19 April, 2011

2010 Yunzhiyuan "Wangongzhai"

I think we tea-drinkers are very fortunate to have Yunnan Sourcing.  If we were to go back, let's say, 15 years, where would be Westerners get our pu'ercha?  Whittards of Chelsea?  The only thing I've ever obtained from the latter is the unbearable lightness of my wallet's being, and a disgruntled feeling after consuming their substandard, treacle-pudding flavoured hongcha.

By contrast, the mighty "YS" has been around for quite a long time now, originally pumping out mainstream brands to we foolish Westerners who seemed to like pu'ercha, but, more recently, broadening the range to cover more interesting and unique cakes.  I admire the dedication of a man who moves to the Chinese mountains and "lives the dream", allowing us mere mortals to enjoy a little of the vicarious pleasure that trucking around Yunnan must bring.

2010 Yunzhiyuan Wangongzhai
The Yiwu region - map provided by Yunnan Sourcing

Since 2009, Scott has been visiting tea farms, buying maocha, and having his own cakes pressed.  Quite a few of the 2009 range were entirely delicious - I remember the 2009 Guafengzhai as being particularly good.

Through accident of time and habit, I haven't tried anything from Yunnan Sourcing for over a year, and the 2010 range of Scott's cakes slipped past me entirely.

Shown above, a map of the Yiwu region.  Scott has been in and out of many of these villages, pressing cakes for his "Road to Yiwu" series.  I go back to my original (rhetorical) question: aren't we lucky?  To have access to very decent cakes from these locations, produced by someone who knows his pu'ercha, at a very decent price is, I think, quite something.  One could search Taobao for days and find nothing quite like it.

I am, therefore, rather positive about the notion of trying this autumnal-harvest cake from Wangongzhai [wan gong djai, "bend bow village"], a sample of which I recently bought from Yunnan Sourcing.  From the map, we can see that Wangongzhai is just north of Guafengzhai, and south of Yishanmo.  Scott notes that all three are among the highest regions in the greater Yiwu region.

He also notes that it is rather tricky to reach Wangongzhai, it being accessible only by a 15km dirt track.  This reminds me of the accounts given by Nada of Essence of Tea, when the latter produced his own cakes (from other regions, which regular readers will recall that I thoroughly recommend).

2010 Yunzhiyuan Wangongzhai
"Wangong", "Yiwu", "Gucha"

The wrappers on Scott's cakes have taken a turn for the rustic and understated (pictured above), which I like just as much as the colourful, tasteful designs of his original 2009 range.

This range of cakes seems to be 250g in size, and therefore we must multiply the $40 asking price by 1.5 in order to obtain the equivalent cost for a standard 375g bing, which would be a reasonable $60.

2010 Yunzhiyuan Wangongzhai
Good compression - not loose, not tight

The leaves are well-handled, and smell entirely Yiwu-esque, in their fine sweetness, slightly buttery.  This much-loved and, by now rather familiar, characteristic continues in the aroma cup, where the buttery finish lingers for a considerable time.

2010 Yunzhiyuan Wangongzhai
The colour is a solid yellow - not the dark orange suggested by the above image

My hopes are reinforced when my lips feel effervescent after touching the tea.  I consider this "fizziness" on the lips to be indicative of good, active leaves.  It is associated with a cooling sensation in the mouth, which again suggests that Scott's farmers have included at least a substantial component of laoshu [old tree] leaves in the blend.

It has a somewhat darker background that the orthodox Yiwu character, which may be attributable to the fact that it has grown very close to the Laos border.  It is not beyond my imagining that the terroir of the leaves would vary over such a distance.  (My little brother, who is visiting us after returning from some particle accelerator or other, reminds me that different, neighbouring fields in Burgundy can have different terroirs.)

2010 Yunzhiyuan Wangongzhai
Decent leaves, with no obvious signs that the processing has been monkeying around with their oxidation

It is a very good, very clean cake with a potency that grows on me.  It has a lot to say, for an autumnal cake, which is a pleasant surprise.  I can see myself buying a single cake for future reference.

I look forward to drinking my way through some of the other 2010s from around the region...


Nicolas said...

My mouse was walking on taobao, hours and hours.

And my mouse prefer to walk on yunnan sourcing, for win time :)


James said...

I agree with your sentiments on finding Yunnan Sourcing. I started my journey a few years ago after stumbling across some dirt tasting tea in a box called Pu Erh tea.. it was horribly mutilated.. minced up tea leaves in a tea bag (those western barbarians) and although not a great tasting tea there was a small hint of something grand in that tea.. that wormed into my brain and led me on a journey that I don't think will ever end.

Thankfully I have since been cultured and civilized after finding a good source such as Yunnan Sourcing. Great tea and a good price. I also enjoy your posts.. I have found your insight valuable, saves me a bit of coin before moving forward on my purchases.

Hobbes said...

Hi chaps,

Taobao wanderings may be less fruitful in wins per unit time, but they do turn up some fun stuff - rather like scouring an antiques shop. :)

Thanks for the kind words, James. I've noticed that even Whittards have started selling boxes of what appears to be decent looking shupu - perhaps more people will be drawn into our strange world. ;)



Suomi said...

really enjoyed what that you have written . it really isn't that simple to discover good text to read (you know.. really READ and not simply going through it like some zombie before moving on), so cheers mate for really not wasting my time! :p

Hobbes said...

Suomi, that's quite a compliment - thanks very much.



P.s. The Half-Dipper welcomes zombies, too!