I'm an old fan of Douji, but I didn't realise until I delved into Taobao that there are many more cakes available from the producer (Yiwu Zhengshan Company) each year, and that the Western-oriented vendors had been selling only the bottom rung of the ladder.
Anxious to remedy the situation, some chums and I ventured into a hefty Taobao purchase of Douji's entire range of single-mountain cakes from last year. Since then, Dragon Teahouse has got the entire lot in stock, at very similar prices to those we obtained from Taobao (after considering shipping, handling, etc.).
This is A Good Thing.
A stack of Douji-related goodness
Douji is a large producer, and so one shouldn't expect great big piles of laoshu [old tree] cakes, but what they make, they make very well (I believe). The quality control is very good. They also provide tons of entry-level cakes for those wanting a less expensive option, and even they are very appealing. I'm sure you've seen the cute little matchbox-sized bricks (Shengdou, Dajou) cropping up from time to time (I bought mine from Puerh Shop). My remaining impression of those was a clean, fresh character that was almost milky. In 2009, there were a collection of actual bingcha of similar recipes.
The "Banzhang" in its outer wrapper, typical of the entire series
Given that this bing is "Banzhang", we should limit our expectations. I thought that it would make a good comparison with the 2009 Zhimingdu "Lao Banzhang" that you may remember from a few days back.
One aspect of Douji bingcha that appeals to me is that they don't make a lot of garndiose claims. There are no "Cha Wang" [tea king], let alone the Xizihao-style hyperbole of "Cha Huang" [tea emperor]. Do you get tired of such claims? They wear me out. It's entirely daft to call your sub-$20 cake an "old-tree tea-king", as so many budget labels tend to do - it discredits the producer and seller alike.
So, Douji names this "Banzhang", and doesn't even claim "Lao Banzhang" [old Banzhang] status, which would refer to the tiny original village where the various malpractices that I alluded to previously have occurred.
I find it refreshing to have some honesty in pu'er
Nomenclature aside, the proof of the pudding is in the tasting...
Most cakes in this series appear to have similar small- and medium-sized leaves
First impressions are highly positive: the soup is a brutally clean yellow, which darkens to orange as it sits in the air. Again, I appreciate the honesty. Pre-orange'd cakes are as tiring as "laoshu zhengshan qiaomu chawang" to me, these days - I want clean, pure pu'er. I love producers that don't "dumb it down" for their audience.
It tastes a lot like Banzhang. It has plenty of sweet leather, with the grape-like fruitiness over the top that reminds me of this area's tea. It has a quality that you cannot hide - it is vibrant, arresting, appreciably bitter (in the desirable "kuwei" manner), and lasts ages.
A very solid and enjoyable example
The endurance throughout a long series of infusions is a good indicator of quality tea: my cheaper teas run out of steam quite quickly, or become rough before they die. This tea marches on regardless, fading gracefully into sweetness without breaking down into anything harsh.
That's not to say that it isn't bitter - it is powerful and sharp, but it never becomes rough. My best teas have this in common, more or less.
While not the firework display of a serious laoshu Banzhang, it is a highly enjoyable cake. If you're after a reliable, tasty sampler of this mountain, it's well worth a look.
Friends will know that I am particularly close to this tea: during my six months of enforced abstinence from gongfucha, I was restricted to drinking in my office, where the water is poor and only available from a vacuum flask. I kept myself to a half-dozen or so very ordinary cakes (Dayi, Xiaguan), which, while nice enough, are very definitely a league or two below Douji. I would occasionally break down and treat myself to a session from this cake. It managed to shine through the muddied window of my office brewing, to remind me that really decent tea was still out there.