We have four rather inexpensive cakes for you today, all from unknown minor companies, and all courtesy of the generosity of Bannacha. I think it can be claimed with justification that William, who runs the outfit, has a good eye for low-cost, high-reward cakes.
First up: the "Bainian Laoshu" cake from the Lincang Jinqiao tea company. The cake's name means "hundred-year old-tree", which is a phrase used so often with cheap cakes that it has become comically meaningless.
Wrapper comedy aside, let's look at the leaves.
WO writes that this cake comes from the Xibanshan [west-half mountain] region of Mengu area, in Lincang diqu. This automatically predisposes me to liking this tea, to declare my bias in advance. He also writes that there are a wide range of varietals of tea-tree growing in that region, which is confirmed by the variation in the maocha, pictured above.
The yellow soup and sweet scent are orthodox and encouraging. It is highly active, cooling the breath significantly, and causing the lips to tingle. Beneath the sweetness is a decent kuwei [good bitterness], with buttery notes demonstrating its youth.
The reason for my love of Lincang cakes is here in abundance: a strong base of cereal sweetness. Combined with the kuwei, I am happy indeed. After several infusions, the body is revealed as being a touch thin, and it is, perhaps, a little one-dimensional. That stated, the whole cake may be had for just 30 euro, which is a great price. My journal has "clean, fresh, and sweet - but a little straightforward".
Next up, the 2012 "Laoman'e" cake from Miaoyuan factory.
It seems that almost every wrapper coming out of China looks like the above. Tradition is certainly a stubborn force to overcome in pu'ercha!
This is a guhua [lit. grain-flower, referring to the autumnal harvest] cake, and is sold for 20 euro for a 200g xiaobing. The tendency towards companies selling xiaobing is becoming mildly irritating - primarily because it makes them difficult to store, compared with their full-size counterparts, but also because I feel that a certain sleight-of-hand is occurring, in which higher prices are somewhat disguised by reducing the size of the cakes. Many Western-oriented vendors are adopting this tactic, and I don't like it too much.
No doubt, the converse argument is that it allows higher-priced teas to be available to those who wouldn't otherwise wish to spend large amounts.
The leaves are large and furry, as shown above, which are loosely pressed by hand (i.e., stone).
Guhua scents are full, sugary, and fruity - they bring to mind the harvest fruits that I associate with the autumn period in which this tea was made. "The season of mellow fruitfulness", indeed. I recall in passing the fundamental effect that English autumns have on my character: I have long said that I chart the course of my life according to blackberry seasons.
The autumn flush is good, in Laoman'e: the usual bitterness of the region is present, but it is rounded and ablated by the autumnal warmth. There are few regions for which guhua characteristics are quite so positive, to my mind. Many are impotent; this is not.
The sticky sweetness of harvest fruits dwells in the nose, while the kuwei gets to work in the throat. I am left with cooled breath and a feeling of contentment, perhaps due to the warmth of nostalgic memory.
My journal has "I can imagine buying one for reference", but I do not know that I ever got around to doing so. Solid, fruity, and bitter, it has a wide base of charms.
Thirdly, another guhua cake: the 2012 Jingmai "shengtai", meaning "natural" or "ecological". The web-site of Bannacha describes in some detail how Jingmaishan used to be covered in plantations, but the consequent erosion and other soil damage apparently led to conversion of the land into natural tea gardens, removing 80% of the bushes. This can only be A Good Thing.
This is a tippy cake (alert, alert), made from a larger proportion of tip-leaves than is usually common. In every other kind of tea excepting pu'ercha, this is a benefit.
The yellow-orange soup has a hint of brown about it; the buttery scent has a massive vibrancy, before tasting. Very sweet, and very smooth in the seductive manner of tippy cakes, I must confess to not being enthralled by such things, due to their relative weakness.
There is something of a real pu'ercha edge, but the tippiness and guhua factors combine to make it rather straightforward and unchallenging. Perhaps one to consider when "accessibility" is a concern. Later infusions show evidence of the plantation.
Oh, my bizarrely mixed musical tastes...
Fourthly and finally, the 2010 Guanzizai "Jingmai", just in case the previous two cakes were not enough Jingmai for one article.
This is sold for just 15 euro, which is rather good for a spring cake. It is plantation, yes, but you cannot get much for such a price these days.
This tea, in particular, has tons of the lanxiang typical of Jingmaishan leaves. A solid kuwei appears only at the end, but with the minor huigan [returning sweetness] comes a cooling sensation that gradually creeps through the mouth.
It is most enjoyable - can it be too good to be true? Subsequent infusions even go so far as to develop an increased kuwei, which is to its credit. Unlike some other cakes from the Jingmai area, the soup has the honest yellow colour pictured above, rather than coarse orange.
By the six infusion, I feel as if I have taken the leaves further than they wish to go. The plantation becomes a touch more obvious, and the excellence of the first infusions have passed. Temper that assessment with its low price, however, and you might find this appealing.
With thanks to WO of Bannacha, we conclude that these pu'ercha minoris are definitely enjoyable, and I feel that I have a better handle on the relative differences between Jingmai north and south, guhua [autumn] and zaochun [early spring] for that region.