Look upon my Guafengzhai, ye mighty, and despair.
All the best tea comes in little air-sealed bags. It's what the emperor would have wanted.
If ever there were a rival to the all-dominating presence of Laobanzhang, in the wide world of pu'ercha, then surely Guafengzhai must be it. Never has so much been paid for so little by so many.
The reason for this is, of course, that Guafengzhai can be absolutely lovely. There is a sublime character to a true laoshu Laobhanzhang; I've not had many, but I've had enough to cause me to weep every time a mainstream label tries to sell something that claims to be a "Laobanzhang" cake. Likewise, good Guafengzhai is hard to find.
Scott's cakes from Yunnan Sourcing are often very reliable, although I don't recall have a Guafengzhai from him since the 2009 version (back in the days of colourful wrappers). I enjoyed that cake more than the rest of the 2009 series.
Decent, medium-sized leaves
This cake is, however, an autumnal cake, which might count as being a bit of a shame (because we can expect less potency and character than the springtime versions), but might also be an opportunity to have a decent cake for the typically lower prices of autumnal cakes. In this case, the price is $36 / 250g, which is reasonable - perhaps on the borderline of being pricey. 250g makes this a xiaobing, of sorts, whereas a full bing equivalent would cost around $54.
Scott is usually very fair with his prices, and the fact that this cake is priced less expensively than his 2011 Xikong and 2011 Yibang autumnal cakes suggests something to us.
This depth of colour is due to the air - it is otherwise yellow and pure
The medium-sized leaves have a richly sweet aroma that gets my hopes up, right from the start. As ever, the opening infusion is a marvellous complex of characteristics; here, we have a heavy base of grain, plenty of Yiwu sweetness, and a solidity of texture. As Scott's notes suggest, there are hints of wildflowers in the aroma after the swallow. The question is whether or not subsequent infusions can live up to this first-infusion beauty.
I miss the days of colourful wrappers...
Sadly, these charms fade into the background in the next few infusions. We are left with a base of clean, solid Yiwu with decent strength and that pleasant granary base. I initially thought that it would be worth buying a single cake, just for future reference, but later talked myself out of even that humble purchase. It is a reliable and pleasant cake, but it cannot scale the heights of springtime Guafengzhai...