Plenus or not, the big man rolled up at my place last week-end. He was heavily laden. I had bought 15 litres of water in preparation. We were ready.
Apache, like everyone from Hong Kong (Kenny and GV, I'm looking at you), seems to have a long-standing relationship with The Fat. And why not? I've never been to the Fragrant Port, but would make calling in at the famous teahouse an essential part of my visit if ever it occurred.
The Fat does most things well, when it comes to tea, but I cannot say that I have ever tried their wulong before.
Pictured above, this is a miscellaneous "gongfu chawang" of which we know little, excepting the facts that (i) it is roasted, and (ii) it is still quite young. This makes for a mighty fine wulong experience, and I even did the unthinkable and managed to find my roasted-wulong pot. That little pot doesn't get much action.
This was, perhaps expectedly, a very good wulong: buttery, green, young - but smoothly roasted, without being heavy-handed. A fine balance between light and dark, yin and yang, Force and Sith. The running order for today's session was decided by Apache himself, and this was a great opener.
2003 Menghai Tea Factory "Qiaomu Laoshu" Cake
You may have read recently of Apache's hideous treatment at the hands of a vendor whose name cannot be named, in which we was peddled a fake 2003 Dayi Qiaomu Laoshu. Keen to restore balance to the Force, Apache brought along a sample of the actual Dayi cake, provided by a friend of his from Guangdong province.
2003 Menghai Qiaomu Laoshu
This version, pictured above, does not suck at all. In fact, it is quite the opposite. The leaves, pictured above, are separate, long, and very well-aged. The Taobaowang price at the time of writing for this little baby is currently 300 English pounds (approx. 450 Amurcan) for a full cake. It is not at all cheap, but exceedingly cheerful.
Clean, elegant, heavily sweet, and yet laden with kuwei [good bitterness] even after a decade of storage in south China - this is quite remarkable. Heaven knows how delicious this will be after another ten years; it certainly has the strength to turn into something even more fine. As it stands, it is woody, enduring, and darned solid.
Dayi special cakes have come under heavy (financial) speculation within the last half-year or so, and the prices are generally going through the roof for anything Dayi that isn't a standard recipe. You may not have seen this in Western markets, because we tend to see just the basics (7542, 8582, etc.); the better "specials", however, are taking a huge pounding. The case of the amusingly-priced 2011 Jin Dayi is one that you might have come across, for example. Apache and I bought that by the tong about a year ago, and the price has since approximately tripled.
Speaking of overpriced speculation...
Hualian ("Waloon" in Cantonese?) is the teashop on Macao that is famous for the "1997 Hualian Qingzhuan" [green brick], allegedly made entirely of laoshu leaves. This 2004 cake is more down-to-earth, but is supposedly more Banzhang material.
The leaves are small and crunched, as one might expect (pictured below).
Interval: we discovered the following nestled inside the leaves of this tea. We have absolutely no idea what these... pearl-coloured pods might be. Tea-seeds? Insect eggs? You decide. Either way, we chickened out and decided not to brew them.
Minus the worrying eggs, the actual tea was... pretty good. It was lighter than the previous 2003 Qiaomu Laoshu, and quite obviously so. There was good sweetness, and a decent body, but it was all rather underwhelming and quite straightforward.
The soup, shown above, looks good, however. For completeness, an image of the wrapper is shown below, where "Shengtai Yesheng" means "Natural Wild". The former term is sometimes translated as "ecological", referring to the manner in which the trees are (allegedly) maintained.
The cake that we drank next I choose to omit from today's proceedings. This is merely because we gave it short shrift, and I went on to enjoy it the next day. So delicious was this unnamed tea, in fact, that I will write about it in another article.
So, instead, let us move on to the next cake after that: the 2003 Menghai "Chawang Qingbing":
Menghai Tea Factory 2002 "Chawang Qingbing"
This final cake is a heavy hitter. It is The Real Thing, where you should pronounce the capital letters.
With my pot given over to That Mysterious Tea omitted previously, we parked this 2002 Menghai "Chawang Qingbing" in Apache's appropriately-labeled gaiwan. It is one of those rather huge Dayi affairs that seems entirely suited to brewing this tea.
I rather like gaiwan brewing for the speed with which one can evacuate the water from the leaves. Perhaps I should use one more often, but I do so love my little zisha pot, "Zidu", who brews 95% of my tea.
By the time Apache and I got into this tea, we had been going some three hours or so, and were rapidly reaching tea saturation. Such a thing appears to be possible! This 2002 Menghai reset the clocks: it was immensely solid, with a base of cement. Density, infinite density! Sweetness, strength, unfathomably long-lasting... a tea to drink again.
In fact, Apache did it the very great honour of taking it home to drink the next day, which is wise indeed.
"Top tier for the year in which it was produced", concluded Apache. I could only agree. You would have to search far indeed to find a better cake from 2002.
And then, it was all over. I always enjoy these epic sessions with Apache, and learn a great deal each time. My appreciation for the rarer Menghai "specials" has reached new heights... as has the price of these cakes, thanks to Chinese speculators. Therefore, we must "make hay while the sun shines".
Such lovely hay it is, too.