I previously wrote about my long visit to Beijing Taochaju, and its owner, Xiao Yunqing. I've described his rarified, and delicious, Laobanzhang and Guafengzhai, but neither of those exist in anything other than remnants of his single-cake production.
This cake is more available, however. Its name is "Banna Guyun", where "guyun" refers approximately to "ancient charm". "Yun" isn't easy to translate, and the "harmony" or "rhyme" translations usually offered are not adequate. A certain age of lady can have "yun", if she has a certain disposition. Chinese is difficult, and, as you will have gathered, I am not skilled.
Yunqing made these cakes this year, during one of his apparently frequent visits to Yunnan. If he spends the majority of his time in Maliandao, it must be a slender majority, given his itinerary. When he shows me the photographs of the trees from which he oversaw leaf-picking, I am encouraged. His beaming face is right next to the leaves. Page after page of photographs of... him, with trees. It's a genre of photography that is an acquired taste.
We drank this cake quite a bit while at his premises in Maliandao, after lunch. The leaves are large, and strong in structure. It is a blend of trees from Laoman'e (next to Laobanzhang) and Mengsong.
I bought two cakes of this, and relived some of the pleasures of Maliandao by sitting down to drink them in the comfort of my own, while waiting for a coat of woodstain to dry on our staircase. Good times.
This is very solid tea. It is dense, very dense, and has a background feeling of old, complex honey. You can imagine the rough sweetness, some dark nuance of flavour, and plenty of strength.
It is also medicinal, in the sense of Chinese medicine. This is A Good Thing; it is a complexity in the character of the leaf that lends itself well to age, in my opinion - it is not a light, floral overtone that might disappear in time, but rather a fundamental part of the base of the tea.
It shares something in common with the rather good 2008 Hailanghao "Man'e", back when Hailanghao used to be good. This common character is a broad, sweet, richly fruit-like base, in a dark way, with tons of Bulang-area kuwei [good bitterness].
This cake cost a mere 150 RMB, which, for something of this quality, is a brutal bargain. I couldn't resist it, and it was only my full bags that prevented me from buying more. "I can post you some more", said Yunqing. Tempting... now back at home, I am both happy at my level of discipline in turning him down, and disappointed that I didn't buy a whole tong. His website doesn't yet have these, but he assures me that they are coming.
Perhaps I'll just wait until I get back to Beijing.
With thanks to white2tea for this sample, let's revisit the Banna Guyun.
I do rather miss my 150 RMB price, it must be said, but white2tea are selling this at an entirely reasonable price. I suspect that Xiao Yunqing was simply being far too kind when he sold me these cakes in Maliandao.
There is sharpness, a broad base, and a long huigan [returning sweetness]. It lasts well, while being properly bitter.
I have learned not to try tea while grumpy; the first half of this session (while grumpy) left me ambivalent, while the second session (after a good sleep) reminded me of this cake's many charms. I look forward to seeing how its strong body develops over time.