05 September, 2010

Taobao Experiments: the 2001 Yuanyexiang "Gancang"

Taobao can be a cruel mistress.  Sometimes she waxeth wroth.

You may remember from an aeon ago that the 2001 Shuangjiang Mengku "Yuanyexiang" [yooan-yeah-shee'ang] cakes were super popular.  They came in shicang and gancang varieties.  The proprietor of Houde must be planning to put his child through college from the proceeds that these cakes generated for the 0.02 femtoseconds that they were in stock - kudos must be given to Dr. Li on knowing how to market to an audience.

Since that date, my estimation of the pair of teas has decreased in accordance with my experience (which is still, of course, humble).  While I find them to be enjoyable, they are not honest, raw shengpu, and I am now of the opinion they are certainly not worth the price that was being asked for them.  Again, no foul to Dr. Li, because it is every merchant's goal to sell products at a good price - it is their business, after all.  However, they are just Shuangjiang Mengku cakes.

With all that said, they still hold a certain cachet, or at least, a certain place of endearment in my heart.  During a Taobao purchase last year, my dear bratwurst-nibbling, sauerkraut-consuming, weissbier-quaffing friend, Hr. Dr. Kim and I decided to go 50-50 on a cake claiming to be the 2001 "YYX" Gancang.  We bought it from 乔韵茶行 [Qiaoyun Chahang], for Heaven-knows-how-much.  Fully expecting a fake, we went into the purchase with our eyes open, just for a bit of fun.

Ladles and jellyspoons, I present to you the findings of our investigations.

2001 Yuanyexiang Gancang

The (half) cake has sat on my shelf for over one year, and I recently found that rare combination of effort, time, and will required to sit down with it and give it the proper amount of consideration.

It looks exceedingly ropey.  The wrapper was almost shredded, which is how it was sent by the vendor - the vendor themselves had wrapped it in plastic, and our Taobao handler had then wrapped it in bubble-wrap for the journey to Europe.  The cake size looked about right, but the wrapper barely covered it due to its advanced state of knackerednicity.

Opening the cake, the neifei was similarly comic: it was heavily stained, as if to indicate prolonged pressing against the surface of a cake, and yet it was included almost loose - it appeared to have been a separate neifei tucked under one or two longer leaves as were available, rather than being pressed into the cake.  So, either it used to be pressed into the cake, had come loose, and had been gently tucked back in... or it was a fake cake, with a neifei tucked into it.

Presentation aside, the leaves are lovely, and are similar to my samples from Houde.  Clean, dark, dry, and mostly whole, they look the part.  The blend, as before, comprises both rusty tips and small-to-medium leaves, with the odd rare stem.

2001 Yuanyexiang Gancang

Out it comes - orange, sharp, and woody.  It is very clean.  However, it is not complex, and lacks the heavy tobacco that I remember from the original's processing.  Quite powerful, and with decent kuwei [bitterness], with long hints of red, woody flavours, it is actually quite enjoyable in and of itself.

Is it "YYX"?

"All signs point to 'no'", as the Oracle of Delphi once said.  While not worth the price that we paid, it is a bit of fun in its own right.

And so, to end where we began, learn ye well: Taobao can be a cruel mistress, and this day she hath waxeth wroth most mightily.


David Lesseps said...

Well, let me take a moment to pull out one of my cakes for comparison's sake (yes, I contributed to the HouDe education fund), and... I proclaim it a fake.

1) Neifei is well covered by leaves and securely embedded.
2) No stems. I cannot find a single stem in my cake.
3) The back dimple in your photo is too deep.

Happy TaoBao tuition.

MarshalN said...

The leaves do look a little different from my example -- David's right that there should be no stems. Also, the edge of the cake is very distinctive on the real McCoy -- it's a straight edge, vertical, basically, instead of the usually sloped variety, which seems to be what's going on here. With your half cake and the focus on the center of the cake, it's difficult to tell, but it doesn't look too promising.

Hobbes said...

Thanks, chaps.