25 July, 2014

Nothing More to Laos

I may have previously confessed to being a stalker, of bargains.

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.


Gero said...

Dear, poor Hunter of Bargains!

Rest assured: there is something very closely resembling the one and only, all transcending uberbargain. At least this poor soul (living in a place even Beyond Belgium) tries to make himself belief in the 'Golden Melon of Blissfull Bargains':
To me this melon tea is the best bargain I have found so far in 1990s sheng...
.. But you never know, perhaps there is a still better bargain just around the next corner, or the one after that, or ...?

Cloud Mountain said...

I have the BAN KOMAEN from this season and find its pretty damn good and a reasonable price. The 2014 Jingmai Mao Cha is really nice also.

Hobbes said...

Dear Gero,

Chawangshop does seem to be one of the few remaining outlets for bargains - I shall try to find the melong that you describe, thank you!

Dear Cloud Mountain,

May I shall likewise give the Jingmai maocha a go. :)

With thanks, and toodlepip,


Lew Perin said...

Jeff Fuchs would be this guy.

His book is actually fairly interesting, if overheated. About his tea, well, you know more than I.

Hobbes said...

Dear Lew,

Thanks for the informations! I should add that I am using the 'Carp many times per week, as ever...



Medea said...

I know 'laughing out loud' is a common thing to say on the internet these days, but I literally did just that several times reading your post. Full disclosure; I'm Dutch, so jokes about our neighbors are always appreciated ;) But besides that I'm really enjoying your lighthearted writing style.

Encouraged by some of your posts, I just placed my first, tiny order on taobao. What a delightfully strange thing to do! Makes me feel like I live a little, while in reality I'm just sitting here glued to my computer. So thank you kind Sir! You have an awesome blog.

Greetings from the Netherlands!

Hobbes said...

For a username that refers to a child-killing mother, I am delighted to read that this Medea has a sense of humour!

It is my hope that we can at last come together, as a human race, and put aside all that separates us; I wish us to live as one people, one common humanity, united in all that faces us, on our journey through this complex and oft-baffling existence; then, at long last, as a single populace, we can stand united and all laugh at Belgium.

Then, we shall find rest.

Oli Fifield said...

I like Belguim!

Hobbes said...

Let the record show that I, too, like Belgium. :)