16 October, 2007

2005 Yisheng "Yiwu Zhengshan"

Sold by Xiaomei in Maliandao, recommended by MarshalN, it took me quite a while to work out that Yisheng was the name of the factory, and that it wasn't "yesheng" [wild]. Slowly, he catches on...

The leaves are quite dark already, and it's only 2 years old at the time of writing. They look dark, fairly whole, and are of decent length. In fact, as I write this from my study, the entire room is filled with the scent of them, as they skulk quietly (but aromatically) in the corner.

The scent is unmistakably that of sweet tobacco, which very much appeals to tastes. As it brews, the youth of the leaves becomes clear from the dark, yet clearly green, lid-scent.

Interestingly enough, the darkness of the leaves carries through to soup coloured rich orange, right from the outset. The aroma continues forever in the wenxiangbei: burned sugar and that all-pervasive tobacco.

The opening taste is something of grain, and dark fruits, before piling on the (pleasant) acidity at the back of the mouth, and leaving an unsurprising surfeit of tobacco in the nose. The acidity folds nicely into a solid, delayed huigan.

The spent leaves are not the most beautiful I've seen, but the tip systems are intact, and the texture of the individual leaves is healthy.

The character of the tea is very lively, clearing away the cobwebs of sleep as the sky above Magdalen College begins to lighten with the coming dawn. My lips and tongue tingle on contact with the soup, and there is a welcome ku under the tongue.

This feels like many of my favourite, tobacco-style shengpu cakes but wound back in time to the era of their youth.

Heartily recommended, should opportunity permit.

27 March, 2008

After a further six months of storage, this cake continues to impress. It has good texture, a fine yunxiang of malt, a sweet leather flavour, and a decent huigan. It is darkening rapidly.

10 April, 2010

Three years ago, I spent a summer in Beijing.  It was a fun time, with plenty of tea-drinking in between lectures at Qinghua University.  Most days, I would catch a taxi from the city's university quarter down south to the (in)famous Maliandao tea district.  Guided by maps and e-mails from MarshalN and Bearsbearsbears, it was great fun.  I've been back quite a few times since, but still have those maps burned into the back of my mind.

(Perhaps expectedly, the layout has changed a little since those days, with the pu'er mall having entirely disappeared.)

2005 Yisheng
I do love Xiaomei's pu'er bags, which are great for storing loose cakes without tong wrappers

One of the successes of my first visit, three years ago, was this 2005 Yisheng cake.  It was recommended by MarshalN, for a very decent price (sub-200 RMB), and I enjoyed drinking it with the collected drinkers in Xiaomei's lovely little shop.  Some of my original notes are reproduced above.

2005 Yisheng
Jauntily revealing its bamboo

Since then, I have searched in vain for further cakes to add to my rapidly-dwindling trio of originals.  While all of Xiaomei's other cakes have turned up on Taobao in various places, this Yisheng has not.  Being the finest of all my Maliandao cakes, it has been a recurring theme in my on-line treasure-hunts.

2005 Yisheng
My old chum

This year, during our Christmas visit to Lei's family, we called in at Xiaomei's shop.  Though the owner of the shop was not present herself, Little Brother was ably standing in - three years older, and three years wiser than before.  He has turned into a professional tea-seller in his own right, and is a pleasure to drink with.

2005 Yisheng
The cake is warped along its radial axis, which is amusing

Inevitably, the conversation eventually came around to the mystical 2005 Yisheng.  Little Brother remarked that it was Xiaomei's favourite cake for recommending to folk that are after younger pu'er.  The asking price was over 3.5x the price at which I originally bought it, which is testament both to the amount of increase that a good cake can command in three years, and to MarshalN's ability to obtain close-to-wholesale prices in his dealing with Xiaomei (my original cakes were priced at around 10% over wholesale price, thanks to MarshalN).

Could we have a tong at the original price, we ventured?

2005 Yisheng
Nada's old plate welcomes an old acquaintance

Little Brother grinned.  He tried, and failed, to call his Big Sister for approval three times.  We quietly continued drinking the tea.

Eventually, he put down his telephone and took the decision himself, in our favour.  I felt particularly guilty.  Though not too guilty to take a whole tong at that price, of course.

2005 Yisheng
Orange acquired through time, not artifice

He then went on to sell us a tong each of two other rather special teas, at less generous prices, as if to make up to his Big Sister, which was fine by us.  (More on those two teas another day.)

2005 Yisheng
Potent, throaty, sweet, and enduring - worthwhile keeping an eye out

It is both a delight and a relief to have a tong of this tea, finally, back with us at home.  It tastes like a young version of an old tea, such is its elegance in aging.  I am one of those stubborn types that heeds the call of pre-2006 pu'er, and Xiaomei's favourite, MarshalN's recommendation, and my own tastings have confirmed my love of this 2005 Yisheng.

Do keep the name in the back of your mind should you happen across it somewhere, or another from the same producer, as it is very much worth the time taken to try some.

Edit: this tea was seemingly made by the Yiwuzhengshan Tea. Co., also makers of Douji, back before the company stabilised its output (and its factory name!).


小 約翰 said...

Encouraging synopsis, it’s now on my weekend shopping list. Plan to store and open when of Grammar School age. john

MarshalN said...

Can you find it in Guangdong? I think somebody in Guangzhou sells this thing.

If you find it, do give us a quote, I'd be curious to know market prices for this thing right now.

小 約翰 said...

I'll check in Dongguan and Da Lang, don't have time to get up to Guangzhou. later ... john

Garrett said...

Love the photos!

May I add your blog to my blogroll?

Hobbes said...

Dear Garrett,

Please do, I have been reading "Cap and Kettle" with great enjoyment - particularly your entry about changing seasons.



Unknown said...

It looks nice, but no one seems to be offering the brand.

However, it's great to have you back,patronus! Your new article was a enjoyable additon to my breakfast reading. But now, back to the books...

Show us more of what you found in China!!!

Hobbes said...

Dear Terje,

Breakfast at the computer, marvellous! I'm working my way through the Chinese cakes, and am packaging samples up for you as I go - stay tuned!



Hobbes said...

Nerval wrote the following comment (which I think Blogger just managed to lose!):

"It's really great to have you back on the daily read, Hobbes.
Not post-related, but I am the only one to experience excruciating slowness in scrolling down your posts since the blog re-design? I have a reasonable broadband that's never caused problems but that lovely background calligraphy you have input seems to be making my computer sweat."


Dear Nerval,

Thanks - it's good to be back! I'd not noticed slowdown on my trial systems (some of them very old indeed!) but will see what I can do with the source to see if it can be sped up. I'll run a quick survey in the near future, too, to see if it's a common problem. Thanks for pointing it out!

Best wishes as ever,