11 June, 2007

1980s Baozhong

The conference starts at lunch time, which gives me time to look around the pretty town of Harrogate. At this point, I am reminded of the fact that the famous tea company "Taylors of Harrogate" is based in, erm, Harrogate. A brief Internet search later, and I'm in their main tea-room [pictured].

The service is fair, the surroundings are attempting refinery, and the tea-menu is about twice as long as most other tea-shops, but it's still... a bit English. Fair enough, looking around at the clientele, which are either students, tourists or the elderly.

I am served by a pleasant lady with an Eastern European accent. I ask what the real name of the "Good Luck Green Tea" is, which she tries to find out but fails. She assures me it is a black tea. I ask if they have any "oolong" (tearooms tend to use the non-pinyin name, of course), and she points me to a Ceylon. I end up with a "Yuluo" white tea, and the "Good Luck" green, both of which are fairly fine grades, but rather unimpressive. Most people are here for the cakes.

Let me give you a review from my archive - a baozhong that I rather enjoyed before I left.

From Houde, this is supposedly from the qingxin [green-heart] varietal of wulong, which possibly isn't saying too much for an early 80s tea as the non-qingxin hybrid varietals (cuiyu, sijichun, etc.) were not in widespread cultivation at that time.

Caledonian Springs @ 90C in 12cl qingxiang pot; ~5g leaf; 1 rinse

Dry leaf:
Short, dark twists not more than 1.5cm in length. The aroma is very quiet, being a gentle roast scent when the nose if right up against the leaves. Adding the leaves to the rinsed pot discovers the deep, pungent scent of rich sultanas. Delightful.

The roast seems high, which means I have picked exactly the wrong pot for this tea...

12s, 15s, 20s, 30s, 45s, 60s, 90s, 120s, 120+s:
These leaves come from Houston, and so I feel no shame in writing, "Houston, we have a problem." The soup is a rich orange. I have, most definitely, picked the wrong teapot. Given how many re-roastings this will have had over the decades, I was perhaps rather daft.

O, heavenly aroma! My cold body shivers as I inhale from the wenxiangbei. A wonderful spicy-butter beidixiang hands over to a particularly enduring sugary lengxiang. A real treat.

The flavour is malted, dominated by the roast, but not such that it becomes aggressive. I am reminded of an old master painting (perhaps the brilliance of the blue dress in Hughes' April Love), in which the amazingly deep colour is the result of many, many layers of light addition. The multiple roasts over the years have given this a smooth, unragged roasted flavour, under which there is a little generic "tea" sourness. The patience is excellent; this tea is clearly in no hurry.

It isn't a thick tea, but there is a gentle huigan. The actual flavour of the baozhong is hard to grasp, flirting as it does behind the thin, silken curtain of the roast.

Some honey, but the roast is dominant, which is a shame. Perhaps the baozhong (always a delicate leaf) just does not have the legs to make itself shown above the thick, encrusted accumulations of the years.

It marches on forever, so unlike many younger wulong, and when it does fade, it is a gentle, dignified and graceful recession, rather than the ragged ending of so many.

Wet leaves:
Living up to its name, this baozhong [wrapped kind] is rather hard to unwrap. The repeated roastings have fused and dried it. The leaves are excellent: a small tip-grade, which have been hand-picked. They chose a good tea to keep for aging.

The roasting is smooth, but too dominant. There is little to this tea except the smoothness of the roast, masking the subtle quality of the leaf which is only glimpsed in occasional teases in the nose, or aftertaste. Fine, but rather a one-dimensional experience. This is definitely a tea to enjoy in the wenxiangbei.


xdustinx said...

I'm with you on this tea. Pleasant, but a bit monotone.

I had a 1960s baozhong from Stephane that seemed more complex and better in general. He sells two grades, and I'm not sure which one I had (it was a sample). You might want to check them out if the Hou De aged baozhong has peaked your interest at all.

On a semi-amusing note, I had a short conversation with a young, Scottish woman the other day. She sounded English to me, but she said she was from Scotland. I could only understand about half the things she said. Her accent was out of control. Which leads me to wonder, do you have trouble understanding Americans? I'm sure you've been asked this before, but you're the only Brit I know. Help me conquer my ignorance.

Hobbes said...

Dear Dustin,

Thanks for the recommendation - I'll look into Stephane's baozhong. I notice one ("top grade") is double the cost of the other (Wenshan), so it's probably the former which is the better - given Stephane's pretty decent correlation between prices and quality.

Scottish accents are notoriously tricky, particularly those from Glasgow. When they've had a few drinks, they become an inpenetrable slur - somehow, I know not how, I seem to be able to understand them even when inebriated, which is apparently quite unusual!

The Scottish accent can be hard particularly for non-British; I remember that the famous film "Trainspotting", in which the cast all have Edinburgh accents, had to have subtitles for its release in the USA!

In the reverse direction, things are fairly easily understood - there aren't any difficult-to-understand accents from the USA, that I can think of.

One variant of American which is almost impregnable to my comprehension is that of a native Cantonese speaking English in an American accent - I can go whole sentences with that particular demographic and not understand a single word. Given that this comes up quite frequently in my field, it can be a bit of a problem! I'm trying to improve my ability in this area.



Brent said...

With regard to the Scottish accents in Trainspotting, I *needed* those subtitles. I didn't think of turning them on until the 3rd or 4th time I saw the movie, but I was amazed at how much more I picked up once I did. :)

Most American accents are easy to understand, but there are a couple that can be bad. People from backwater Louisiana can be unintelligible at times, and really heavy New York accents give me some trouble.

Anyway, I thought I'd let you know that I'm writing about this particular tea as we speak. I'm glad I bought some when I did, since Hou De is all out of stock now. Have you tried any of the other aged oolongs Guang carries?