider myself among them. Perhaps not entirely given over to their mass-produced, yet very decent, operations, I do love that "Xiaguan character". After experiencing so many of their minor variations on a theme, I feel that I have come to understand that theme - though due to nothing more than sheer, bloody-minded exposure.

If I were to say "this cake doesn't cost much, at $23", or "it's a special run created for the FT company of Taiwan", it would mean little, given that so much of the interesting output from Xiaguan is in the same category. If not FT, then XY, or somesuch other, but you understand.

Drinking Xiaguan is now something of a sport. It is an endeavour in trying to spot the tiny nuances that may or may not exist between any particular cake and the rest of their (sizeable) annual catalogue.

What, then, of the Yun Mei?

Shown above, I think you'll agree that it looks like a Xiaguan "special" cake. The leaves are small, they're quite tight (this is a tiebing - iron pressed, directly in the hydraulic mould without a sackcloth covering), and they have a sweet scent that neither impresses nor disappoints. For a tiebing, the leaves come apart surprisingly well.

2008 Xiaguan FT Yunmei

I did like the 2008 Xiaguan XY 8853. That was good Xiaguan. Perhaps unfortunately for this Yun Mei, that 8853 remains in my memory, and the current brew seems a bit thin by comparison.

"Cloud Plum" indeed. I thought that this name was picked just because of the silly little daisy imprints in the tea-mould, but the tea itself is very floral, delicate, sweet... rather like classic Nannuo. Is it not a thing of wonder that pu'er, and tea in general, can take so many forms and characters, despite being just leaf?

2008 Xiaguan FT Yunmei

For Xiaguan, this is quite unusual tea, being so floral. In that, they have successfully found something to differentiate this cake from all the others. However, it's not a great example - it's a bit thin, it's a little sour (though I think that's my hangover, as Lei doesn't find it so), and it has more than its fair share of plantation roughness, gripping the walls of the mouth and throat.

There are some teas that, even though they are not incredible, I would be happy to own just a single cake. This Yun Mei is not one of those - I will not miss it, and will remember it only as "that slightly Nannuo cake from Xiaguan".

I come not, friends, to steal away your hearts. I am no orator; for I have neither wit, nor words, nor the power of speech to stir men's blood. I only speak right on; I tell you that which you yourselves do know.

Xiaguan Yun Mei: I bid you good day.


Tony Shlongini said...

If fans of Xiaguan can exist, then I'm the president of the fan club.

Since financial considerations dictate that I can't buy them all at once (and, ultimately, what would be the fun in that?) I, as most of you, have to choose. Xiaguan doesn't make this easy.

I was going to flip a coin to decide between this one and the "Exquisite Elegance". If the "Baoyan brick" lineage weren't enough to sway me, hints of this upcoming review put me over the edge.

"On paper" many teas seem enticing, but there's no substitute for informed opinions from respected reviewers. Thanks!!!!!!!!!!!

Hobbes said...

Dear El Presidente,

I think I'd go for the Exquisite Elegance in preference to this Yun Mei, which was, after all, a bit thin.



Daniel said...

Your reference to Roman civilization takes me way back to the days of Latin class!

Was that Antony or Octavian? It must've been Antony, I think, right after Caesar died...?

Great reference. It worked really well in your post!

Hobbes said...

Dear Daniel,

Any friend of the Bard is a friend of mine. Welcome aboard!



P.s. It was Mark Antony, you're quite right. And what a cunning linguist he is.

Simeon said...

Dear Hobbes , forgive me as this is not related in any way to the puerh you have just reviewed . I recently read an article on page 3 of the "Tea Knowledge" section of www.jingtea.com titled "Pesticides in tea" - if you click on the title you get the complete article - which I must admit has left me feeling a little uneasy . A shame as I have a real passion for good puerh . Have you read the article your self ? I don't think this is purely a marketing ploy as the chinese are not renowned for their food safety . What are your thoughts on the subject ?

speakfreely said...

Sweet Heidu. He looks ever-so-much like my longtime buddy, Dylan, in that photo. I get weepy even now...

Hobbes said...

Dear Simeon,

I'd like to tackle this at a little greater length, so I'll do that in an article and give you a quick summary if I may: it's going to be impossible to avoid pesticides, but careful buying might (might!) help reduce your exposure.

"Organic" labels can easily be faked in China - as can everything - and there's no guarantee that your tea is organic. Plus, I find that organic wine / cheese / tea is usually inferior. You pay a premium for that label, and there is no motivation for the farmer to make it good quality.

A difficult subject, but go carefully and take recommendations from friends.

Dear CB,

Bless him. Dylan must have been one of the good 'uns.

Toodlepip all,


Anonymous said...

You can always try older teas if you're scared about pesticides. The older you get the more *organic the product will be. As a side note I always find it hilarious when someone mistakes pesticides or caffeine for Qi, like in most of the Lao Bhang Zhang out there.

Hobbes said...

Have you found many who take pesticides for chaqi? ;)

(If this is Mr. Fisher, then do accept my compliments on issue 5.)



Prairie Girl Studio said...

what a most beautiful blog ~ your images are so rich and enticing ~ time to put the kettle on!


Hobbes said...

Glad you like 'em, Prairie Girl - thanks for the comment!