It's time to get into my stride, and how better than with our old friend, Xizihao?
I say old friend. I respect the (Taiwanese?) producer that makes Xizihao, having seen a few TV programmes with him being interviewed. His work is a labour of love, apparently, and he seems to be a decent kind of chap. As far as one can judge from such fleeting appearances. ("Only shallow people don't judge people by appearances", said Wilde, to assuage my guilt.)
Of course, the real problem with Xizihao isn't the quality. It isn't even the fact that Houde continues to mispell the Chinese character for "character" (zi), and that other vendors have followed suit and adopted the wrong spelling in order to attract search-engine traffic!
It is merely that I think Xizihao is woefully overpriced in the Western market. It's an old refrain, but one that must be played again. Sing along if you know the words...
Notes on the tea appear later
The hoary old chestnut that usually gets dusted down at this juncture typically goes along the lines of "things are only worth what the buyer will pay, so don't buy it if you don't like the price." I appreciate the appeal to market forces (despite the mess that my country's finances are in, and probably your country's finances, courtesy of years of free market deregulation).
However, to answer the old chestnut, there is a vague consensus in market pricing in the West, reached after some years of competition. Certainly, at around five years of age, the Western pu'er market is not a mature market. Certainly, those prices are set by a small number of vendors (traditionally, Yunnan Sourcing and Dragon Teahouse at the bottom-end, Houde at the top-end, with Puerh Shop and others somewhere in between). Certainly, those prices are all far in excess of prices available in the PRC and, to a lesser extent, those seen on Taobao. Yet consensus there is, approximately.
Good-looking leaves, as always
This "Daxueshan" [big snow mountain] tea sells at $75 for a 300g bing, making it similar in price to the other 2009 Xizihao offering, the "2009 Jingmai" at $100 for a 400g bing.
We must discard a consideration of Chinese prices at the moment. I was fortunate enough recently to pick up a hand-selected and hand-produced tong from a friend of MarshalN in Maliandao for $20/bing, and the same vendor's most expensive and beautiful 2005 pu'er sells for $40/bing. There is virtually no unaged cake (i.e., of the current year) in the PRC that sells for more than $50, while 99% of them are below $40, and 95% of them are below $20.
On the Western pricing scale, one can obtain outstanding old-tree cakes from Nadacha for around $50 (maybe more this year due to the drought), which are, quite possibly, my favourite unaged cakes. You can find the highest of the high-end Douji for $60-$70. Therefore, charging $100 for unaged tea is, statistically speaking, a significant outlier.
It's a bit orange, having been in shaqing a touch too long for my taste
For a tea to cost 1.5x to 2x the cost of actual laoshu cakes truly sharpens the attention. Is this Xizihao that good? So good, that I wouldn't buy Douji, Nadacha, or the Yunnan Sourcing "Guafengzhai"?
A wee bit red
And there's the rub. Of course, this tea cannot live up to that price-tag.
It is good tea. It has very decent body, a pleasant sweetness, lots of mouthwatering sensation that keeps going long after the swallow, and a moderately calming chaqi. It is good. And yet, it isn't great. To fit in with where it is being offered on the pricing scale, far above Douji, Nadacha, etc., it really has to be outrageously special. Quelle surprise, it's just Xizihao. As nice as ever (and I do like Xizihao), but why bother when you can have better for less?
That's the crux, for me. We could spend less and get better - very obviously much better. As ever, this is a "premium" Xizihao that is (I believe) worth approximately 50% - 75% of the asking price, on the approximate consensus of the Western scale.
C'est la vie. There is a reason I have so little Xizihao on my shelves! I'll enjoy my sample for all of its over-cooked, immediately accessible joys, and then not mourn its passing.
(In fairness, the tong of
Xizihao 7542 Xizihao 8582 from 2007 was priced well, and is aging spectacularly.)