30 April, 2010

Male Urine

2003 Quanji

...such was the description of this sample, received and tasted "blinded", from MarshalN.  The admittedly rather terrifying epithet apparently derived from our first tasting of the 2003 Quanji "Bulang" some three years ago!

Has it really been three years since then?

Notes have been appended to the original article, so please scroll down.  See you after the click!

28 April, 2010

2008 Fangmingyuan "Nannuo"

I'm in the mood for something light and floral. Something sweet and dainty. Something, for want of a better word, namby-pamby.

And they don't come any more namby, nor pamby, than Nannuo.

2008 Fengmingyuan Nannuo
I love the thick texture of the paper.

"Fangmingyuan" is the name of Xiaomei's shop in Maliandao (a mutual acquaintance of myself and MarshalN), and this, unsurprisingly, is her bing.  She personally liberated this from Nannuo in the spring of 2008.  Little Brother sold us a tong at 130 RMB ($20) per cake, which has got to be worth a go.

Its label reads "Bama Gushu [ancient tree] qingbing [green cake]".  While I've not heard of "Bama" before, Didi insisted it was Nannuo, so perhaps its a subregion.

2008 Fengmingyuan Nannuo
This is a mightily chubby bing

It's a big, fat cake and no mistake.  Unlike quite a few of the 2009 cakes that I've been trying lately, this 2008 has a stonkingly aggressive aroma.  Merely undressing the bing causes the room to be filled with sweet, feminine scents.

I like cakes with a bit of life in them.

2008 Fengmingyuan Nannuo
Long, dark leaves with a jumpy, forthright scent

One nice aspect of our latest haul from Beijing is that the cakes are all processed cleanly - they're all very yellow, and they darken to orange only on contact with air.  This is in striking contrast to the majority of productions that I've been buying over the past year via the Internet, which are noticeably adapted for rapid consumption.  Maybe this just means that I'm buying the wrong tea on-line, but the difference is marked.

"Give me yellow tea!" I wail, shaking my fist at the clouds.

2008 Fengmingyuan Nannuo
Long in the throat, buzzing and active - very decent

This is namby-pamby Nannuo at its nambiest and pambiest.  Flowers and sweetness in the nose, yet with a base in the mouth that is thick and buttery.  Xiaomei has done a very nice job of picking leaves with some complexity, and in getting her producer (the Yunnan Tea Institute, of Saturn-logo fame) to perform a clean shaqing [kill-green] and pressing.

After 15 or so infusions, it shows a chalky sourness in the finish that hints we may not be drinking a perfect blend of entirely old-tree leaves, but I come to expect a degree of basic leaves "cut" into the blend.  The body remains full and sweet, and, even after zillions of brews, it remains tingling and active in the mouth. 
Lively and fresh, this is a nice example of Nannuo.  (Folks expecting samples from me, look to your parcels!)

If only I got back to China more often...

27 April, 2010

Small Traveller

April 2010

small traveller
catches large suitcase
with his head

24 April, 2010

2007 Pu'er Study Institute "Hongjie"

Old Blighty has seen record quantities of rainfall over the past six months. It's been very wet. It once rained for two weeks without pause. Our conservatory roof collapsed.

This week-end, the sun has forgiven us.

April 2010
Readers in Cornwall are invited not to comment on the mainland weather

What better way to celebrate a Saturday than to grab the cheeseboard and head into the garden? Nibbling unsociably mature cheddar under the falling apple-blossom. Watching the butterflies with my Chinese wife and our unborn Chinglish baby.  Being indulgently lazy.

2007 Hongjie
The weight of tea hauled around Maliandao really adds up quickly.  Take a packmule.

This is the kind of day that calls for something sweet and different.  Something interestingly complex.  Something like... Lincang.  Lovely, lovely Lincang.

2007 Hongjie
Black, chunky leaves

This cake takes me back to our Christmas vacation, where Lei and I spent some time drinking with a Yunnanese couple at their shop in Maliandao.  Our strategy in Beijing's tea district is to walk around until we find someone who (i) has lots of decent pu'er on display, and (ii) looks friendly, amusing, and sociable.  The Yunnanese couple fit the bill.

He was a recent graduate of tea studies in a Yunnan agricultural university, and (I think) she was his wife.  They lived up to their amiable appearance, and were thoroughly charming.  You can tell a lot by people's appearances.  If they spend their lives being miserly, conniving, and small, then, generally speaking, their face changes to fit that quality.  Similarly, if they spend their lives in good humour, with lightness, and a certain degree of peace, then that's also visible in the structure and operation of the face.  When it comes to people, the cover tells a great deal about the book.

(I'm not going to break out that Oscar Wilde quote today.)

We worked our way through a few selections, but the infusions seemed quite thin.  We mentioned it, as tactfully as we could manage, and ended up on this beefy Lincang tea.

2007 Hongjie
Hand compression makes for easy separation

Some twenty or so infusions later, I was adequately wooed to take a whole tong.  The producer is an oddity: the "Pu'er Study Institute of the Yunnan Natural Sciences Support Project".  This was a label that sold the output of the alma mater of our host.  Not to be confused with the more regularly-appearing "Yunnan Tea Study Institute" (the folk with the ringed Saturn-like planet for a logo).

2007 Hongjie
Lincang feels rather "out there".  Its geography fits it character.

You know me by now - I like most pu'er, from the grubbiest 6FTM to the most exalted rarity.  Lincang cakes have a special place in my heart, because they're very savoury.  They have a fat, cereal-like quality that goes very well with the natural sweetness of pu'er leaves.  Finish it off with some challenging kuwei [good bitterness] at the end, accompanied by a deeply calming whatever-it-is [chaqi / voodoo / The Force], and I'm a happy punter. 

At 180 RMB ($25), this is a moderately pricey tea for Maliandao, but it's very chubby and enjoyable.  I often find it hard to switch between "Western" and "Chinese" monetary scales when stuck in the sweet-smelling bowels of Maliandao, but this one felt like a bargain, and so it accompanied us home.

(Actually, it just arrived, after spending three months in a China Post parcel on a ship.)

It looks like the summer has come early, and fresh shengpu fits the mood perfectly.  If you're expecting samples from me, keep an eye open for this one in your package, as I rather like it.  Sure, it has a hint of plantation after 15 or so brews, but this didn't claim to be anything else.  At 180 RMB, it does the job nicely.

September, 2013

This was my post-viva cake, bought in Maliandao while riding on the "mission accomplished" high that followed.  Additionally, it turns out that this is the first cake that we bought with my wife pregnant, although we did not know it at the time.

The leaves have darkened from their original green to a husky red-brown.  The scent, brought on by the local humidity in our hometown, pleases me no end.  I enjoy its Lincang base of sweet grain, along with its cooling mouthful of flavours.  New water brings out the fresh sweetness and deeper kuwei [good bitterness] of this tea.  This is definitely moving in the right direction.

22 April, 2010

2009 Douji "Banzhang"

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.

2009 Douji Banzhang
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.

2009 Douji Banzhang
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...

2009 Douji Banzhang
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.

2009 Douji Banzhang
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.

20 April, 2010

The Journey Home

Handel in my father's car
sunlight on the Cavendish lab

swallows over cabbage fields
sun on a church steeple

tiny lambs with their mothers
a horse munching stubble

cherry blossom and pigeons
a green tinge to the statue of John Bunyan

April 2010

grey hair and a backpack
a telephone that croaks like a frog

milk bottles on a black iron bench
a faded George Cross straining on a flagpole

saplings on the motorway bank
partidges running between rows of lettuce

daffodils growing in bunches
a tiny hole in the rusty roof of the barn

April 2010

18 April, 2010

2009 Zhimingdu "Lao Banzhang"

And now for something completely different...

2009 Zhimingdu LBZ
It's a bag of xiaobing

There are several good eBay shops set up to sell pu'er.  Following the (much deserved) success of Yunnan Sourcing, and subsequently that of Dragon Teahouse, we now have Yunnan Colourful (occasionally bizarre), Sampan (a Canadian seller with some quite old but quite pricey stock), YUM! tea (seemingly quite expensive), Red Lantern (currently selling my favourite 2004/2005 Changtai "Yiwu Zhengpin" for a very reasonable $34, and five bricks of 2005 Baoyan for a fine $41), and China Chadao, the subject of this article. There are one or two others who have slipped my mind at the moment.  Please do add a comment if you have someone in mind that I've neglected.

(Addendum:  Western Yunnan Tea, who seem slightly cheaper than even Yunnan Sourcing at first glance, and Pot in Pot.  Thanks, P K!)

Competition is healthy, but no-one's going lower than the Yunnan Sourcing (YS) / Dragon Teahouse (DTH) approximate consensus, and so there's not a huge amount of competition at the bottom end.  With Yunnan Sourcing's  substantial discounts on postage, it often works out similarly expensive to buy from YS or from Taobao.  The other vendors, to my mind at least, are a bit behind this curve, and YS continues to dominate the low- to mid-end market for unaged cakes.  (I use Taobao for finding 5-year cakes and older, as Western vendors tend to mark up slightly aged cakes much more than Mainland vendors.)

Tangentially, I notice that DTH is selling this year's 7542 for $22, which is double the approximate-Western-consensus price from last year of $11, despite Taobao prices for this year's 7542 being within 10 RMB ($1.50) of last year's price.  Given that 7542 is made from leaves including those of previous years, one couldn't even use the Yunnan drought that has affected the 2010 crop as an excuse for a 100% rise in price.  I certainly hope that the other vendors will be closer to the Taobao price than the DTH price, much as I love DTH tea!

2009 Zhimingdu LBZ
The seven cakes are tasters of some of the usual mountains. Dayi shown for scale.

This bag of seven xiaobing [hsiao-bing, "little cake"] came from China Chadao, where each sells individually for around $8-12, excepting the "Lao Banzhang" (LBZ), which sells for over $30 - presumably corresponding to the famously high price of LBZ maocha.  I don't usually invest in LBZ, given that I don't agree with the manner in which they conduct business - a trend which, although usually highly unpleasant, has apparently become significantly worse this year.  I like the odd sample of laoshu [old tree] LBZ when I am fortunate enough to come across it, but the combination of high prices and disreputable practices keeps my funds elsewhere. 

Given that xiaobing are so, well, "xiao", I tend to treat them as being large samples.  "Taster cakes."  It would be difficult to find enough space to store zillions of these tiny little things, so I don't hold onto them for too long, and have no qualms about finishing them up.  Each is 100g, and so you might get 10 or so sessions from a cake, depending on how much leaf you use.  Even at the high unit price of $32 x 4 = $128/400g, the xiaobing treats the wallet just the same way as a sample, and so I can forgive $3 / session in such small quantities.  Indeed, it's less than a pint of beer or a Starbucks cream-and-sugar, coffee-flavoured beverage.

2009 Zhimingdu LBZ
The Douji-style seal on the back is a real pain on xiaobing!  It results in total wrapper destruction.

Let's start at the top, I figured, and dive straight into the LBZ.  The brand "Zhimingdu" [djer-ming-doo] is a pun, meaning "well-renowned tea" but alluding to the phrase for "well-renowned brand/name".

2009 Zhimingdu LBZ
I am a collector of good Chinglish, which is becoming hard-to-find.  Thankfully, Zhimingdu do not disappoint.

The leaves, shown below, are small-to-medium, and well-defined with plenty of fur.  The scent is a touch reserved, but otherwise the fruity-sweetness one might expect from LBZ.  The compression is tight without being the nuclear-fusion level of compactedness that characterises "tiebing".

2009 Zhimingdu LBZ
Appealing leaves

This tea promises good things.  The initial scent in the aroma cup is big and bold, sweet and full, just as you'd hope from LBZ.  It lasts an age in the nose, and has plenty going on inside it.  The first infusion is a dazzling mixture of sweetness, tartness (that makes the mouth water), and the grape-like fruitiness swimming along on top that reminds me of LBZ.  It is clean and good, with a long-lasting huigan.

That's the first infusion, however.

2009 Zhimingdu LBZ
Not really visible in this image, the soup is tinged with a lovely, fresh green

By the second infusion, the rest of the leaves in the blend wake up.  It turns into a cereal-like, tart oddness that isn't really LBZ.  You can taste hints of the good leaves in the blend, but they are muddied and confused by the rest of the mixture.  It reminded me of a beautiful classical flute trying to make itself heard in the middle of a jazz band.

2009 Zhimingdu LBZ
The leaves are wonderfully green - no overcooking here

Imagine my happiness when, by the seventh infusion, the blend-leaves ran out of steam, leaving only the continued excellence of the potent LBZ leaves beneath.  By the eighth infusion, it had become the clean fruity sweetness of good LBZ, albeit dilute.  The jazz band eventually ran out of puff, leaving the solo flute to be heard.

A fun session.  It bodes well for the less expensive xiaobing in the set.

(The China Chadao web-site also lists a 2005 Xiaguan for a very reasonable $30-or-so, which I rather like the look of.  These 5-year cakes really pull on my heart-strings, and it's nice to find a vendor that hasn't marked them up too much.)

16 April, 2010

Readers' Digest

I hope that you've been enjoying the new lay-out of the Half-Dipper. I've had notices from two readers that it's not displaying correctly for them, and so I'd very much appreciate it if you could please let me know if you've had any problems with the new scheme.

It should look like this:

Dipper SS
As always, clicking an image will allow you to see the full-sized version

...which it seems to do on the few computers on which I've tested it: three PCs, varying in age from (i) a crusty XP box, (ii) a decent Vista machine, (iii) a ninja Alienware "Windows 7" laptop. It also seems to display well under the Linux distribution "Suse", and the latest Mac OSX. However, I've only been using Firefox and Internet Explorer (versions 7 and 8) to test it.

Google Analytics tells me that there are all manner of browsers accessing this site, but that the most popular (by quite a margin) is Firefox. This is as it should be. Firefox is the "Fonz" of Internet browsers, while Internet Explorer / Safari are the Mr. and Mrs. Cunningham. Google Chrome is "Chachi". I heartily recommend that you upgrade to Firefox immediately, for your general browsing pleasure - installing "Adblock Plus" (a free plugin for Firefox) is also recommended, as it intelligently removes annoying on-line advertisements.

So: please do take a moment to complete the poll on the side-bar. Even if everything looks OK, that feedback would be very much appreciated. If you are having some display problems, then do please leave a comment to this thread (and please also tell me which browser and Operating System you're using).

Thanks muchly in advance.

14 April, 2010

That Time of the Month, II

It feels like an appropriate time for one of those "state of the nation" posts that become necessary when accusations of a certain gravity have been made regarding this tired old web-site.  If memory serves, the last one was this article from January, 2009.

Such frank feedback is genuinely appreciated, as it keeps a man honest.  So, then...

In an exhange following notes on the 2009 Xizihao "Daxueshan", a reader by the name of "Alex" made the following remark:
I am already pretty well stocked [...], so the cake from your friend at Nadacha isn't as appealing as it might otherwise be. 
Also, your various glowing comments about Nadacha smell like a shill.

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.

1960s Huangyin

Of course, the reason for singling out this particular comment for special treatment is that it explicitly states the author's belief that I am happily "shilling" for Nadacha / Essence of Tea, and hence requires a more full and public response, as I'm sure you'll understand.

Regular readers will of course know that I count Nada as a good Teachum, and he's visited Lei and me in Oxford twice now.  As I think I commented at the time, it was a pleasant surprise that he decided to start a business selling tea.

While I am sympathetic (in the looest possible sense) to the commercial ventures of people that I enjoy writing with concerning tea (including Stephane of Teamasters, Scott of Yunnan Sourcing, Imen of Tea Habitat, Steve of JAS-eTea, and perhaps now Toki of The Mandarin's Tea), I have no personal interests in their success or failure.  My concern with vendors, and people who I know as "teachums" who are vendors, is (i) the sale of good tea, and (ii) appropriate pricing.  Good quality and good value are all I'm after, the same as with all vendors.

I am in the difficult position that Nadacha / Essence of Tea is doing a very good job at sourcing good tea (usually through investing time travelling around Yunnan, as far as I can tell) and selling it at very fair prices.  Thus, my comments regarding that venture tend to be positive.  I suppose that you can only take my word for the fact that this is based simply on objective assessment, rather than "shilling".

2009 1000-Year Maocha

Let it be stated again that I have absolutely nothing to gain from writing positive things about Nadacha (or anyone else), as I pay for my cakes the same way that everyone else does.  It's a very simple relationship, and is one I share with all vendors.  With Nada, as with the other vendors, I swap samples - this is a normal function of being an active tea-drinker, and most readers will enjoy similar relationships with their teachums (and, probably, me, given that you're reading this!).

My glowing praise of Nadacha tea simply comes from the fact that this one venture produces tea in which I have very high confidence, because it is sourced so transparently.  For example, we are told, via Nadacha's blog, about the farmer of the 2008 tea "cutting" (i.e., diluting) his laoshu leaves with standard leaves, and how this was caught and remedied in the 2009 productions.  

A more recent example would be the 2005 Gan En tea that I planned (for a while) to buy from Nadacha (the article for this is in the publication queue, by happy chance).  My searches for the same tea on Taobao came up with higher prices than were offered by Nadacha.  I know from many such searches that his profit margin on searchable (i.e., modern) teas is respectably slim.  This compares very favourably to many other tea vendors, whose profit margins are similarly derivable from web searches, and who appear to enjoy significantly larger profit margins.

All of these facets (the good, transparent sourcing and the low, transparent profit margins) results in positive commentary from me (and many, many others).  I can only "call 'em like I see 'em". If Nadacha chooses not to sell distasteful tea, and chooses not to sell it at unpleasantly high profit margins, then what criticism exists can only be that which you read in my notes of his teas.

Rest assured, dear Corresponder, that if you opened a tea business with similar virtues, you would enjoy similar praise from the Half-Dipper, which would recommend your reasonably-priced laoshu tea whenever (moderately overcooked) Xizihao is sold at $100/bing.

Surely, that's the way it should be.

This entire site would be useless if it were at all partial, hence my distaste for suggestions to the contrary.  I trust this has, if not solved your problem, at least clarified my situation for you.

2003 Yiwu Manluo

As always, I encourage you, dear Reader, to air your thoughts for discussion, which I believe to be the healthiest approach to conflict.

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.)

11 April, 2010

2005 Yisheng "Yiwu", Again

2005 Yisheng

Sometimes, not often, everything works out well. The above is one of my few Maliandao success stories (it's a tough place for a foreigner), a description of which may be found here (please scroll down for the new article).

See you after the click!

08 April, 2010

At Last

I'm back like that unsociable ailment that you just can't shift, no matter which balms and salves you rub in.

Imagine not having a gongfucha session for six whole months.  Half of a year.  0.5% of a century.

It wasn't easy, but nothing lasts forever.  With a feeling of great relief, we unpacked our teaware from the crates in which it had been stored during our house renovation.  In celebratory mood, we baptised the new place with some of Prof. GV's eternally delicious 1986 Sunsing (grazie mille, and see you soon!).

Some days, you just have to drink the good stuff

During my six months of exile, wandering in the outer darkness, and for the six months prior to that, I've been accumulating pu'er in my office at work.  In fact, it was beginning to make the old place smell rather good.

I recently moved out to a different office but, as fate would have it, my dear wife moved into the old one, and so the tea didn't have to move.

Yesterday, with our house renovation reaching a landmark stage such that tea could now be consumed on the premises (at long, long last), we brought it all back to the house (making a taxi smell rather pleasant in the interim), where it got to join the rest of our stocks:

There's no place like home

It's not quite finished, but it's home.  The three boxes on the left (yellow, red, and yellow from top to bottom) are real spine-breakers, as each one holds about seven or eight tong.  I still wince to think about moving them again.  The plan is to get some shelving made to fit the alcoves such that we can dispose of the large plastic boxes, but that's a few months away.

Being a borderline obsessive-compulsive quantitative type, I keep records of which teas we have.  It speaks volumes of testimony to my tragic nature that I spent two long hours cataloguing the newcomers.  I can live with my flaws...

Anyway, it's great to be back!  Thanks once again to all who sent me care packages in the interregnum, and thanks for your patience with me taking so long to send things out to you (Terje, in particular, has been on my list for several months; sir, I prostrate myself before thee).

Lei's mother is staying with us at the moment and thinks the pu'er quantity to be quite absurd, but I look forward to changing her mind!