Being a double-father is quite a blessing. My first son, at two years of age, has started to develop his own (exceedingly strong) opinions, some of which have to do with tea. My second son's opinions seem to revolve more around milk, but are equally determined.
This "Mannuozhai" cake from Pu-erh.sk is the first that Xiaohu has chosen - perhaps, if he is influenced at all by his father's strange habits, the first of many. This story started out in August, when Xiaohu and I were sitting at the tea-table with the above packet, kindly provided by Peter of pu-erh.sk. My (tiny) wife was wobbling around at the time, some seven months pregnant with another (very large) Anglo-Saxon baby.
Xiaohu and I liked this cake so much, that we bought some, which arrived shortly thereafter and which have been sitting in a box in my office ever since. Now, with the arrival of Xiaolong, and my paternity leave, I thought it high time to bring home the goods.
The tong, shown above, is really very cute - it holds four cakes, and they are xiaobing (250g), which isn't obvious from the photograph due to the lack of scale. Take a peek below, where we compare the Mannuozhai cake with a standard 357g cake, and you will see what I mean.
I don't speak hip-hop, but it appears that the wrapper has plenty to read in that language. I imagine that these are the lyrics to some crazy new Slovakian gangster rap (pictured below). You know those
Eastern Central Europeans.
"West Bratislava born and raised / in the playground's where I spent most of my days"
"COMEANDHAVEACUPOFTEA", Xiaohu remarks in one long stream of sound, without pauses. I oblige, and the tetsubin is soon going about its business, my rather heavy son perched on his father's frail old knee.
Shown above and below, the pretty leaves (with a standard-size lens cap for scale). The aroma of the cake is sweet and dense, though quieter than the craziness of the sample - it has had some time to settle down after production.
Xiaohu tried this tea first (as is his wont and privilege), although he does drink it from "Xiaohu's cup", which is a little wenxiangbei [aroma cup]. When asked if he liked it: "MORETEA...PWEASE".
We drank some four or five infusions of this tea together, which is something of a record for my dear son, whose attention is soon captured by the thoughts of playing with his toy dinosaurs ("TRICERATOPS") or reading about Robert "Bob" the Builder.
Mannuozhai is in the greater Bulangshan area of Menghaixian, and this does remind me of potent Bulangshan cakes of years past: it is heavy, extremely bitter, and highly enduring. The exceeding bitterness left me rather surprised that Xiaohu enjoyed it quite so much, but he is my son, after all.
Peter (of Pu-erh.sk) wrote, "too much leaves will lead to tough tea soap, not for pu-erh novices" [sic]. I am thoroughly encouraged that my son is so hardcore. I didn't even know that he had a core, let alone a hard one, but there we have it.
It is a big, "soapy" tea, in that its texture is heavy, smooth, silky, and, well, "soapy". It is not complex, but it is strong, strong, sweet, strong, tobacco-based, and strong. Also, it is strong. After the first small cup (after my son had taken his share), I was left wide awake and rather impressed.
One of those teas that leaves the tip of the tongue rather numb, this is a solid and unforgiving little cake, but that rock-solid backbone of embedded, integral sweetness combined with bitterness must surely bode well for the future. At 40 Euro per 250g, it is not the most inexpensive cake in the world, but it's not quite up in the silly range, yet, and so remains quite appealing.
Xiaohu and I will be coming back to this one in future, I'm quite sure. Perhaps Xiaolong will want to join us when we do.