05 September, 2014


Origin Tea! 

Oh, maths jokes, you so funny.

I have recently wailed like a banshee concerning the large multiple of prices for unaged tea, with respect to price even from last year.  Rather than just blub like a schoolgirl, I thought I'd do something constructive offer some alternatives.

Actually, that stated, these particular alternatives are no longer available because Origin Tea has ceased trading.  The principle remains, however!  It is insufficient merely to whine about the world - suggestions for its improvement must be offered.

I don't know much about Origin Tea, but I gather that it is held in high regard.  Paul, of white2tea, speaks very highly of him, as does THE JAKUB, which was good enough for me.

These cakes were all blindly acquired, believe it or not, on the recommendation of TG, my teachum from back home in the Old Country, "where men are men and where pigs are afraid".

TG has opinions that are mighty, and therefore I crumble before them, unable to resist, merely able to point my browser wherever his decree suggests.

It's a white wrapper, and it claims to be "mid 90s" Hongyin [red mark], which may or may not be true.  What I do know is that this cake is unto mine tastebuds as a detonator cap is unto trinitrotoluene.  This cake weighed in at £63.  Sixty-three.  Three-score and three.  Now, take a deep breath and compare that to the prices for unaged cakes of the like that we have been drinking lately.

I am not saying that this cake has great gushu material, as do modern cakes from discerning vendors.  What I am saying, however, is that this cake slices like a ninja and cuts like a razorblade (in the words of that Daoist monk from the 1990s, Vanilla Ice).

Those of you with functioning one or more function oculus orbis will notice a little cheeky frosting on the cake.  These are not the droids you're looking for - move along.

I am totally ready for this cake to be a fake, but I know it's going to decent because TG likes it.  The leaves, apart from that bijou frosting, are big and dark.  My internal magic 8-ball is currently reading "ALL SIGNS POINT TO YES".

I like nothing more than a tea that plays hard-to-get, and which takes a few infusions to get into its stride.  That always suggests to me that there is some serious content locked into the leaves, such that aging wouldn't strip it of its heart and soul.  Sure enough, this cake takes two or three infusions to reach combat speed.  By the fourth infusion, it has locked s-foils in attack formation.

Dark, almost burgundy, this is really rather disco.  I appreciate its substantial heaviness, which arrives on the tongue like a Heaviside step function.  Zoink.  Heavy tea, straight away.  Its sweetness endures, seemingly forever, although its "flavour" is subdued.  I'm OK with subdued flavour, as any chaqi pseudospoon will tell you.

Vibrant, soft, and full, this is a hugely fun tea.  A father of two, I don't get out much these days, and a one-on-one combat session of this nature at the teatable is definitely up there in my "thrills" category.

By the fifth infusion, it tires, but that's fine.  It is, let me iterate, sixty-three pounds.

Peek ye at these little chaps.

We will start with the underbing, which is a bit more towards the dry end of storage; well, Taiwanese "dry", anyway.  Taiwan "dry" is not quite as terrifying as Beijing "dry".

Commissioned!  That means "nice", does it not?  Above, we see the standard green-label Zhongcha clothing.

I have, as you may recall, Gentle Reader, been converted to 8582.  It was not a difficult conversion, it must be said, and now I tend to welcome its long-leaf charms to my table on a regular basis.  Pictured above and below, this "commissioned" version may be seen to be packing particularly nice leaves.

We have Hong Kong-style humidity twanging away in the background, which has been aired by Taiwanese storage.  I seem to have consumed almost nothing other than HK-tea-aired-out-in-Taiwan, lately, what with Origin and Teaclassico selling cakes from this (entirely delicious) subgenre.

The image above is from, I think, the second infusion - and which tells you probably all you need to know about this 8582.  It's good.  There is dense sweetness, and it has the heavy mahogany-upholstered flavour of properly-done 8582.  I know that this cake isn't going to win any prizes for exquisite complexity but, does it need to do so?  This cake costs, and I chuckle as I write this, £65.  I would take this literally any day of the week (even Monday) over something unaged for 2x to 3x the price.  Why take the risk?

Let us turn our hearts and minds unto the moderately more humid of the pair.

"Light traditional HK storage" sayeth the label.

"Rank Cantonese sweatbox" might be more appropriate.  However, some of us happen to like our Cantonese sweatboxes somewhat rank, and so this one certainly satisfies that criterion.

Actually, it has been aired out in Taiwan (naturally), but the touch of HK is strong in this one.  [Darth Vader breathing sounds.]

Again, the leaves are bigger and badder and rougher and tougher, as pictured above.  Again, this cake needs a few infusions to shake of its hangover and get its act together.  I sympathise.

In the throat, this one endures well.  It is long, old Menghai from top to bottom, and it makes the tip of my tongue tingle.  Some people pay good money for a bit of tongue-tingling.  There is not a huge amount of "body flavour" to be had in this fine fellow, for it has traded its soul in the HK storage zone, but the throaty sweetness is well-developed and grips the base of the tongue.  Again, some people pay good money for tongue-base-grippage.

Now chortling like Evil Tentacle (from Day of the Tentacle), I recount the price of just 65 English pounds.  This tea lasts forever, I seem to have recorded, and I found its trad Menghai charms to be entirely calming.

While good old (0,0,0)^T may no longer be trading pu'ercha, such experiences give me hope that the future need not be dominated by extraordinarily overpriced unaged cakes.  Indeed, I have not bought the latter for some years, as a point of principle.  When good cakes such as these exist, I am more than happy.


Unknown said...

Hey Hobbes, did you try Origin's 1999 Kunming Factory Red in Red? It's a wonderful dry-stored raw pu'erh. I really will miss Origin's offerings, they were some of the best out there.

also - I see that wild arbor 80's loose and 1990's no-name tuo ;)

Jakub Tomek said...

I just realised a most scary thing! in CMY color space, (0,0,0) is white. Therefore (0,0,0)^T is pronounced... white2tea! A conspiracy?

Anonymous said...

Origin Tea was one of the best vendors around (at least on the so-called "international market"), no doubt about it.

Just yesterday I had an amazing "Mid-Fire Lishan Tie Guan Yin," which I am pleased to say convinced my better half that good tea can (sometimes) be obtained for an acceptable price from shops focusing on the international market too. Too bad I only bought a sample of it :'(

OT's selection of Yixing was also very good. My two favorite pots were bought from him, good price and excellent quality ..

Too bad the site is gone.

Nick Herman said...

Hmm, I don't know what I was smoking that no one else was or vice versa, but I got quite a few samples of pu-er and oolong from Origin Tea and was left feeling very unimpressed. I thought the oolong was all standard stuff for the price, pretty much what I expect for fairly priced TW oolongs. The pu-er, with few exceptions, seemed lacking in taste, body, and qi. Did very little for me.

Jakub Tomek said...

Nick: I've been smoking the same stuff then... :) But I guess it depends - what I had from the first line of puerh that appeared in the shop imho ranged from very poor to relatively ok, but the teas that appeared later (written about by Hobbes above) are generally decent.

James said...

Hi Hobbes,

Thanks for all the reviews of aged tea! I bought a cake of that Ba-zhong Red Mark and have been quite satisfied with it.

About the comments on Origin Tea:
Let me preface this by saying, I only started purchasing from Origin about a year ago and most of my drinking, and my initial purchases were primarily oolongs. For these I think one of the strengths was the breadth of selection, particularly the roasted/darker Taiwanese oolongs. His gaoshan I also found to be extremely reasonably priced, at least compared with options commonly available to westerners

I didn't get to drink his pu'erh as extensively, but have pretty positive feelings about what I did get to drink. From what I've heard/read, I suspect Tony's pu'erh selection may've had a slow start but improved steadily up until the last few months of his shop.


Hobbes said...

Dear Jake,

I don't believe I've had the red-in-red from Kunming. You have good eyes concerning the other teas in my box! More on those soon. :)

Dear Jakub,

"Black to tea" in RGB, perhaps the antithesis of white2tea - combination is annihilation!

Dear Marxism,

I think Origin's pot business is still running, no? I'm not really in the market for pots, but they did look good.

Dear Nick / Jakub,

Maybe HK-to-Taiwan isn't your "thing" - it's a certain genre, to be sure. Alternatively, maybe Origin stepped up its game in its latter stages!

Dear James,

It sounds as if I missed the proverbial trick with Origin, but am thankful that TG put me onto it before vapourisation occurred.

In closing: you people and your love of roasted wulong is baffling; I must be missing something. :)



Hobbes said...

P.s. Following publication of this article, I have had much e-mail correspondence on what has now become known as "RCS" (Rank Cantonese Sweatbox). To my fellow RCS correspondents, my thanks.