Thanks to Kenny of Hong Kong for this sample of a recent Changtai cake, graded "jingpin" on their Changtai scale.
I am fairly sure that "jipin" is their topmost grade, while "zhengpin" is their lowest, with "jingpin" and "zhenpin" fitting in between.
It's also, I believe, the first Banzhang cake I've tried from Changtai (which is, as you will have no doubt gathered, one of my reliable "go to" producers).
This cake does not tell a straight-forward story.
It's a story that begins well - the leaves look excellent, as you can see pictured above. We have large leaves, well-handled, with a goodly mixture of tips and heavier leaves. Perhaps less obvious in the above image is the fact that there are some undeniably red leaves in the blend, which Changtai rely on more and more in their recent cakes (say, post 2005), particularly in their non-premium cakes, such as this.
The leaves separate well, and the lightly-orange soup gives off some particularly beefy, complex scents that raise my hopes and get me hoping for the best. There is plenty of sweet, grainy leather in the aroma cup, which has a remarkably long duration. It is the very best kind of opening.
The first infusion is likewise - a fine, savoury flavour that reminds me of actual Banzhang leaves, with a long, sweet finish. It even has a charming bouquet that lingers in the nose.
Had I finished there, I would have been thoroughly impressed. Unfortunately for both me and the tea, I went on - subsequent infusions see this contribution from presumably real Banzhang leaves swamped by the muddy, sour roughness of plantation leaves. The remainder of the session turned into a man vs. plantation battle, and the contribution due to the good Banzhang leaves never returned.
The sweet, charming notes from good leaves are in there, and they speak up first, but then are rapidly drowned out by the gravelling, angry barking of the rough old plantation leaves. It reminds me of a clarinet playing in a thrash metal band.
Perhaps Changtai shouldn't try and jump on the Banzhang wagon - they have plenty of good, stable recipes from mountains where the good leaves are affordable, and their results wih teas from other places (Yiwu, Jinzhushan in Simao, Yibang, Manhzhi) can be much more reliable.
Thanks again to Kenny for the opportunity to try something different from one of my favourite brands.