13 April, 2010

2009 Xizihao "Daxueshan"

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...

2009 Xizihao Daxueshan
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.

2009 Xizihao Daxueshan
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.

2009 Xizihao Daxueshan
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"?

2009 Xizihao Daxueshan
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.)


Tuo Cha Tea said...

Dear Hobbes,

most of the time I agree with you absolutely, but this time I cannot even slightly nod to the words "despite the mess that my country's finances are in, and probably your country's finances, courtesy of years of free market deregulation". The problems (like Greece, Spain, Italy, Great Britain and so on) aren't caused by deregulation, but by socialistic trends, especially in European Union.


Anonymous said...

The fine print, oh, the fine print.

As for me, I bought the 250g thingie and dug in. I was pretty captivated because 1) It was extraordinarily dynamic in and between cups. I even got swoops down to cymbally dried dates 2) Moderately calming chaqi? Try stoned. It was pretty heavy, man... How would you compare it with other premium lincangs you have had?

Since I strongly preferred the dxs to that energetic gushu of '07 sample I had, I thought something about buying another just for storage while I munch this one (mostly for the high!). I don't really have a problem with the cost especially since it doesn't really outpace tea value. It's much cheaper than superfresh top grade first flush darjeeling, and still better tasting. However the opportunity costs are astounding, as you have indicated.

I suppose I should direct you to the 100gm bing from jingu in the gift set. Not so much huigan, mostly because it doen't contrast much with the main flavor, but I really really really like that one as a semiregular tea experience. Very full bodied tobacco-florals. Smoothly enervating rather than calming chaqi. Lasts well too.

Da Supa Shu xzh Houde sells is a bit wierd in my two tries. It's generally too smooth for me, but I can see how it might be of interest to people. I think, however, that midrounds of that tea is best after spicey food. It seems like spice triggers some of the super long lasting mouth tastes. The chaqi (not the caffiene) is aweful with 7gm. You wind up feeling like Dr. Jerkyll after drinking that potion. Just a lot of thudding around in your body. If that is what people mean about banzhang hitting like a mac truck, I can understand the need for caution. However, 2gms in a 450ml yixing mug was a wonderful experience, and the chaqi was nice and zen calming.

Also saw that Toki was selling a 2006 Yiwu cake for a stratespheric price, you gonna give that one a shot? I'm also curious about just what and who the heck Summit Tea Company is.


p.s. I studied your reviews quite abit before making my first major xzh purchases, and they really helped me determine what was a fair value and what wasn't, even though I don't always agree, and I ended up with better tea...What *was* up with that 2006 xzh yiwu? My sample was so flaky brewing!

Tuo Cha Tea said...

Also, even the $100 bing (500 g) is just $10 per 50 g of tea (2 oz) - so it's actually not THAT expensive.

On the other side, pu-erh should be cheap tea (at least the young sheng or shu) and from a good oolong you never buy 2-4 kilo (equal to a tong of pu) at once.

Bret said...

The "Summit Tea Co." is no other than "JK Tea Co." re-naming teas for search engine purposes? Interesting that you mentioned this issue given the fact that Hobbes already mentioned Guang's intentional misspelling of names for the same purpose.

Alex said...

Hobbes, great article. By coincidence (I hope), I am also drinking XZH Da Xue Shan this morning. It's very good, but I am also freaked out by the price.

You wrote:
"There is virtually no unaged cake (i.e., of the current year) in the PRC that sells for more than $50"

I have to take serious exception to this, based on two sources of information.

Source one: XZH sells for substantially the same price in Taiwan. I know this because I fell in love with the 05 and 06 Laobanzhangs, and I was appalled at what Hou De was charging for them. So, I called up Mr. Chen, on his cell, and asked him for tong pricing. Guess what - after shipping, Hou De was cheaper. So, I called a Taiwanese friend in Tainan, Mr. Chen's home base (and my former home base), and had her ask him the price for a tong. Guess what - same price. So I bought them from Hou De.

Source two: Your friend MarshalN, who I with few exceptions consider the best source for information on pu'er in English, has a refrain that goes like this: that Yiwu / LBZ / whatever zhai cake that you just paid $70 for can't be real because if it was someone from HK or the Mainland would have bought it for more money. The fact that you don't see anything for more than $50 on Taobao or in Maliandao is not dispositive. Last I checked, Best Tea House, for instance, was selling young green cakes for a lot of money, and the tea houses in Flushing, here in New York, who sell to a clientele that is 90% Chinese, are selling 08 cakes for prices that would blow your mind.

Both you and MarshalN can't be right, and it's my suspicion that both of you are, in part, wrong. Chinese (and Taiwanese etc.) collectors are willing to pay through the nose for the good stuff, but at the same time some of the good stuff makes it into the English market, where it is sold under reputable brand names and by reputable and honest dealers for prices that are likely slightly more stratospheric than paid in the Sinosphere. XZH is one such reputable brand, and Hou De is one such dealer.

As I said, I'm shocked by the price of the Da Xue Shan too, but I love its subtle peach-pit sourness and the way it develops in the cup, so I might drop $200 on two cakes at some point. If I do, I'm not going to have any regrets about it. If you want to discuss further I'm at alex dot woods at gmail dot com.

Also, I thought you hated the 7542?

Maitre_Tea said...

though I will reserve judgment since I have yet to try these newest XZH productions, it's nice that Guang is offering the 10% discount at two cakes rather than the normal three...

PS: a tong of the XZH 7542? I must echo the above sentiment...I thought you said that one was to be avoided?

Hobbes said...

Dear Tomas,

The world would be a dull place if we all agreed!

Dear shah8,

I have not yet tried the 250g cake, which you make sound highly appealing! Ditto the 100g xiaobing. Thanks for the recommendations.

I certainly fancy giving Toki-tea a go, as I have been an avid reader of his blog for many years. His 80s tea (7542?) sounded fun, too.

Thanks for the kind words regarding the ol' Half Dipper - it is gratifying indeed to read that it has been of some use!

Dear Alex,

Thanks muchly for the comment. You are, of course, right that teas exist in the upper price-bracket. However, compared to the overwhelming majority of modern-year cakes, they tend to dry up above $50. Walking around Maliandao will show you (literally) thousands of current-year cakes, and the distribution of their prices is heavy tailed away from the upper end, to say the least!

My article discusses the distribution over all teas. MarshalN considered the mass in the upper extremum.

It is an axiom of markets that if people exist for whom $100 is a good amount to spend on a current-year cake, then there will be a non-zero quantity of cakes at that price - somewhere! My point is that there are virtually none w.r.t. the overwhelming quantities of current-year teas, including hand-made teas by good vendors (online examples would include some of Yunnan Sourcing, some of Puerh Shop, all of Nadacha, maybe even some from DTH, which I haven't yet tried).

LBZ cakes are in a league of their own these days. That said, you can get a very nice five-year-old LBZ from Nadacha, which I just tried this morning, for £75.

Would you prefer to spend £100 on a slightly over-cooked XZH from this year, or £75 ($115) on a five-year-old LBZ of reknowned quality (published in "The Leaf")? That's my point in saying that one can have better, for less.

As I nodded in the article, buy the XZH if you like it! I merely state that, given a budget of, for example, $100 or so for a cake - one could obtain markedly better for markedly less, or markedly better + markedly older for around the same price.

That does not account for individual taste, and I wouldn't dream of telling you what to buy - the articles here represent nothing more than my opinion. I should link to my "Take all this with a pinch of salt" article from before, but lack the willpower to find the link!

The 7542: quite right! I meant the 8582. It's been so long since I tried them, that I'd entirely forgotten what I've got here. The article has been corrected - thanks also to Maitre Tea for spotting that one.

Toodlepip all,


Anonymous said...

no the 2009 DXS is actually 250gm, so you've had the sample already. I stumpled on the price because it was 30 something cents a gram and was $40 more than the 2007 DXS, if it was the same size bing. It's stupid expensive, even if I have no regrets.

I do have the benchmark that I have to like the tea more than I like Hou De's more aged offerings like the 2000 kumming lan yin or '03 bulang at their price point.

Last I looked, Nada has sold out of whole cake 2005 LBZ. The fall '05 Guoyan from YS seems to be the only one I'm aware of from '05 or '06 easily available.


Maitre_Tea said...

by the way, you used the exact same Oscar Wilde quote in relation to Mr. XZH in your 2007 Xizihao "Dingji Nu'ercha"article. Coincidence or not?

Bryan said...

Love the new post! My question is if these expensive teas are really worth it. I understand the fame of the owner, but I'm not so sure that his fame equals his price. It reminds me of Tommy Hilfiger clothes here in the States.

Thanks for providing such an excellent blog!

Anonymous said...

Dear Hobbes,
New look of your blog is really beautiful (content overwhelming as usual), but silver charakters or orange headlines on orange background are almost unreadable. Hard work to read it, unfortunately.
Or is it only my problem?

Hobbes said...

Dear Shah8,

Ah! You are right about the 2005 no longer being available at Nadacha. This, at least, puts my mind at rest as I was teetering on the edge of buying it - though it wasn't quite appealing enough to my taste (though good tea).

Dear Maitre Tea,

Coincidence, believe me. I no longer have the facility to remember much beyond last week, let alone last year or earlier!

Dear Mr. Cha,

I like Xizihao. The prices at Houde are often too high for me to consider buying them (in that I would prefer a better or older cake from somewhere else for less capital) - however, they are definitely not "empty brands", the way that most mass-market clothing companies position themselves. The quality is there, it is just overpriced. With clothing, the quality is often absent - try comparing a "brand" three-piece suit to something from Saville Row (or your own favourite city's tailor). The brand costs more, but the tailor looks great (and often costs less).

I'm glad that you've been enjoying the Half-Dipper - thanks for the comment!

Dear Anonymous,

Yikes! That's the first I've heard of such a problem. I'll make my new post into a survey on the subject. A previous reader mentioned that it was taking him a long time to scroll down. Thanks for the valuable feedback.



flo said...

Hello Hobbes,

the scrolling trouble is real (though not awfully dramatic) and characteristic of designs with more than one "layer" in CSS. There may be some sort of inconsistency in the coding of the background, or between classes.

Clear color typos come out fine on short texts (titles, paratext), but are not always excessively comfortable on full bodycopy (I am not a great fan of posts in white on black background). The section on the upright may not be remarkably readable depending on the browser your visitors use --yes, in webdesign the browser is the pain in the huh, well you know, especially the ones that don't understand every letter in the expression "web standards" (aka IE, all versions including the ones to come).

Anyway, as long as Heidu remains perfectly rendered, mho is everything goes :D

Alex said...

Hobbes, my response to your response.

"Would you prefer to spend £100 on a slightly over-cooked XZH from this year, or £75 ($115) on a five-year-old LBZ of reknowned quality (published in "The Leaf")?"

I am already pretty well stocked with 05 and 06 LBZ of better quality than that, so the cake from your friend at Nadacha isn't as appealing as it might otherwise be. But, on a $ per gram basis, yes, one could do better. As for "slightly over-cooked", there you have lost me completely. I didn't find the DXS overcooked or oolongy or what have you at all. I think it's perfectly made. I'm just not sure if it's mind-blowing, or if I want to spend two hundred dollars speculatively to see what it tastes like in ten years, assuming I live that long. But overcooked, no.

Also, your various glowing comments about Nadacha smell like a shill.

"one could obtain markedly better for markedly less, or markedly better + markedly older for around the same price."

I don't think one could obtain something *markedly* better for less, certainly arguably better. If your point is that it's not a bargain, then fine, it's not a bargain.

"That does not account for individual taste, and I wouldn't dream of telling you what to buy - the articles here represent nothing more than my opinion."

Your modesty is comendable, but like it or not, you are an arbiter of taste when it comes to the world of online pu'er. So, in the interest of impartiality and in fairness to your considerably large and admiring audience, I dare you to say something unambiguously negative about one of Nadacha's offerings. I bet you can't.

Hobbes said...

Dear Flo,

Thanks for the notes - I will be coming back to your comments in a later post, no doubt, as I would appreciate any input from the skilled web-designers out there!

Dear Alex,

Well, thanks again for the continued responses. I must admit that I am a touch disappointed that the tone of the correspondence has reached the level of "I think you're a shill for Nadacha". That is rather a serious accusation, and so I should deal with it more fully in a later post of its own.

Best wishes,


P.s. I trust that my comments on the Xizihao in the article are unambiguous: to my palate, there is evidence of spending too long in the wok at the shaqing stage. It is not as pronounced as "tweaked" pu'er, but is longer than a good, clean shaqing - in my opinion. Hence "overcooked". Given the subjective nature of such assessments, I always welcome opinions to the contrary in order to obtain the fullest view of each tea. There is nothing good journalism likes than counterpoint (and, while no-one could accuse the Half-Dipper of being good journalism, it at least strives to achieve the same ideals!).