18 April, 2010

2009 Zhimingdu "Lao Banzhang"

And now for something completely different...

2009 Zhimingdu LBZ
It's a bag of xiaobing

There are several good eBay shops set up to sell pu'er.  Following the (much deserved) success of Yunnan Sourcing, and subsequently that of Dragon Teahouse, we now have Yunnan Colourful (occasionally bizarre), Sampan (a Canadian seller with some quite old but quite pricey stock), YUM! tea (seemingly quite expensive), Red Lantern (currently selling my favourite 2004/2005 Changtai "Yiwu Zhengpin" for a very reasonable $34, and five bricks of 2005 Baoyan for a fine $41), and China Chadao, the subject of this article. There are one or two others who have slipped my mind at the moment.  Please do add a comment if you have someone in mind that I've neglected.

(Addendum:  Western Yunnan Tea, who seem slightly cheaper than even Yunnan Sourcing at first glance, and Pot in Pot.  Thanks, P K!)

Competition is healthy, but no-one's going lower than the Yunnan Sourcing (YS) / Dragon Teahouse (DTH) approximate consensus, and so there's not a huge amount of competition at the bottom end.  With Yunnan Sourcing's  substantial discounts on postage, it often works out similarly expensive to buy from YS or from Taobao.  The other vendors, to my mind at least, are a bit behind this curve, and YS continues to dominate the low- to mid-end market for unaged cakes.  (I use Taobao for finding 5-year cakes and older, as Western vendors tend to mark up slightly aged cakes much more than Mainland vendors.)

Tangentially, I notice that DTH is selling this year's 7542 for $22, which is double the approximate-Western-consensus price from last year of $11, despite Taobao prices for this year's 7542 being within 10 RMB ($1.50) of last year's price.  Given that 7542 is made from leaves including those of previous years, one couldn't even use the Yunnan drought that has affected the 2010 crop as an excuse for a 100% rise in price.  I certainly hope that the other vendors will be closer to the Taobao price than the DTH price, much as I love DTH tea!

2009 Zhimingdu LBZ
The seven cakes are tasters of some of the usual mountains. Dayi shown for scale.

This bag of seven xiaobing [hsiao-bing, "little cake"] came from China Chadao, where each sells individually for around $8-12, excepting the "Lao Banzhang" (LBZ), which sells for over $30 - presumably corresponding to the famously high price of LBZ maocha.  I don't usually invest in LBZ, given that I don't agree with the manner in which they conduct business - a trend which, although usually highly unpleasant, has apparently become significantly worse this year.  I like the odd sample of laoshu [old tree] LBZ when I am fortunate enough to come across it, but the combination of high prices and disreputable practices keeps my funds elsewhere. 

Given that xiaobing are so, well, "xiao", I tend to treat them as being large samples.  "Taster cakes."  It would be difficult to find enough space to store zillions of these tiny little things, so I don't hold onto them for too long, and have no qualms about finishing them up.  Each is 100g, and so you might get 10 or so sessions from a cake, depending on how much leaf you use.  Even at the high unit price of $32 x 4 = $128/400g, the xiaobing treats the wallet just the same way as a sample, and so I can forgive $3 / session in such small quantities.  Indeed, it's less than a pint of beer or a Starbucks cream-and-sugar, coffee-flavoured beverage.

2009 Zhimingdu LBZ
The Douji-style seal on the back is a real pain on xiaobing!  It results in total wrapper destruction.

Let's start at the top, I figured, and dive straight into the LBZ.  The brand "Zhimingdu" [djer-ming-doo] is a pun, meaning "well-renowned tea" but alluding to the phrase for "well-renowned brand/name".

2009 Zhimingdu LBZ
I am a collector of good Chinglish, which is becoming hard-to-find.  Thankfully, Zhimingdu do not disappoint.

The leaves, shown below, are small-to-medium, and well-defined with plenty of fur.  The scent is a touch reserved, but otherwise the fruity-sweetness one might expect from LBZ.  The compression is tight without being the nuclear-fusion level of compactedness that characterises "tiebing".

2009 Zhimingdu LBZ
Appealing leaves

This tea promises good things.  The initial scent in the aroma cup is big and bold, sweet and full, just as you'd hope from LBZ.  It lasts an age in the nose, and has plenty going on inside it.  The first infusion is a dazzling mixture of sweetness, tartness (that makes the mouth water), and the grape-like fruitiness swimming along on top that reminds me of LBZ.  It is clean and good, with a long-lasting huigan.

That's the first infusion, however.

2009 Zhimingdu LBZ
Not really visible in this image, the soup is tinged with a lovely, fresh green

By the second infusion, the rest of the leaves in the blend wake up.  It turns into a cereal-like, tart oddness that isn't really LBZ.  You can taste hints of the good leaves in the blend, but they are muddied and confused by the rest of the mixture.  It reminded me of a beautiful classical flute trying to make itself heard in the middle of a jazz band.

2009 Zhimingdu LBZ
The leaves are wonderfully green - no overcooking here

Imagine my happiness when, by the seventh infusion, the blend-leaves ran out of steam, leaving only the continued excellence of the potent LBZ leaves beneath.  By the eighth infusion, it had become the clean fruity sweetness of good LBZ, albeit dilute.  The jazz band eventually ran out of puff, leaving the solo flute to be heard.

A fun session.  It bodes well for the less expensive xiaobing in the set.

(The China Chadao web-site also lists a 2005 Xiaguan for a very reasonable $30-or-so, which I rather like the look of.  These 5-year cakes really pull on my heart-strings, and it's nice to find a vendor that hasn't marked them up too much.)


Anonymous said...

Kung Fu Asian Art...


Anonymous said...

never mind, changed its name to the source of this article's subject...


Unknown said...

Now this is what I like waking up to on a sunday morning; a review on the Half-Dipper! It's been too many months without them, Hobbes, and it great to have you back. I do enjoy littera curatius scripta

Nice to see that you're still keeping track of Western-vendors price levels - makes it easier for the rest of us.

Ruqyo Highsong said...

I love how you compared flavours to music. Very synesthetic of you.

Man, this one sounds good. I love some tartness in my tea. ^_^

Maitre_Tea said...

let us know how the other ones turn out. I have an obsession for anything sized smaller than the standard 357g

Hobbes said...

Thank'ee, all.

I suspect that the other xiaobing in the series will be better value for money. LBZ is always a bit silly. They sell for RMB 240 on Taobao's Zhimingdu site, which is marginally more expensive than China Chadao.



drumhum said...

A jazz band running out of puff before a classical flute player?

No chance. Classical flute players are flakes. Jazz players are dead hard.

...Oh yeah, what I meant to say was...
Its great to see your reviews coming through again hobbes.


Brian H said...

Pot in Pot and Western Yunnan Tea are a couple more ebay vendors. Nice post!

David Lesseps said...

Looking at the YiWu ZhengPin on Red Lantern, it looks like it does not have the little blue stamp on the neifei. Do you know if this is the same one you have or a different version?


Hobbes said...

Drumhum - I knew a jazz p[lyer would be reading...!

Thanks, P K - I have not come across either of this before. The article has been updated.

Dave - I have this cake with and without the little blue stamp, and they're both lovely to me. I can't tell you about the Red Lantern version, however.



Anonymous said...

Hi, glad to know you are back to your tea. I gone through most of the ebay stores you mentioned and realized that there are very few 2005 or before Puerh for sale in these stores. Do you know what may be the reasons as I knew a seller in Singapore who sells 2003 to 2005 Puerh at very reasonable prices of US$40.00 and above per disc. Thanks, Keng.

Hobbes said...

Dear Keng,

It is my constant aim to find such a seller! Would you mind e-mailing me (hobbesoxon at gmail), as I'd love to know more.

To answer your question, I observe that Western vendors tend to select the cheapest available cakes for their inventories, on the whole. This can be seen both in the years that they choose to sell, and in the selection of the bottom-rung cakes of most higher-league producers.

Why do they do this? That would be a matter for speculation. A less charitable critic might suggest that the potential profit margin is lower on more expensive cakes.