20 June, 2009

2008 Haiwan - Laotongzhi "8808"

I continue to supply propaganda concerning my plans for a garden tea-house to my dear wife. I've found some beautiful little hexagonal wooden structures that look suitably rustic and chunky. We could tuck it under our willow tree, which acts as a sweet little hideaway - a perfect place to avoid it looking too showy and naff. I still haven't found that ultimately convincing argument justifying its purchase, though! Any ideas?


Willow Hideaway


Haiwan. I usually steer clear of Haiwan. Walk around Beijing's huge Maliandao districts, and you'll see that every single shop window contains (i) CNNP and (ii) Haiwan "Laotongzhi" [LAOW TONG DJER]. This isn't a mark of quality, given the immense mediocrity of most Maliandao shops' offerings. That said, I've had some decent Haiwan, such as the 2006 "Mengpasha Organic" that has been doing the rounds of most of the on-line vendors.

My overall feeling with Haiwan, though, is much like my feeling to, say, Mengyang Guoyan, 6FTM, Nanjian, or even the mainstream (non-Muyechun) releases from Shuangjiang Mengku: the occassional nice one, but mostly mediocre filler. (I place modern CNNP below these.) Maybe you've found some particularly nice examples from these producers - they do exist, and I've enjoyed each label from time to time. Overall, though, I've felt that they're a bit disappointing.

Shelf space is far too limited to expend on middle-of-the-bell-curve cakes...

So how about this 8808?


2008 Haiwan Laotongzhi 8808


It sells for $14 at Yunnan Sourcing, and the leaves look rather nice (shown above). The product description reads "ultra-premium", referring to the '0' grade number in '88-0-8'. These grades should only be taken as a broad description, as there is no standardised meaning - nor does a low number (and hence smaller leaf) imply better quality; I prefer a range of leaves in a blend, from tippy small numbers for sweetness and smoothness, to bigger basis leaves to provide a chunky, flavoursome, undercurrent.

What does "ultra-premium" mean in this context? Who knows - the leaves are small, and fairly well handled, but there is quite a bit of breakage, as you can see above. It looks like it's mostly a marketing point rather than a real process indicator. C'est la vie!


2008 Haiwan Laotongzhi 8808


What is important is the content of the tea. This is most definitely a plantation tea, as you could assume from the price, and it's very good to see that the product description doesn't make any claims to being old-tree. I'd put this down as a decent daily tea: it has some decent character - general sweetness, some mushroom, a fairly solid body - and is priced quite low.

The real question is - would I buy any? Even at the bottom-of-the-league price of $14, you can get a lot more for your money, I think. If you're after solid plantation teas at a low price for daily, low-maintenance drinking, I prefer the old staples: Xiaguan or Menghai.

If you're after a tea for storage, I don't believe that this tea contains enough interesting content. What's going to happen to a $14 cake? The power is... OK. The flavour is... OK. The sensation in the mouth and throat is... OK. It's an "OK" tea. I can imagine this tea becoming bland over time, rather than anything beefier and more interesting - but only time will tell. Your guess is as good as mine.


2008 Haiwan Laotongzhi 8808


In the end, this tea didn't change my mind about Haiwan, and I will continue to avoid them unless someone finds a gem. The "ultra-premium" status is obvious in neither the leaf nor the brew, and as my sample comes to an end, I won't miss its passing. It gave me some nice infusions in my office, though, while I got on with something else.


Peony Shadow
I prefer peonies to Haiwan


P.s. Lei and I are off to a conference in Hibernia, so we'll see you in a week's time.

6 comments:

Lewis said...

he product description reads "ultra-premium", referring to the '0' grade number in '88-0-8'. These grades should only be taken as a broad description, as there is no standardised meaning - nor does a low number (and hence smaller leaf) imply better quality

Ah, but out of four digits fully three are eights. This has to be an auspicious cake!

Tony Shlongini said...

"P.s. Lei and I are off to a conference in Hibernia, so we'll see you in a week's time."

So what the heck am I supposed to do for the next week?

Hobbes said...

Dear Lewis,

Those three eights add up to 24, which is twice the number of characters in the Chinese zodiac, and is therefore doubly auspicious!


Dear Tony,

Non-stop consumption of tea and wine, surely? :)


See you all soon,

Hobbes

Veri-Tea said...

I cannot possibly understand why you would need to 'justify' the NECESSITY of building your own personal tea house.

:)

Hobbes said...

I am definitely printing this comment onto paper with increased font size.

Thanks!


See you soon,

Hobbes

Scotto said...

Hibernia? Didn't Conan visit there?

-Scotto