I refer the venerable Reader to my article concerning last year's cake of the same variety (which wasn't a particularly accomplished tea), the notes for which may be found here. At the time of that article, the $220 asking price was the most expensive I have encountered for unaged tea.
This 2011 cake ups the ante to $295.
I have come the conclusion that Hailanghao cakes such as these are not for pu'er enthusiasts, such as the likes of you and me.
Rather like the single extortionately-priced bottle of wine residing at the bottom of most wine-lists, which exists simply so that the drinker with the large bonus can find something to spend it on, this cake is not aiming to be good value. Instead, I conclude that Mr. Hailang is simply hoping to catch one or two "big fish", rather than sell lots of cakes to enthusiasts.
As with the 2010 cake, this 2011 has similar medium-sized leaves, pictured above. They share the fresh, mint-like aroma that I previously noted.
The soup turns out to be a welcome yellow colour, which gradually turns orange as I write in my diary. This is, in fact, a good tea - unlike last year's version. It is big in the mouth, with a heavy, thick body that conveys a solid sweetness and finishes cleanly. Like some better "LBZ" maocha I have encountered, it has very little bitterness in the finish, although it does swell nicely and causes the mouth to water.
This is a more rounded, well-balanced, and enjoyable cake than last year's monstrosity. It also seems to be absent the unwelcome sour tang of its predecessor.
Being unused to caffeine of late, due to drinking various herbal whatnots in my office, this tea has a direct and immediate effect on me, which is heavy and comforting.
In the product description, Scott of Yunnan Sourcing writes that "it is more about the sensations that it gives, rather than its flavour." Were I feeling uncharitable, I would hazard that this is merchantspeak for a cake that is pleasant and refined, and yet not exceptional, but which has a good deal of caffeine and other physiology-affecting compounds.
During the fifth infusion, it has dwindled into a sweet gentility. I would, at this point, have trouble picking this tea out of a line-up of fifth infusions from other Laobanzhang cakes that are one-third of its price.
It is good, clean, well-balanced and enjoyable, being made from leaves of obvious quality. The price is such that three cakes cost the same as an '88 Qingbing, one of the most famous of the commonly-available cakes. $80, perhaps a shade more, is a price that, in my estimation, reflects its charms. $300 is, as always with Hailanghao from recent years, barking mad.
I'd love to know who buys these. The fact that they exist suggests that someone must be doing so...