I used to be able to sleep really well. I was one of those folks who could put their head down on the pillow and be asleep until morning within seconds. These days, I wake up all the way through the night. What changed? Oddly enough, I think it was the year running up to submission of my DPhil thesis. They say that your thesis will hurt; I'm still waiting for my sleeping patterns to return, over two years hence...
Medium-sizedn leaves from Banpo
So, some mornings, I find myself up very early. This tea-session occurred on one of those mornings; it was a while ago, but I remember it well - the moon was low and bright, filling the windows with its coldness. The lights were off downstairs, but everywhere was illuminated. Moontea.
Reluctant in the early morning
I chose to spend that moonlit morning with a spring cake from Scott of Yunnan Sourcing, and not one that I'd heard of before: Banpo refers to a small cluster of villages in the greater Nannuo region, just south of the Jingmai-Menghai road that slices through Xishuangbanna. The "laozhai" part [lao-djai] just means "old village".
The brew is almost entirely yellow until it hits the air
Scott thinks it reminds him of the 2010 Nannuo "Yakouzhai" cake, which, reading my notes, brings back to my taste-memory that sweetness that impressed me so much. I have so much Nannuo tea (mostly from Essence of Tea) that I've been reticent to buy more, but Scott's Yakouzhai would be a great contender.
Like that 2010 cake, this Banpo cake is from spring, and so we are hopefully for a bit more body and permanence that we might expect from the autumnal teas that I've been drinking lately. There is quite a difference between the two, and, unless you're buying tea to drink immediately, it's probably best to buy springtime cakes from a good year.
The leaves look healthy, and endure well
This is a good cake, but it has something missing. First, the good: I like its cleanliness and its purity of processing, which leaves it brilliant, sugary, and grass-like. I like the way in which it takes a few infusions to get up to speed, as if it has some real mass that contributes to its inertia. I like its activity, and the way that it bubbles and fizzes in the throat, reminding us that it's very alive.
Sadly, to my tastes at least, it seems to be skewed away from actual flavour. There is a notable absence of a full, tasty body that really prevents me from loving it. Certainly, some cakes can be "sensation cakes", and get by on energetic characteristics, coolness, and throatiness. That said, my favourite cakes have both good "sensation" and a heavy, present flavour. There's not much for me to really get my teeth into with this cake.
Give it a go yourself; you never know - it could be that its gentle characteristics are welcome to your tastes. It does have a decent kuwei [throaty bitterness] to commend it, at least. Given the space on my shelves, or lack thereof, it's not a cake I'll be buying, but it could be right for you, particularly if you're looking for Nannuo examples.
Note to self: $38/400g
Note to self: $38/400g