17 March, 2008

At Home with 2005 Mengyang Guoyan "Lao Banzhang"

Crossing timezones eastwards can be shattering. We arrived back at home feeling physically exhausted from jet lag, carrying a ski-bag entirely destroyed by United Airlines, and frustratingly having left my favourite C&B brush behind in Montana.

Imagine, then, the true delight of returning to a peaceful home, and a grinning college porter who handed me the following, saying "More tea?"

Nada, you're a star - thank you so much for the "welcome home" box. We wish you the very best of travels, which I recall were kicking off today with a hop to the "Fragrant Port", Hong Kong... (Do follow Nada's voyage around the Orient at a Felicific Life.)

Aside from the eponymous tea of this article, into which we dived straight away, Nada was kind enough to include a beautiful plate (pictured below) - though we used it for tea today (as you will see), we have found it a permanent home resting under the feet of our Buddha figurine - a fitting spot, given its history.

So, then, the Mengyang Guoyan cake from autumn 2005, made from 100% "Lao Banzhang" leaves - traditionally, the really brutal variety of pu'er. I always remember Phyll Sheng's description: "Like being hit by a truck."

We have a chunky bing before us, with a comely selection of whole leaves making a great first impression. Plenty of tips, plenty of bigger "basis flavour" leaves, some stems (for those so inclined).

Biting into the cake (yum), we find that the compression is good enough to hold it together, but loose enough to allow the pretty leaves to be separated with little effort and no breakage (and so hopefully avoiding excess Banzhang bitterness). Cue Nada's lovely plate...

The leaves are particularly sweet, without much lower aroma. I am often struck by just how much of the character of a tea one can anticipate from examination of the dry leaves, and this tea is a textbook example...

...because the soup is a chunky yellow, and dominated by sweetness, without a heavy "bass" component. It is high, sweet, pleasantly mushroom-like, and this corresponds conveniently with the characteristics of the dry leaves.

The texture is decent, while a slight effervescence on lips and tongue is evidence of good leaf quality.

I find myself concentrating on the physical sensations delivered by a tea these days, and that effervescent, energetic quality in good leaves is becoming more obvious to me the more pu'er I drink. It often coincides with decent chaqi (mysticism alert, run for the lifeboats).

Some tea authors refer to this as "yun", translating it as "sensation", but I am told that this is not an accurate translation of the character which otherwise refers to the ephemeral "charm" of a thing (where a common example refers to the "yun" of a mature, pleasant lady - an imparted quality through association, rather than a physical sensation). I will leave this to the sinologists to debate, and quietly step aside...

Considering the leaves...

...they are delicious indeed, corresponding well with the assumptions gleaned from the dry leaves. This bing has good quality leaves running throughout its interior, and is thankfully not merely dressed in a thin veneer of prettiness. They are hand-picked, well-handled, and rather erotically appealing, wouldn't you agree?

I must confess that I really love nearly all teas. Teas which are gifts from good friends already leave me well-disposed before even tasting them. Happily, though, the 2005 Mengyang Guoyan is a pleasure to drink - sweet and acidic, becoming more mellow out past the tenth infusion (though it is not aggressive by any means). It has some green grassiness to it, but it is a young tea after all.

Thanks again to Nada for his great generosity.

Before we close the photo-book on Montana, here's another favourite of mine... I think this represents a cultural misunderstanding, because in the UK, "corned beef" is a grotty sandwich meat akin to Spam. With that in mind, you can appreciate the traffic-stopping excellence of the following roadside advertisement...


This cake (wrapper stamped "Teji" in red) was apparently made for a Kunming dealer, and was not sold as a Mengyang Guoyan production, perhaps explaining its unusual quality for a factory that doesn't usually impress me.

22 March, 2009

This cake is very high, and particularly sweet, but a little empty underneath. This is emphasised by the switch from our stainless-steel induction kettle to the iron of a tetsubin. I was concerned that the body of this tea had diminished, but was encouraged to read from my description that I originally noted a lack of "bass" components.

It is smooth and pleasant, and I'm happy to have acquired another two cakes since.

August, 2009

This has the "teji" [TER-GEE, special grade] stamp on the front in red, marking it as the special pressing for the Kunming collector. Iv'e recently found this for sale on Taobao, and am revisiting it in order to be ready for comparison with new candidates.

The tips are already turning a rusty orange colour, and it comes out as well as I remembered: thick, sweet, straw-like, with a great tanginess in the finish that reminds me it still has a grip on its youth. It has a coarse, lighter woodiness, rather than the heavy oak of old age. With any luck, this will result in another tong being found, if the Taobao tea is similar.

February, 2015

This is sweet and soft, and aging well.  There is a pinelike sweetness that is most encouraging.  It certainly seems improved over my notes from 2009, some six years ago.


Jamie D. said...

Ah...that's what I get for being away from blog reading for too long - I completely missed your visit to my home state of Montana! I read your observations of Big Sky (a snobby, rich place we never go to), and other experiences you had, and it was most interesting to hear the view from an "outsider". I live in Billings, which is the largest city in Montana, and a bit different from the more western towns you visited.

Montana isn't all that classy (we were, after all, founded mainly by criminals), but I think at least most of us try to be welcoming and friendly, lack of table manners notwithstanding. I assume you found the dress code quite different (lacking) as well - we are quite casual here, especially when compared to the mega-cities like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. I was warned when I went to Paris not to wear my tennis shoes, and to dress more nicely than normal for a "casual" european look.

I do hope you enjoyed your peek into our culture and our state though. I love it here, always have.

I've never been to England, and would very much like to visit someday. I love seeing how others live elsewhere in the world (even at the risk of embarrassing myself while doing so!). :-)

Hobbes said...

Dear Jamie,

I saw Billings on the signposts many times!

I think that my enjoyment of Montana increased dramatically when we got out of Big Sky and its make-believe atmosphere. Once we got out of the "theme park", the state really began to shine - and also as we got to meet more Montana residents.

I was impressed by the unconditional friendliness of everyone we met around Montana proper (i.e., outside Big Sky). At one point, my wife and I got stuck in a corn field (trying to go for a walk!), and a local man came and prized the barbed-wire fence apart for us to escape, snagging his clothes doing so. He was a real hero. He talked to us for a while, describing the local horses and fields, then headed back to his house with a smile.

At a local sweet-shop (my wife has a serious sweet-tooth!), we ended up chatting for a long time over the counter with the owner and his friend, who was propping up the other side of the bar - about local cow farming and industry, which I found fascinating to hear as my grandparents are also cow farmers. As we were about to leave after our third visit (loved those "taffy" sweets!), the owner just refused payment, and wished us a happy journey.

Everyone from strangers in bars to people stopping their cars in the street so that we could pass showed the natural friendliness that you describe - it was a great experience, and you must be proud to be from Montana.

We took every recommendation of local residents to visit "local places" for some Montana culture, and had a great time doing so. I was surprised (well, maybe more disappointed) that the majority of Big Sky visitors didn't make it past the usual tourist spots and pretentious restaurants, and so didn't get to see the real state. Their loss, I suspect.

I noticed that the people got a lot less well-padded the further we got from Big Sky, too... :)

Thanks for the great note - I hope you enjoy England when you come; it's a pretty place, but we have absolutely no open space like Montana, so be warned!



speakfreely said...

Hmmm...there is such a thing as canned corned beef which isn't too far off Spam, but my (French) grandmother used to cook a thing she called "corned beef" which was beef brisket boiled with cabbage, carrots, and potatoes and which she thought of as an Irish dish, and served on St. Patrick's day, which, BTW was today. I've never cooked it, but I remember it to be somewhat briney, with the grain of the meat accentuated but without it drying out. I suspect it is simply brined, or salt-cured brisket, but I'm no expert.

Hobbes said...

Dear Carla,

If there is a connection to St. Patrick's day, that explains the mysterious commotion over corned beef!



Bill said...

I am happy that you and your other made it home safely. I do like Montana and its well let's just say rusticness! :P

Great post as always! I have grown quiet fond of Mengyang Guoyan products :D

Hobbes said...

Dear Bill,

It's great to be back in the comforts of home, but we loved the rustic nature of Montana, too.

I was looking for your seminal post on Mengyang Guoyan for some time, in order to link it, but failed! Didn't you used to have some links down the right-hand side that went to your details on factories, rather than the factory web-sites themselves? If not, I must be going senile. :)



Bill said...

Hello Hobbes!

Actually my friend, they have only been the factory links. However, you have given me a great idea!! :P



Hobbes said...

Dear Bill,

I look forward to seeing them! I'm sure many will find them very useful - I know I will.



Michel said...

Ha Norpel is gone! I had some tea for him well will have to wait upon his return.
That cake is charming ,
norpel sent me some Xi zi hao huang Shan Ling or something like that and it has got quite some chi..

I'm sure he is going to find some good stuff!!

Hobbes said...

Dear Michel,

You've just missed him! Check out his landing in Hong Kong @ afelicificlife.blogspot.com. It sounds like he's OK. :)

The 2007 Xizihao "Huangshanlin", one of the new super-expensive cakes! A formidable price-tag.