One of the multitude of reasons that I enjoy drinking tea is to share samples with likeminded
weirdos people. Sometimes, those samples turn out to be awesome (dude). Sometimes those samples turn out to be the proverbial suck. Every time, however, I have a great deal of fun, and get to talk about tea with my teachums.
All three of the cakes that I tried today really, sincerely, genuinely suck. They suck amazingly. Their suction is so great that I was forced to drink three teas, to try and find a good one. I failed. However, as I wrote above, I had a great deal of fun in the process.
First up: the 2005 "Chengli Jinian" cake (pictured above) from an outfit called the Menghai Gucha Tea Company. The name means, approximately, "establish memory", perhaps referring to the fact that the company was seemingly granted permission to use the "zhongcha" design on their wrappers the just before its production.
This cake is just $14, at Chawangshop. For a seven-year-old cake. Alarm bells are already ringing, before we contemplate the bruised, almost crimson redness of the leaves (shown above and below). It fulfills the primary rule-of-thumb for dodgy companies, being named "Menghai Something Tea Co."
This cake tastes rather like a few samples of tea that I had from an outfit called Teacuppa. They were, like this sample, difficult to identify as being pu'ercha. All flavour has been thoroughly pre-oxidised out of the leaves, hence the colour, as has kuwei [bitterness], complexity, sensation, huigan, etc.
When the third infusion begins to taste disconcertingly of sour coffee-roast, you know it's time to change teas. The wet leaves, pictured below, are nearly scarlet. The memory established by this "establish memory" cake was not in the company's favour. It's probably not aimed at pu'ercha drinkers, however, given its near-wulong style floral notes.
Thanks to JT for the excellent introduction! While it was terrible pu'ercha, it was great fun.
"Hailanghao will taste great", they said. "You'll love it", they said. Oh, foolish mortals...
This is the 2009 "Gaoshanzhai" cake from a brand that I love to hate. Perhaps that's a bit strong: I am mildly irritated by the fact that a company that used to make decent, lo-fi cakes priced at a suitable low price now attempts to market themselves as "premium pu'ercha". They charge stratospheric prices, but the quality is often a bit on the ordinary side.
The leaves, however, look good. Pictured above, the compression is light and the maocha is made of long leaves. Perhaps not obvious from the photograph, but they are tinted towards a rusty red colour. (Rut-roh.)
There were two Gaoshanzhai cakes made by Hailanghao in 2009, supposedly from the same trees. Given the autumnal appearance and limited flavour in the cup, along with the orange colour, I assume I have the later leaves.
Modern technology! While sitting at the teatable, I e-mailed TA to find out if this was indeed the autumnal cake sold by Yunnan Sourcing (for $90). Before the infusion had completed, a reply was waiting in my inbox (pictured below).
This tea does have virtues: it has a long sweetness, it has a vibrancy in the mouth, it has something reminiscent of huigan. However, it has the low, low ceiling of autumnal leaves, and the result is limited and tightly constrained. By the fifth infusion, it is generic and rather boring.
Time to change gear!
I always rely on Xizihao. Yes, they have their unfortunate moments, but they're generally very reliable. This "Laowushan" is the follow-up to their 2010 version, which I found to be pleasant, but a touch "light and delicate" (read: somewhat empty).
The leaves are mighty fine. TA apparently bought this from a local Slovakian outfit named "Longfeng". The maocha is of small leaves, nicely compressed, with a good number of silver, furry tips combined with chunkier basis leaves.
It has a husky sweetness that is rather out-of-place in a Xizihao cake, even for a tea sourced in western Simao (specifically, Zhenyuan County). It does have the savoury character much beloved from that region, which combines pleasantly with a cooling aftertaste.
This tea probably isn't inexpensive; Sanhetang products seldom are. For the presumed high price, this is, like its predecessor, rather watery and, for want of a better word, "empty".
However, it marches on with a "dry" sweetness rather like a decent French wine. Comparison between wine and tea is a heresy (in both directions) in which I don't usually indulge, but here, I think, the similarity justifies the means.
I opened this article by decrying the suction of all three of these cakes and, in fairness, only the first two really suck. The Xizihao has a good sweet finish that causes shengjin [mouth-watering behaviour], while its body has an excellent honeylike tone. Yes, by the eighth infusion it tastes leafy and green, and has collapsed into mundane normality, but it does rather well before it reaches that stage.
Finishing up and tidying away, I raise a cup of thanks to both JT and TA for an excellent session, which was tremendous fun, if nothing else.