27 September, 2013

You're Everything I Despise

Contrary to the title, this article is, in fact, a discussion of teas from three sterling chaps (American English: "righteous dudes") in the world of Western-oriented pu'ercha.  It just so happened that I was listening to the new Chimaira album at the time.  Lyrics about "broken dreams and empty promises" certainly sound a lot like the product descriptions of many modern pu'er cakes, however!  Ho ho ho.

That'll be the Chimaira

The name of the game today is a head-to-head match between three well-known masters of disaster:

SCOTT (a.k.a. "Master Shredder") of Yunnan Sourcing,
PETER (a.k.a. "The Streptococcal Infection") of Pu-erh.sk,
DAVID (a.k.a. "One-Inch Punch") of Essence of Tea.

In the red corner, the 2012 Gaoshanzhai from Yunnan Sourcing...

The 2011 Gaoshanzhai was deluxe.  The 2011 autumn version of same was OK, but autumnal.  Setting the scene for this cake, my son (as I was warming up the kettle) required EMERGENCY assistance in a matter pertaining to the bowels, namely his, and the lavatory.  Being a father is completely awesome, but you do need to have good reactions.  I am the top gun of the potty training world right now.

What better way to get me in the mood for a tea session?  Unlike my son, this tea has a fresh and clean scent.  Scott makes razor-sharp teas that are precision strikes to critical locations in the affections.  He has accumulated some years of flying such missions, and is getting rather good at it by now.

This particular sortie is vibrant and satisfying in that Big Yiwu way, while remaining beefy and strong.  There is sweetness to be had, but it is in the back of the throat.  It is not "sweet tea".  The base of heavy, dark Yiwu appeals to the imagination: it is a quality that one could easily extrapolate into being good several years down the line.  It has tons of caffeine, and manages to stay at least sweet and clean into its end infusions.

As with all of the teas today, it ain't cheap, in any respect.  This is $86/250g, which makes it $123 for a bing equivalent-weight.  That's not terrifying, compared to the casual extortion of many recent cakes made available to Westerners, but is more than I would be comfortable paying for this particular cake.  Everyone has their threshold: this cake's quality-price ratio is below mine, nice as it is.  Perhaps I'm just tighter than most.

Next up, bringing the mother-blanking ruckus, is the 2013 Guafengzhai from Pu-erh.sk.

As you can tell from the above, this is maocha and it looks good.  Those long, slinky leaves simply refuse to have anything to do with the damp interior of my pot, as if they are just far too good for it.  I listen attentively to their plight before shoving really hard, stuffing them ingloriously into the belly of my favourite pot.  Today, I just don't have the energy for all that pre-dampening of the leaves in the chahe [tea-dish].

Peter has made some cakes that I have loved longtime in the past, which is fair to say of all three protagonists in today's mash-up.  This leafy-green maocha is fine, but not quite up to the stratospheric heights that some of his cakes have previously occupied.  To be fair, I did have a slightly blocked nose on the day that I tried this tea, but I did detect the pungent sweetness of the dry leaves, and the floral notes in the cup.

It has a good, honey-like edge, a touch of grass, a touch of caramel-style finish in the throat, presumably from the kill-green stage of the processing.  Even with my irritated nose, this deposits an actual bouquet after the swallow.  Its texture, while not thick, is decent.

I don't believe that this maocha is for sale - it was an excellent opportunity to try a fresh maocha from the now-much-sought-after "GFZ" region, however.  You have to be careful with maocha, storage-wise, and I wonder if Peter has since turned this into cakes.  My journal seems to end with, "Something seems to prevent me from loving this tea: it is decent maocha, but perhaps a touch closer to the prosaic than some more elevated examples."

Finally, the most expensive cake this year from Essence of Tea.  This 2013 Guafengzhai cake is limited to one per customer - I have one of the 2012 cakes which is really rather good.

Before we get into discussions about whether or not we would prefer this tea (at £160/357g) or the 2003 Zipinhao for a similar price, it's time to drink the actual cake.  Too many teas have been ruined by discussions of their price.

My journal has, "As far as appearance goes, this is one of the best" - it has heavy, long leaves and was the first sample that I tried out of a recent box generously provided by David.  This seemingly came from "Chawangshu" [tea-king tree], in Guafengzhai, and "is good as young Yiwushan tea could ever hope to be", as I have it in my journal.  It is thick, sweet, complex, and enduring.

The colour is a heavy yellow that looks as if it could easily collapse into a dense orange given a year or two.  It runs to the back of the mouth and, while it has kuwei [good bitterness], it is the kuwei of old trees: omnipresent, but not dominant.

Gently cooling on the breath, it causes me to breathe a sigh of relief.  By the eighth infusion, it is more down-to-earth, but there are few unaged shengpu that can stretch to such lengths.  A fine session.

Was there any winner?  Perhaps, to use a cliché, I was the only winner.

After all, three great teas, three great sessions - surely this is the reason that we play this game.

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