02 December, 2013

Smalltown Yunnan, Anywhere

Everyone has a personal myth that they like to believe.  Everyone has an "identity", some form of understanding of what we are and where we come from.  It sometimes takes quite a while before you come to recognise and understand someone else's "origin story", their personal take on their own history.  Your partner, your boss, your parents, everyone has one - you may even have one.

One of my hobbies is identifying someone's "origin story", their view of themselves.  It helps in many ways to understand a person, which is another of my hobbies (and one at which I am consistently unskilled, it must be said).

One common thread that appears in many people's "origin stories" is that of being a "smalltown" or "countryside" person.  Sarah Palin put this to (unintentional) comic effect when she notoriously contrasted "real America" to the rest of the country.  It is a common feeling for many countries, but can have reverse connotations.

In the UK, maybe elsewhere in the west, it is highly desirable to be a "country gentleman".  The goal of most City financiers is to buy that pretty landholding in the country, as soon as possible, with the intention of spending week-ends there, or as much time as they can manage.  It is said that the spirit of France is defined by its town, and that the spirit of England is defined by its countryside.  The country is that beautiful place that lives in folk memory to which everyone wishes to return.

In China, the countryside is considered to be highly negative.  While areas of natural beauty are easy to find, to suggest that someone is "from the country" is to liken them to a disadvantaged population, and to suggest that they are rustic, uncouth, and uncivilised.  Farmer-workers form the peasant underclass of China about much has been written.  It is often written that, for a country that prides itself on doing away with the "Feudal system", they have done an excellent job of preserving the peasantry.

For what it's worth, while I do take a very great pleasure in using stereotypes and people's prejudice for my own amusement and manipulation, I do, at heart, consider myself to be something of a "country boy", in my own view of my past.  Even my tiny university town still feels like the "big city" to me.

Yunnan Sourcing's two cakes described here got me thinking about smalltown Yunnan, and smalltown Anywhere - that mythical place in which all things dissolve into an orange-tinted hue of comfort and bucolic bliss.

The first of these is from Duoyizhai [dwoa-yee-djai], which is in smalltown Nannuoshan region, not a million miles away from Yakouzhai [yah-koh-djai].  I completely dug the 2010 Yakouzhai cake, which sold for the equivalent of $44 / 357g (currently the equivalent of $60 / 357g).  This 2012 Duoyizhai cake is a little pricier, at $65 / 400g.

The medium-sized leaves, combined with the great enjoyment that I had with the 2010 Yakouzhai cake, have "a rumbling portent of sweetness, a promise that makes me hopeful."  The scent is clean; the soup is yellow, turning orange in the air.

The second infusion is more green, more straightforwardly bitter (perhaps as is common for southern Nannuoshan, unlike the canonical northerly Nannuoshan regions).  Pushing through the third infusion allowed me to enjoy a little sweetness, but there is not much of significance or distinction that I could find in this cake.  Perhaps Scott loves it.  I don't think that I do.  My advice, for those looking for some decent southern-Nannuoshan action: just buy the 2010 version.

I loves me my cakes from Lincang diqu, and these outlying regions are something of a speciality for Yunnan Sourcing.

This 2012 Lian'gezhai [leean-ger-djai] cake comes from far, far Lincang, right on the border with Burma.  That is some remote countryside out there - as small town as small town gets, in Yunnan.  Scott writes that this is some of the most difficult-to-reach countryside in the province, and that the village of Lian'ge itself is 1600m above sea-level, with the surrounding tea gardens up at Wuliangshan-scraping 1800m altitudes.  Those heights have resulted in ridges that are covered with "untended" 60- to 200-year-old tea-trees, he continues.

The opening infusions of this cake are warm, rounded, very smooth, and quite chunky.  The phrase "well-balanced" is heavily over-used with pu'ercha, but it might be applicable in this case: it has lots of different components, none of which exceed the others in strength, and all of which result in an equilibrium state that is pretty decent, initially.  The kuwei [good bitterness] balances the rounded sweetness; the thick texture balances the sharp-grain Lincang flavour.

It is not a grand tea, but there are fun times to be had.  Priced at $35 / 400g, I am reminded that Scott is one of the few people left in the Western pu'ercha game who still sell reasonable cakes at reasonable prices.  He is also one of the few people who has been in the game for a long, long time.  I think that this is not a coincidental coupling.

If I were being brutally honest, I would say that there are other cakes to get your Lincang and Simao thrills from the 2012 line-up from Yunnan Sourcing, which are priced similarly.  I liked the Wuliangshan, Ailaoshan, and Mangfeishan in particular.

Smalltown Yunnan, smalltown Anywhere.  For me, it still holds its charms.  Maybe that's because how I see myself, at heart.


Ian Nelson said...

I second your digging of the '10 Nannuo Yakou, it has such a great balance of floral and subtly smoky aromas, and in my couple years of puerh dabbling I've rarely experienced such potent "chaqi" from a new-ish sheng.
(By the way I think you meant to write that it cost $40-something for a 250g. cake.)
Beautiful photos, Hobbes. Always a pleasure to read your blog.

Hobbes said...

Dear Ian,

Thanks for the comment, and the additional notes. Thanks also for correcting the price! My editor needs to raise their game. ;)