22 April, 2013

Real Books

If all has gone according to plan, then you are reading this while I am eating snails, wearing a beret, and playing boules in Paris.  Fingers (and baguettes) are crossed.


What do you do at the tea-table, apart from drinking tea?

Some days, I just drink.  Sometimes, that involves being slumped over the table looking like a zombie, staring vacantly into the middle-distance.  Most of the time, I drink while writing in my journal (a small proportion of which corresponds to my tea-notes), and I have racked up a truly surprising number of journals.  I first started writing in the back seat of my father's car while he drove me to university for the first time, when I was 18.  I was "leaving home".  Since then, the number of journals that I have filled has reached 51, and they have travelled a reasonably-sized chunk of the world.

My journals remind me of my favourite films is "Se7en", directed by David Fincher.  In that film, the atrocious master criminal, played by Kevin Spacey, fills piles of identically-appearing notebooks with bizarre thoughts, unlabeled and unordered, in homogenous handwriting.  Line after line after line.  My journals are just like that (minus the vitriol).  I can't imagine what I am going to do with them all.

1997 8582

Sometimes, however, I take my current book to the tea-table.  Often, it is a book on whatever variety of statistics has recently absorbed me.  The tea-table is a very good place to read difficult books, given the sharpness of the mind that occurs as a result.

Today, I have been reading the Lunyu ("Analects") of Kongzi / Confucius.  I first read this book when I was an undergrad.  It was interesting, but a bit stuffy.  These days, it is absolutely different, and reads like a handbook for the professional academic.  I was genuinely surprised by how entirely relevant each page seemed to be to my own situation, as if a fantastically-experienced and thoroughly proper mentor had seen fit to dispense some wisdom for a junior wannabe.  Maybe I have grown into the book a little, but I can see why it is held in such regard by traditional Chinese.  Have a go yourself, if you have not; if you have, be tempted to re-read it!

1997 8582

Today's article is the concatenation of two sessions, which have my reading of the Lunyu in common.  The first session explored the 1997 Menghai 8582, kindly provided by BH (first tried here).  I heartily approve of the maximum amount of re-use that this sample bag has experienced!

1997 8582

An old 8582 is a perfect companion for the Lunyu.  Recalling that the "85" refers to the year in which the recipe was standardised, the subsequent "8" refers to the large size of the leaves used in the blend.  Pictured above, we can see that these are substantially larger than the usual Dayi mixtures, and I wonder if this contributes to the excellent aging capability of the 8582s that I have been encountering of late.

1997 8582

There is plenty of humidity about these leaves, which is no bad thing.  The resulting brew, pictured above and below, looks not dissimilar to a beautiful Burgundy.  There is no disputing the fine qualities of this particular example of 8582.

1997 8582

The cup, pictured above, was a generous gift from Mr. and Mrs. Essence of Tea, which seems perfectly paired with this rich old tea.  The cup has a smooth thickness in common with the soup of the 1997 8582, and is quite obviously very happy to be filled with Good Soup.

1997 8582

Sometimes, you just have to drink a solid, fragrant, sweet and everlasting tea when the chips are down.  It is, after all, what it is "all about".  For my part, young shengpu is my usual diet, but older teas such as this example so kindly provided by BH are a treat, and a reminder of where I would like my cakes to go.

2002 Liming Banzhang Zhuancha

Regular readers may recall my description of a recent, and mighty, tea session with Apache at chez nous.  I omitted one particular tea, preferring to focus on it at some length in an article that would do it justice: this is, as pictured above, the 2002 Liming Tea Factory "Banzhangzhuan" [brick].

Pleasant photographs are all very well, Hobbes, but do you have any rancidly-lit images of this brick, perhaps ripped from a vendor web-site?

I am, if nothing else, a slave to your wishes, Gentle Reader:

2003 Liming Banzhang Zhuancha

The frightful thing above is, believe it or not, that which gave birth to the decent leaves shown below...

2002 Liming Banzhang Zhuancha

This cake takes a million years to get going, which is why Apache and I didn't really get into it during our mutual tea session.  Given a day all to itself, this brick goes on to reveal its true colours - a heavy orange/red, in this case, as pictured below.

Tea with Apache

This comes a very close second to the 2002 Menghai "Chawang Qingbing" that Apache took home for further drinking, following our session.  The Liming is darned, darned fine.  And it is a brick.  What a curious conjunction.

Sweetness and heaviness of character abound, this tea sits in the throat, churning out huigan [returning sweetness] for many minutes.  The massive weight of its body leaves my tongue slightly numbed, in the pleasant way of good leaves.  It has the low sweetness of aged, actual Banzhang and I love it very dearly.

2002 Liming Banzhang Zhuancha

The bad news is that this currently sells for 1800 RMB on Taobaowang, which is just under £200 (approx. $300).  That is one heck of a lot, but it is very lovely.  Apache has expressed a temptation to buy this.

Writing about this Liming cake led me to recall the only other time I have encountered teas from this factory.  Around five years ago, I wrote about the Liming "Tuowang" from Royal Puer.  Back then, the 250g tuocha cost $40.  I liked it, rather a lot, and only just came down on the side of not buying it.  On checking the vendor's web-pages just now, I see the price has only increased to $47.20!  Needless to say, I snapped some up and look forward to their arrival.  They will, perhaps, reflect the glory of the 2003 "Banzhangzhuan" upon me.

Maybe I'll get the Lunyu out when the Liming "Tuowang" arrives.


shah8 said...

Given the year, difficulty of doing banzhang in '02, and the nature of the brand, I'd say that it's fairly unlikely to be truly banzhang-y. However, $300 is a very reasonable price for a very good tea from 2002--such that I'd be pretty cautious about ensuring that I actually like this tea, and that the prospective brick is of the same quality. If Apache had to choose, I would say that he should spend the extra money and get the real Dayi Yiwu '03.

Hobbes said...

Dear Shah,

My prior assumption was the same, but the cup rather took me by surprise.

Note that the 2002 (erroneously referred to as 2003 in the article, now fixed) is a touch more expensive. :)

Best wishes from Paris,

Le 'Obbes

apache said...

Hi Shah,

Thanks for the suggestion. I already have some stock of 2001 Yiwu from Menghai Tea Factory and the taste profile is very similar to the 2003. I find that those older Yiwu tastes very different from all the new (post 2009) Yiwu, whether it is Dayi, Douji, YQH or YS or anywhere. I do wonder are we getting the real deal with these newer cakes?


Jakub Tomek said...

apache: First, I think that Yiwu tends to transform a lot via aging. Second, it is questionable whether the earlier Yiwus from Menghai TF were actually the real deal in the first place... E.g., when drinking Xiaguan Yiwu, it's quite far from Menghai Yiwu and modern Yiwus too - I think that these big factories blended the leaves and called the result according to dominant (or most famous) component...

apache said...

Let hope Yiwu cakes do transform a lot via aging, I heard someone said that before. What worry me is a lot of newer Yiwu cakes taste rather bland and I do wonder do they have any power to be aged gracefully?

The 2001 Menghai Yiwu TF cake I got is a decendant of Green Big Tree, I never had GBT, but I was told the 2001 Yiwu though not as good as GBT, but it has similar taste profile. Also Hobbes and I tried 80's Tong Xing Hao sometime ago and I could see there are some connections between the 2001 Menghai Yiwu and Tong Xing Hao, but I cannot see there are any links with most newer Yiwu cakes.


Jakub Tomek said...

apache: I agree that there is indeed a jump in taste spectrum... maybe it's that there were more blended cakes earlier, while now, single-estate is all the rage.

Concerning how Yiwus age and how modern Yiwus are often bland - I do agree, but it seems to me that Yiwu teas just fall asleep shortly after pressing and they wake up after 4-7 years, becoming very interesting again.

Hobbes said...

I certainly recall the Tongxinghao, and its definite similarities to later cakes, which are both, in turn, dissimilar to more modern cakes.

That said, as with THE JAKUB, I have several Yiwu cakes that drifted off into an immediate sleep, but which have just awoken after five years, and which are entirely reasonable. Let's revisit this topic in another few years. :)