Doomed to walk the dimensions between reality and dream, we bargainstalkers are ghostly half-souls, the nosferatu of the teaworld. It is our destiny to drink anything and everything, for only then, in the asymptotic limit of our consumption, is that one true bargain to be found: that final bargain, beyond all bargains, which will grant us eternal rest from our tormented half-existence.
Seeking that promise of eternal rest, that undiscovered country, we are driven onwards - beyond the realm of cheap cakes, beyond that rancid cake that your best friend made when he went on holiday to Yunnan, beyond EVEN MODERN CNNP. Out into a hideous nether-realm in which the howls of the damned are the only accompaniment for the truly absymal tea that we are brewing. Out into Laos.
Laos is like the Belgium of tea. It's probably quite nice, but who is EVER going to go to Belgium? Not even the Belgians like Belgium. (Friends from KU Leuven, I love you, I love your country, and I especially love your WESTVLETEREN uberbeer.)
Having established that we are about to enter a place beyond civilisation, just like Belgium, where no conscious conscience has ever trodden, a place past the Phlegethon itself, let us consider the facts.
Laos tea is not expensive. It is pu'ercha from before the days when pu'ercha was A Thing. It is protocha, the way your grandfather used to drink, assuming that your grandfather is from Yunnan and drinks tea. It is so Old School, it is possibly even good.
You see why we pale-eyed, hollow-souled teastalkers are drawn to its warmth, like a festering moth around a decaying, flickering candleflame. It offers the promise of solace. Laos tea could be The One True Bargain, forged by ethereal smiths in a time long-forgotten: one bargain to rule them all, and in the darkness bind them.
This is the 2014 Chawangpu "black label" from a place named "BAN KOMAEN". This place is so remote, so hideously, inconceivably distant in both space and humanity (just like Belgium) that we can only begin to imagine how its name should be pronounced. It is probably a transliteration from some arcane daemonological script, the mere sight of which would drive rational minds into an unhinged state of fractious insanity.
It also, inexplicably, is not at all "cheap". It is $48/200g, which is, actually, not cheap at all and bordering on "Whoops, what happened to that price-tag".
Scrolling up, you may have noticed that the leaves are pretty darned green. They look suspiciously green, in fact, as if someone doesn't know how to make The Pu'ercha.
This tea is interesting: the leaves are clearly of good quality. They are vivid, and they push their way into the mouth with gushu-style cooling sensations. The processing, though - the processing!
It is an empty tea, and I have to REALLY pile the leaves on to get anything resembling bitterness. The scent is all flowers and fruit. There is a big pile of butter, from the magic of the wok, and there is a big pile of huajiao-style numbing. Just flowers. More and more flowers and fruit. Just like the green wulong that it closely resembles in appearance and flavour, this tea needs some attention in the processing. I get the impression that some perfectly good leaves have not been exploited properly.
Changing gear, we crack open the "blue label". This is not some absurd American-style whisky, but is allegedly another cake from BAN KOMAEN, the demonplane from beyond imagining. The price is lower than the "black label", and it is claimed that the latter is better than the former.
Though perhaps not as good in terms of leaf-quality, the processing is much better here with the "blue label" than with the "black label".
Smooth, earthy, and "breadlike", it is rather pleasant. It is soft around the edges, but is full, potent, and interesting. I appreciate the edge of kuwei that gives it some complexity, and I find it much more enjoyable than the "watery", dilute fruitiness of the "black label".
If you are going to travel to a demonic half-plane, and bring back some tea, then it may as well be something like the "blue label". It is $38/200g, which is... not really cheap, and not really expensive. I was under the impression that tea from the netherworld was not supposed to reach Yunnan-style prices, and yet here we are. Is it worth the equivalent of about $70 for a bing-equivalent weight? It is pretty good... but it is not an obvious Masterbargain. It is "hmm, maybe you should try this yourself to see if it resonates with your tastebuds".
With thanks to THE JAKUB for this final trip into the altered dimensions of tea, this is a "2012 MENGZHR" (sic) cake made by someone calls Jeff Fuchs. Amusing surname aside, Mr. Fuchs sells this 100g cake for $39, which follows the trend of this article's not-so-cheap-after-all Laos teas.
I am told that MENGZHR is not actually in Laos at all, but is in Yunnan, near the border to Laos. I am raising my eyebrows in consternation at the non-Pinyin rendering of the name of this place, but have no other alternative to offer you, Gentle Reader. I suspect that the second character in this placename is in fact "zhi", followed by the Beijing throatypirate "rrr" sound, but that's just a guess.
This tea is OK. It has the warm, earthy, character of certain spots in Yunnan. It is cooling, maybe nodding towards gushu. It is buttery, it is clean. It is not a "flavour" tea, but that, too, is OK.
Is being "OK" enough? Can we haunted, thin-spirited spectres slake our undying thirst on something that is merely "OK"?
I am not convinced. This trio of teas was not particularly impressive, either in quality or in bargaination - this latter, in part, due to the non-trivial sums at which these LAOS or near-LAOS cakes are priced.
It is with a heavy heart that I sling my NECRONOMICON over my shoulder, fire up the daemongate, and prepare to step, once again, out into the missing dimensions in search of my prey.
It continues to evade me, and yet... I am getting closer. Every badly-processed Laos cake, every unappealingly-priced product, gets me one step closer to my place of rest.
I must go now, for the daemons: they are a-howlin'. If you need me, I will be in Belgium.