In a fit of extraordinary generosity, Jerry of China Chadao has taken mercy upon me, miserable offender, and heeded a previous article in which I whined that I hadn't had time to try Douji cakes from last year. Packaged up along with all manner of fantastic, parchment-printed (and Douji-branded) Yunnan maps, a large box of samples, and even a cake, made its way to my office.
"More tea?" asked the porter, with a knowing grin. I was about to protest that I sometimes receive packages that are not tea-related, but, looking back on my previous five deliveries, that isn't actually true. With me suitably humbled, we proceeded on our favourite topic of conversation together: comparing notes on our Chinese wives.
"Demingxuan" is a Guafengzhai tea, a (highly) limited-run cake produced by Douji (or, more properly, Yiwu Zhengshan Tea Co.) for its customers. You and I are not customers of Douji, we are customers of Douji's customers. Hence, we don't usually get to try it, more's the pity. The cake is named after the teahouse set up in Yiwu by what would later become the Yiwu Zhengshan Tea Co., where "Demingxuan" is a poetic name - approximately "virtue tea place", where the "virtue" is the "de" from "Daodejing", carrying with it all its connotations.
Jerry indicated that Douji had just 70g of the 2006 version of tea remaining, and hence the 14g sample that he provided (and which I will discuss later) is extraordinarily generous - thanks again, Jerry.
This 2010 version looks good: it has plenty of small leaves, in a good state of integrity, and which have been compressed gently - probably by hand, given the lack of damage. They are highly glossy, and have an obvious scent of sweet spring flowers. Mahei, in the Yiwu range, must be a lovely place to visit in the spring.
This is a chunky, dark cake - it has a thick texture in the mouth, which is combined nicely with a savoury character of grain. It is typically Yiwu, and reinforces my opinion that there are some good leaves coming out of Guafengzhai.
Strong, mouth-watering, long in the throat - I could drink this all day. If only those stairs didn't need sanding (which they still do).
It has a note of huskiness in the background, which it may have picked up from the drying process, or maybe the shaqing [shar-ching, kill-green], but it is minor, and fades rapidly as the leaves assert themselves.
The notes of spring flowers return in later infusions, which is unexpected - often, the gentility of a new cake is felt in the first few infusions, soon dominated by the potency of the leaves. Douji has produced a thoroughly enjoyable cake for its customers.
This sample is the tail-end of a not-for-resale, special edition that I last tried three years ago. It is a good tea: there is a sweet, husky base along with a full, typical sweetness in the throat. It is dry, in the manner of a white wine (rather than referring to "dry" storage), and it is noticeably better in quality than the usual Douji offerings - even the latter are usually quite stable, if not well-priced.