This might be the first time that I've come across a cake where I prefer its autumnal incarnation to its springtime version. Have I gone barking mad, or is there method in my madness?
The popular wisdom is that springtime cakes are more potent, contain more contents within the leaf, and are generally better for storage as a result. This, more or less, fits with my experience: autumnal cakes, in contrast, may be easier to drink, and perhaps a little more floral and fruity, but the comparative lack of potency usually causes me to avoid buying them. Certainly, the overwhelming majority of cakes on our shelves are made from springtime maocha.
This Banpo Laozhai cake, however, is the exception that proves the rule: I found the 2011 springtime version to be vivid and powerful, yet, ultimately, somewhat empty in the mouth. It conveyed good sensation, but it wasn't all that enjoyable or interesting to drink. This autumnal version seems to overcome the flaws in the springtime cake (if indeed there are flaws - perhaps it is a function of my fickle tastebuds).
Shown in the images above, this cake is made from medium-sized leaves that look similar to the springtime version, if a little more fragmented. This is a Nannuo-region cake, and the leaves have the bright, sweet, floral scents that I associate with the area.
This is a heavy, solid cake, which sits densely in the middle of the mouth, radiating sweetness and hints of tangy leather. I was surprised that it was quite so flavoursome, given the character of the springtime cake. It swells nicely in the throat, and keeps the mouth watering in a way that keeps the attention.
Autumnal cakes are supposed to be a little less aggressive than their springtime peers, and perhaps that is the case here. However, while it is not the bruising kuwei-laden monster of some cakes, it does have a very pleasant bitterness about its finish. It is a well-rounded, accomplished cake that keeps me happy for several hours, and over a dozen infusions.
After all those infusions, lesser cakes may tend towards leafy-green characteristics, giving up their floral overtones in favour of their possibly less exalted base flavours. Here, however, the Banpo Laozhai does very well: it delivers solid, bitter-sweet infusions with a good degree of complexity for many infusions, and shows no sign of giving any of the negative characteristics of lesser leaves.
For $27 (compared with the $38 of the springtime cake), it looks very appealing. As I have mentioned before, I do have a very large number of tong of Nannuoshan cakes from Essence of Tea, and therefore adopt a cautious position about buying too much more from this region. If I were looking for a good Nannuo, however, this cake and the 2010 Yunzhiyuan "Yakouzhai" are both good choices, and represent decent value. The latter is more expensive ($44 per bing equivalent), and the potency of this chubby autumnal cake make it look rather good.
I was genuinely surprised to have the autumnal version charm me to such a degree, because I had left it languishing on my shelf after being nonplussed by the springtime version. It just goes to show that one should not have too many preconceptions...