My prey: bargains.
Dirty great big tea bargains.
I believe it was a thread on Teachat that caused the alarm lights to begin flashing in my HQ. Recall the scene from Ghostbusters, in which a loud alarm bell rings in our heroes' premises, and where the New York-accented secretary shouts: "WE GOT ONE!"
That's almost exactly what happened. Replace the Ghostbusters' building with my laboratory, and replace the screaming secretary with me quietly clicking my mouse to open a new tab, and it's almost precisely the same.
The thread in question reminded me of Tuochatea.com (and God bless all who sail in her). This company has been around since before there were humans; early records indicate that the first customers of tuochatea.com were, in fact, trilobites with a penchant for tea-flavoured algae.
I have got my purchase on, several times, with tuochatea.com in preceding millennia. I have never been disappointed, because they sell tea at prices that actively inhibit the secretion of the disappointment gland. I am saying that their prices are low. Low, low, low.
They're not quite "China price" low, but their teas have remained remarkably stable in price over the years. In a world in which cunning vendors routinely peruse their own back-catalogues, arbitrarily knocking up the prices every year, I truly respect folk like tuochatea.com, who seem to keep the prices almost flat - reflecting the price at purchase, rather than tracking the whimsy of modern-day inflations. That's a kind of business practice that makes me think of someone who likes to keep customers happy, and are "in it for the long run", rather than trying to make a quick killing on a new generation of drinkers before promptly disappearing into the sunset.
So, it would be fair to say that I totally dig tuochatea.com. Their tea may be as basic as corrugated cardboard, but at least it is priced nicely. Get it right, however, and you can really embargainate yourself significantly.
Now reminded of the existence of tuochatea.com, I decided to go mining for goodies. The first cake that was retrieved from the minecart was the 2006 6FTM "Bangweishan". (Product by-line: "IT'S BANGWEI OR THE HIGHWAY.")
To cut a long story short, this tea did not suck. It costs just 18 (eighteen) USD, which is, as I think I may have mentioned in passing, really rather low. Yes, it has been aged in Kunming, which is a little like saying "She has a great personality", but the price is 18 (eighteen) USD. 18!
That said, while this cake does not suck, it would be something of a stretch to say that it was really good. Time has not been kind to this cake - it is sagging under the eyes, and looking rather disheveled. You wouldn't have expected that, given that it is MUCHOS AROMATIC when stripped of its wrapper. The soup is a heavy orange, and it all looks good.
Then, you get the tangy, sweet, but "dark" flavour that reminds me of smoky Xiaguan modernity. It is strong, it is potent, and has a sense of its Simao-area origin. There is not much in the way of a finish, but it has something of the ol' kuwei going on, which is A Good Thing.
It is reliable, it is solid, and it is rather basic. It isn't quite the liquid ninjitsu of, let's say, the 2002 "White Whale", and I am rather luke-warm about it. If your shelves are not buckling under the strain of too much tea, then you might like to give it a look. It is cheap, and moderately cheerful. It also tastes a little like cereal-flavoured draincleaner and, for those that know me, that's a compliment.
With our bargain-sensors now calibrated appropriately, I send the mining team back underground to see if they can unearth some more goodies. They duly come back with the 2006 6FTM "Banzhang Raw".
The first sign that something is wrong - terribly, disconcertingly, bladder-constrictingly wrong - is that there is also a 2006 6FTM "Banzhang Organic". The latter was a bit more expensive than this cake's $28, but it was also sold out. So, I slapped down my twenty-eight bucks, rolled the dice, and took my chances.
If its sister cake was the "Banzhang Organic" then this must surely be, by elimination, the "Banzhang Inorganic". Stay with that name, because it will serve us well in subsequent paragraphs.
Now don't get me wrong: I love everything about modern China. I love the WHO-shattering counts of nanoparticles in the air that are so small that they can pass into the bloodstream; I love the food-scares; I love the chronic-obstructive pulmonary disorder that results from attempting to survive downwind from an unregulated industrial plant; I love the blessing that these facilities impart to the nearby water systems; I love the myriad challenges that ones physiology experiences throughout the modern Chinese experience. China rocks my world, and it also rocks my body's futile attempts at homeostasis.
I am just not entirely sure that I like these manifold charms manifesting themselves in my tea.
To say that this tea has been favoured by the presence of agrochemicals is something of an understatement. The farmers laid it on thick, and then sprayed it all over again for good measure. When, surely, everything was dead except for the bare tree itself, I imagine that the tea was thrice-sprayed just for good measure. I am happy to report that consumers of this 2006 "Banzhang Raw" now get to experience all of that hard work in the cup, for themselves, in the comfort of their own homes.
I would say "Don't touch this with a bargepole", but that is rather unfair to bargepoles. I wouldn't touch this tea through rubber gloves. I wouldn't touch this tea if it were hermetically sealed inside an ebola-containment chamber, and I was interacting with it only via the medium of some sort of complex robotic pincer.
This tea is not right, nor is it OK. I suggest that you give it a wide berth.
2,000 miles should be sufficient.