21 June, 2013

Tea with Xiao Yunzhen

I wrote previously about one of my favourite malls on Maliandaolu, which contains the Taochaju outlet run by a Buddhist version of the Fonz, and all around nice guy, Xiao Yunqing.  I first discovered his shop during my 2011 visit, when I simply went into his shop because he had an honest face.
This turned out to be a good decision: we had a long tea-session (one of several), and he sold me some really rather good 1998 Kunming Tea Factory cakes for 280 (two hundred and eighty!) RMB, among other things.  You may remember Xiao Yunqing as being the creator of the "Danzhen" cakes, sold under the wider "Taochaju" brand, notably by white2tea.

Check out the above photograph.  Does anything strike you as being familiar, except the Danzhen cakes?

Let me zoom in a little...

It is PM's jazz cake.  I won't recount how PM read about Xiao Yunqing on this humble web-site, went to visit him, and struck up a business partnership. (!)
The "Giant Steps" cake is, in Xiao Yunqing's typical naming style, locally called the "Fohai Guyun" (shown on the red label). 

Xiao Yunqing was doing his Buddhistly thing in Tibet when I came to visit this time, and the shop was being looked after by his sister, Xiao Yunzhen.  We drank some tea!

Thanks to the ubiquitous wifi connection, I fired up my iPad and engaged my VPN adaptor (connecting me to my university network), which gave me the ability to browse Blogger (otherwise blocked in China).   We checked out some articles, and I played Ms. Xiao some of the real "Giant Steps" via Youtube, which seemed as if it was something of a surprise to her!  That, or she hates jazz.

First up, as shown above, the 2012 "Nannuo Guyun".  I bought the 2011 version from Xiao Yunqing himself, for the scorching, red-hot, razor-sharp uberbargain of just 200 (two hundred!) RMB.  It was one of my favourite Nannuoshan cakes from 2011, and was very easy to love.

This 2012 was good - but perhaps not as good as my 2011.  It did everything right, with a clean opening; its fresh, yellow character; its honey-like scents... but it didn't grip me.  It was, dare I say it, a little bit one-dimensional.  It was a lovely dimension, though.
Xiao Yunzhen very kindly packed up some maocha that will be used to make the 2013 "Nannuo Guyun", and which is the subject of a later article.

During the course of a long session, we went through the forthcoming 2013 Guafengzhai "Chawang" cake, again made by Xiao Yunzhen's brother.

This was a very enjoyable cake indeed, with a deep base of fragrant Yiwu in the recognisably Guafengzhai genre.

While Ms. Xiao avoided the camera lens, I discretely took a few snaps while she was out of the room.  Lots of these cakes are familiar from my own shelves back at home!
(Note that Daxiang elephant cake on the top shelf, of which PM kindly provided me with a tong.)

The maocha for the Guafengzhai "Chawang", as shown below, looks healthy indeed...

...and the resulting cake even moreso:

I began to salivate as the tong was produced...

All of Xiao Yunqing's cakes take a while to get going, and the Guafengzhai was no exception.  I think this might A Good Thing - it suggests that the cakes have serious mass, and that they take a long time to have their momentum sufficiently changed such that they develop proper velocity.  We applied a long, steady impulse contained within Xiao Yunzhen's rather massive gaiwan, pictured below.  The dazzling yellow of the soup probably tells you all you need to know about this fresh, straightforwardly honest, Gaufengzhai.

If only I didn't have to head off for a lunchtime meeting...  I departed happy to have met a new tea-chum, and delighted to have enjoyed some of my old friend's latest generation of cakes.  It is entirely feasible that these might become available at white2tea, as with some of the cakes from previous years.


Felix González said...

Hi Hobbes!

I ve been reading your blog for several years now, thought not officially. But I comme back once and again every time I dive in the Pu Er world.
And I have a question. I ve seen you talk amazing things about many differents Pu er, and I was wondering about the aging. It is really important? I mean, a Pu Er (sheng) becomes better with aging? Because I ve read some people say that a Pu er with less than 15 years it worth almost nothing ¿?
What would you say?

If you had some time I would appreciate very much some comments about it.

Sincerely yours,


Hobbes said...

Dear Felix,

Thanks for your comment, and your kind words. The nice thing about the world of pu'ercha is that it's always there when you wish to dive back in and, chances are, your cakes have got better in the meantime. :)

Pu'ercha definitely changes with age, for better or worse. With good aging, pu'ercha enters a new phase in its life, evolved from its youth. I hold the opinion that all ages of pu'ercha hold their unique charms: young tea for its strength, complexity of scent and flavour, and freshness; older tea for its depth, richness, and chaqi.

I wouldn't like to be without either.

I don't think it's really fair to say that young (< 15 years) is "worth almost nothing" - indeed some of it is frighteningly expensive, and, sometimes, worth that level of outlay! The traditional view is that pu'ercha is best when (very) old, but I suspect that people describing young tea as being "worthless" are fairly inexperienced, or perhaps just very traditional.

Certainly, most Asian people that I know simply cannot drink much younger shengpu, because it is not compatibile with their physiology, whereas Westerners seem to revel in it. If something hurts your stomach (which you should certainly take to be a sign that it is not a drink for you!), then you would undoubtedly consider it to be worthless, or at least worth less than something you could enjoy.

For me, drinking tea from across the wide spectrum of geography, and also across the timeline of ages, is part of the fun - as is keeping track of one's cakes, and getting to know them intimately as they undergo the aging process.

Drinking cakes when young and watching them develop into mature pu'ercha is immensely satisfying. Even moreso is the satisfaction if you bought the cakes inexpensively when they were young. ;)

"To each their own", as in all things, in summary.



Felix González said...

Thank you for your answer. It clarifies for me a cloud spot.
Now I´m gonna enjoy my Linchang pu er of 2009.

Nick Herman said...

Chinese cultural norms seem about as far as you can get from jazz, in my experience; I've known Chinese jazz musicians and played with them..but it sure has not taken ahold much. Improvisation in music is not something that is really valued, unlike in the Indian tradition, through which it blends quite easily.

Hobbes said...

Dear Nick,

You know, that's a very interesting point, and one that I had not considered before. There certainly is a stereotype about the rote-learning that Chinese students undergo, which, as the stereotype has it, results in fundamental mathematical confidence but little creativity. I would not claim to have an opinion on that subject, but my colleagues are not shy about voicing their own, usually in regard to their engineering undergraduate and graduate students who have that background.

I feel as if guzheng and guqin music might have something of improvisation about it, no? I must admit that I have never heard Chinese jazz before. :)



Nick Herman said...

There is Chinese jazz but not that much of it; for whatever reason it caught on like crazy in Japan, though. I suspect this relates somewhat to the astute observation made by Bill Porter in "Zen Baggage," a wonderful book, in which he is riding in a car with Chinese monks who are telling them of their desires to build big temple complexes abroad--Bill tells them they are wasting their time and if they want to reach people in the West about Buddhism they need to engage with them and make it relevant, temples would, "be a waste of money. They would attract spiritual dilettantes and the curious..Chinese Busdhism had almost no impact on the West because those engaged in its transmission insisted on its Chinese forms, the external rigmarole."

Many of the songs that are played on guzheng/qin etc. are very old compositions. I don't have the impression improvisation is used much, at present. Case in point: I was watching a documentary about a famous pipa player collaborating with a famous Uyghee musician. The Uygher learned the Chinese compositions without a problem, whereas the Chinese pipa player seed to express bewilderment at the folk-Uygher tunes, which, gasp, contained significant deviations and improvisation, as folk tunes that are spread in an oral manner often do.

Hobbes said...

Dear Nick,

I have not read Zen Baggage, but am now resolved to do so - thank you!