30 January, 2012

English Storage, V

2006 Xizihao Banzhang

Following an excellent suggestion by Shah, I celebrated a lazy Sunday morning by revisiting one of my first cakes - a Xizihao that is now half a decade old.  What makes this one interesting is that its spent that half-decade in English storage.

I invite you to join me at the original article (scrolling down to the new bit, if you please) for further notes.  The evidence in favour of English storage is looking good, dare I say it.

28 January, 2012

2000 CNNP - Zhongcha "Lanyin"

Germany.  Land of the bratwurst, the bierfest, brilliant words such as "der Durchfall",  and to my erstwhile teachum, Herr Dr. Kim, who continues to spoil Lei, Xiaohu, and I with Christmas packages of delicious stollen.  Burp.

2000 CNNP Zhongcha

Ever generous, the good doctor hacked away a chunk of this rather interesting "Blue Label" cake that he had recently bought from Taobao.  I have visited it on several occasions, and so it is high time that I put electrons to paper and write about it.

While it may look something not entirely dissimilar to a semi-circular turd (pictured above), the constituent leaves are chunky indeed:

2000 CNNP Zhongcha

The aroma smacks you around the chops, and promises that, despite three hours of sleep (due to a teething son), some semblance of consciousness is but a cup away.  

It is a strong, shicang aroma of wet books, and I love it dearly.  Spicy.  Humid.  Rancid.  Delicious.

2000 CNNP Zhongcha

I enjoy this tea's decidedly mineral-like qualities, and its entire character is of sharp, spiced wood.  I am reminded of orange peel, tamarind, and the spices that one might use to mull wine at Christmas.  In the midst of it all, a core of sweetness that seems in no hurry to disappear after the swallow.

As with most older teas, I am generous with the number of leaves in the pot - I find that it is hard to overbrew old pu'ercha, and the risk of underbrewing is more significant than with deadly, younger leaves.  This lends the soup a certain thickness, and a smoothness that adheres to the lips.  My tongue feels noticeably, remarkably cooler after two infusions.

Thanks again, Dr.Kim - this tea is all warmth and comfort.  Both of these are qualities that a tired father welcomes in abundance.

26 January, 2012

2009 Douji "Youle"

Ages ago, a number of us embarked on buying a batch of 2009 single-mountain cakes via Taobao, through an agent.  I think it was "Taobaonow".  Since then, the same cakes have become available for comparable, or even lower, prices at outlets that have taken to specialising in Douji, such as Dragon Teahouse and China Chadao.

Of that stack of single-mountain cakes, I have been quite impressed.  While not reaching the heights of hand-selected cakes from premium vendors, Douji cakes are reliable and robust, and tend to occupy the upper end of the mainstream.

2009 Douji Youle

This cake from Youleshan is one of the few from the stack that I have not yet opened, and think it time to do so.  This has been on my shelves for over two years...

2009 Douji Youle

As with all Douji single-mountain cakes, it looks good.  The cake is chubby, the leaves are whole.  All the signs are right, so far.  The scent is quite delightful, being a forthright sweetness that you don't often find in a pu'ercha.

2009 Douji Youle

Youleshan is one of the historically "famous" six mountains, but it doesn't turn up regularly in single-mountain cakes, unless masquerading as something else.  I seem to recall a gentle, roasted 2009 version from Yunnan Sourcing and a solid 2003 6FTM version (thanks to Keng).  As a result of this limited exposure, I don't feel as if I fully understand the characteristics of Youleshan tea, and so this Douji cake is welcome.

As with the scent of the dry leaves, the character in the tasting cup (pinmingbei) is intriguing, being fruity - it eventually fades into leafy sweetness, but lasts long.  That fruitiness is a ripe, purple kind that fills the front of the mouth immediately, and makes it instantly appealing.  Meanwhile, an undercurrent of broad "tea" flavours fill out underneath, making itself known in the throat.  It is a good combination of savoury and fruity characteristics.

Douji always strike a good balance between price and quality, and I feel a little closer to understanding the region.  Some more data-points would be most welcome in reducing the bounds of uncertainty.

25 January, 2012

Ceramic Tink!

Gertrude's Lid

ceramic tink!
holding teapot handle
with no teapot

23 January, 2012

2005 Changtai - Yichanghao "Mangzhi"

Mangzhi is one of the famous, if lesser-accredited, mountains of Mengla county in the south-eastern corner of Xishuangbanna.

Just when I thought that I had tried all of the various Yichanghao cakes (whose solid, enjoyable virtues continually delight me), China Chadao provided me with a sample of a cake hitherto unknown to me.  Thanks again to the proprietor, Jerry, for his generosity.

2005 Yichanghao Mangzhi

This sample has long, beautiful leaves, as pictured above, which emphasise the decency of Yichanghao blends.  Given that this is, essentially, a mainstream label, the maocha is very reliable.

2005 Yichanghao Mangzhi

Shown above, the soup is light orange, as befits its six years.  Like many Yichanghao cakes, it is well-made: the base is of sticky-sweet molasses, dark and solid, while notes of soft woods drift into the nose after the swallow.  It is, perhaps, a touch light in the body, but it is otherwise aging very nicely.

Maybe it is the mood, perhaps it is the tea - a deeply calming sensation comes over me after a few infusions - something heavy and almost narcotic in nature.

2005 Yichanghao Mangzhi

While I am engaged in the pleasures of this tea, my attention is broken by a most welcome interruption, as Xiaohu toddles up to my chair to show me his favourite yellow balloon, a treasure from another infant's party the day before.  "Bloon!  Bloon!"

Brewed hard, the Yichanghao responds with the same soft woodiness of its opening infusions, which suggests that it is somewhat limited in its potency.  It is almost impossible to overbrew this tea, despite my best efforts.

Nonetheless, it is a dark and enjoyable tea, and does nothing to shake my confidence in the earthly delights of Changtai's best brand.  Thanks again to China Chadao for the opportunity to try it.

21 January, 2012

2005 Douji "Yisheng" Spring

Regular readers may remember the frantic Internetly amusement (and corresponding nuclear fall-out) caused by the 2005 Douji / Yisheng cakes, which come in red / purple colours and, seemingly, spring / autumn variants.  I loved the 2005 Douji "Purple", and later compared the 2005 Douji "Red Autumn" with the 2005 Yisheng "Red", deciding that both were lovely, but that the latter was outstanding.  My original thoughts on the Yisheng may be found here, which remain unchanged after much subsequent tasting.

2005 Douji Hongyisheng Spring

Being a good sort, Scott of Yunnan Sourcing made some of the 2005 Douji "Red Spring" available, also known as the "Hongyisheng" (red "Yisheng", referring to the characters in the centre of the wrapper, and not to be confused with the 2005 Yisheng cake, which was mentioned above).  These went for a relatively decent $62 - Scott's prices remain very fair.

2005 Douji Hongyisheng Spring

The distinguishing factor here is that the cake is a 400g chubster, as marked on the wrapper, whereas the autumnal version is the usual 357g (and which is not marked on the wrapper).  I have a cake of the autumnal version from Taobaowang, which was the source of the comparative article, and so look forward to comparing this spring version to it.  We would assume, a priori, that this spring cake is probably more gutsy, which is A good Thing.

2005 Douji Hongyisheng Spring

The good-sized leaves, pictured above, have a slight rustiness about their colour, which gives me hope for some decently-aged material.  The proof of the pudding, they say, is in the tasting...

2005 Douji Hongyisheng Spring

I like pudding, and I like this tea.  The aroma is a punchy, heavy tobacco, which is just charming.  Despite the heaviness, it remains bright and cheerful, with a good potency.  It unfolds into a robust maltiness that is distinct from that sometimes associated with hongcha-style processing / accidents.

Bear in mind, gentle Reader, that Douji cakes usually adhere to a fairly consistent house style, and this cake is no exception.  If you like that dark, dense character, then this cake will probably thrill you.  If you are a drinker of tieguanyin, this may not be for you.  Let the chips fall where they may.

20 January, 2012

Sandpaper Reveals


sandpaper reveals
layers of old hard paint
and old soft wood

18 January, 2012

A Recommendation

Some years ago, I bought an inexpensive box of three cakes, on a whim:

2007 Boyou Manludashan

On re-tasting this 2007 Boyou "Manludashan", I am entirely impressed with its potency and character.  If you are after a less expensive cake that delivers a great deal, I can heartily and unconditionally recommend it.  Best of all, its price doesn't seem to have increased in the years since I bought it from Yunnan Sourcing.  I invite you to come to the original article for further details...

16 January, 2012

2011 Canton Tea "Dancong Black"

It must be said that I seldom drink dancong ["dan tsong"].  As with most Westerners, my primary introduction to this genre of Guangdong tea is via blogger-cum-teamerchant, Imen, at Tea Habitat.  If you like light, fruity wulong, then I find them to good for a pleasant session.

2011 Canton Tea Dancong Black

This sample, generously provided by Canton Tea Co. is a little different: it is a hongcha made from dancong. I completely adore hongcha, and so my senses are already tingling at the name of this intriguing experiment.

It must also be said that I am entirely against innovation simply for the sake of sales.  In so many modern restaurants, vineyards, and fromageries, it seems that people constantly make new products simply to appeal to the desire in the customer for "something new".  I'm all in favour of progress, but I frequently get the impression that much innovation occurs simply for its own sake, to drive sales.  Therefore, I approached the teatable with a healthy skepticism, ready to be proven wrong if this tea did indeed turn out to be an innovation in the name of progress.

2011 Canton Tea Dancong Black

The leaves are certainly dancong, as may be seen above.  Little information is available concerning their provenance, but we can probably assume that they come from the Fenghuangshan [phoenix mountain] range in Guangdong province, in order to be properly called dancong.

This is a fairly mighty tea.  Its dancong character lends it the unmistakeable fruitiness of lychee, while the chunky hongcha malt provides a strength and huskiness that is entirely complementary to the delicate femininity of the wulong.  It is a lovely little production.  

"This is a beautiful tea", comments Lei, as she pays it the ultimate, and uncommon, compliment of having a second cup.

2011 Canton Tea Dancong Black

Is there a sting in the tail for this charming blend of hongcha and dancong?  Perhaps only the price, which is currently £11/25g - equivalently, it is £165/375g (i.e., $263 for a bing-equivalent).  For that price, you could buy some seriously serious pu'ercha, probably at least 15 years old.  Would you prefer the latter, or a little hongcha-dancong hybrid (admittedly delicious, as it is)?  

I thoroughly enjoyed this tea session, and am grateful to Canton Tea for the sample, which I would otherwise never have encountered.  I can't imagine this flying off the shelves, but as I have observed before, perhaps Canton Tea are not selling to the likes of you and me, but to the great British public, who are perhaps more accustomed to paying high prices for small amounts of seemingly rarified goods.  Judging from the "comments" page for this product at the company's web-site, it seems to be well-received, despite the price.  As always, the choice is a personal one.

15 January, 2012

Desert Dawn


desert dawn
warms the sand dunes
and skyscrapers

13 January, 2012

The Generosity of Teachums

I arrived at work recently to find a surprise parcel waiting for me...

2006 Douji Shengtai Gushu

I believe, if memory serves me correctly, that I let out a little girly yelp when I opened the box.

Copious uberthanks to Apache for the lovely gift - you might recall that this is a cake I tried, loved, described here, and then consequently couldn't buy.  What a star.

11 January, 2012

2011 Wuliangshan Hongmaofeng

Hongcha is great.  I don't drink much of it, but that's because time is limited, and pu'ercha is my favourite.  If I were to drink every day, then hongcha would be one of my staples.

2011 Wuliangshan Hongmaofeng

You may, gentle Reader, recall my love of Yunnan Sourcing's recent 2011 Wuliangshan pu'ercha.  This hongcha comes from the same region, and is one of 29 (!) Yunnanese hongcha sold by Scott at the time of writing.

Like all hongcha, it is a bit of a bargain: at $7/100g, even a good hongcha is a lot less expensive than [premium] pu'ercha.  Unlike fussy lucha, however, you can keep hongcha: it tends to mellow a little over the course of around five years or so, and remains good.  Some would say, it improves.  I recall some seven-year-old hongcha that I bought in Maliandao in 2007 which was very pleasant indeed.  The price of that tea was 60 RMB (now $9) in 2007.

2011 Wuliangshan Hongmaofeng

Drinking hongcha is also a much-needed opportunity to give my Xishi pot (pictured above) some daylight.

2011 Wuliangshan Hongmaofeng

This hongcha is unlike dianhong, the usual Yunnan variety of this type of tea.  This Wuliang version is clean, sweet, high, and pure in its character.  It has a pleasant sharpness in its enduring throaty sensation that is unlike the malted gentility of much hongcha, and I rather approve of its bold approach.

It is complex, too, giving a background of malted hongcha, while having thick, sweet notes.  My mother is visiting, and comments, "Very tasty - caramel.  This isn't like your usual tea, which tastes of old straw and smells of pig-styes." 

2011 Wuliangshan Hongmaofeng

Drinking hongha such as this makes me most happy.  It is possibly a bit strong to drink every day, but it is charming.  (I am attempting to make caffeine, like alcohol, a treat that I enjoy a few times per week rather than each day.)

There are few hongcha that can keep me interested for a whole session, because they tend to be monotonous, if pleasant, but this Wuliangshan Maofeng is undoubtedly one of the more textured, complex examples.

10 January, 2012

Red Sun


red sun
slides up the tail-fin
and turns yellow

08 January, 2012

2005 Chenguanghetang "Banzhang Chawang"

Of two samples recently introduced by Houde, this is the second and represents a cake that costs a somewhat substantial $175.  Chen Zhitong's cakes are seldom inexpensive, whether via Taobao or Houde, and so I tread carefully.

2005 Chenguanghetang "Banzhang"

This cake is allegedly a blend of leaves from Laobanzhang and Laoman'e, the neighbouring village.  I have enjoyed Laoman'e leaves on many occassions now, and have come to love them.  One of my favourites was a 2008 cake from Hailanghao, which, as coincidence would have it, is also a mixture from the same two villages.

2005 Chenguanghetang "Banzhang"

Given the promixity of Laoman'e and Laobanzhang, it will come as no surprise to learn that many leaves from the former make their way into the latter, and are sold under the more expensive village's name.  There have distinct characteristics, however, which are worthwhile coming to appreciate.

2005 Chenguanghetang "Banzhang"

As much as Mr. Chen's business practices come in for criticism, the standard of his cakes is obvious.  This particular cake has dark, fairly large leaves, which, in the cool air of an English winter, are quiet while in their dry state - perhaps hibernating.

2005 Chenguanghetang "Banzhang"

This reticence disappears at the instant in which water touches leaf: the resulting aroma is a markedly delicious scent of light honey and candy-like sweetness.  It sits around the wenxiangbei [aroma cup] for many minutes, and makes the whole room smell similarly pleasant.

You may see the orange soup in the photograph above; the character of the tea is a well-aged blend with a substantial (and very welcome) base of tobacco.  Its body is low and strong, reminding me of the better Laoman'e cakes from my past experience.  I suspect that this village may account for the majority of the blend, but there is a heavy, dense sweetness that occassionally reminds me of Laobanzhang leaves.

Mr. Chen does indeed know his tea, and the texture here is thick, smooth, and very satisfying.

Testimony to its endurance is the fact that it still takes short brews after twenty infusions, which few cakes can match.  Even after all that time, it remains pungent, potent, and charmingly sweet, while never moving far from the rich, tobacco base with which it opened.

Its pricing is, naturally, problematic: is this three times better than the 2009 Yiwu Chawang?  I have no doubt that this "Banzhang" cake would bring me much enjoyment, but I cannot pay $175 for it, on principle alone.  That said, I highly recommend trying a sample - it would be hard to imagine any fan of potent pu'ercha disliking this solid little cake.

06 January, 2012

2009 Chenguanghetang "Yiwu Chawang"

Mr. Chen Zhitong looks exactly as one would expect, given his reputation as a shrewd businessman.  I recall that even the vendors in Maliandao with whom I chatted (in my woeful attempt at Mandarin) had very fixed opinions concerning him.  However, saith what thou wilt about the man himself, he does know how to make mighty fine tea.

2009 Chenguanghetang Yiwu

Chenguanghetang cakes are never inexpensive.  However, this little chap weighs in at a (relatively) modest $69.  In his notes at Houde, Guang suggests that this tea may perhaps be less potent than another cake being sold at the same time, the 2005 Banzhang (more on which later).  This allows me to increase automatically the quantity of leaves that I use for the session.

2009 Chenguanghetang Yiwu

What fragments they are, these leaves.  As with many of my teas in the winter air, they seem to sleep, and do not give pronounced aromas when dry.

2009 Chenguanghetang Yiwu

These slumbers are dispersed when water is introduced, and they wake instantly into a heavy, sweet tobacco scent that lingers in the nose for many minutes.

2009 Chenguanghetang Yiwu

The result of using all those leaves is a potent, pleasantly sharp mouthful of that heavy tobacco, with a fundamental sweetness that builds slowly in the throat to a crescendo.  It is clean, cooling, and contains a very decent density of sweetness that takes hold of the tongue.

Furthermore, it endures for twenty infusions, after which time it remains the colour of its first infusions, with a continuous and substantial sweetness atop its constant tobacco base.  That kind of endurance cannot be faked, and is an excellent sign for its future.  Longevity seems to be a good indicator.

2009 Chenguanghetang Yiwu

Perhaps my assessment of Mr. Chen's tea is merely that he happens to make tea that is exactly that which I enjoy, with its heavy tobacco and potency.  Either way, the results are the same: a great session, and a decent cake.  Superb stuff.  It is, for example, much better than the similarly labelled 2009 Yiwu Diancang.  I suspect both come from a similar budget range, although the latter I bought for $26.

If by a man's works shall we know him, then Mr. Chen is doing admirably.

February, 2011

The last two things that I have bought from Houde have been duffers.  The other was the really-rather-poor 2010 bamboo tube.  Such is the allure of the two "premium" brands that Houde sells: Xizihao and Chenguanghetang.

2009 CGHT Yiwu

After quite enjoying the sample, I bought a cake of this at $69, which probably means that it really costs about the same amount as the other inexpensive cake from this producer, the 2009 "Diancang", which had a similar wrapper.  The latter cost around $25 via Taobaowang, and so, after Houde price inflation, I can imagine that it would come out to around $69 if sold there.

2009 CGHT Yiwu

The cake looks pleasant, but is concerningly dark - it's only just over a year old, of course.

2009 CGHT Yiwu

I noticed this in the sample, and so went into the purchase "with my eyes open", but the volume of the cake emphasises the message.

2009 CGHT Yiwu

The first infusions reminded me of my love for this tea: although it is clearly processed, to make it "orange", the result retains plenty of potency, and is heavily tobacco-like.  It enjoyed its density and its uncompromising richness.

2009 CGHT Yiwu

As the infusions wear on, I begin to tire of the cake: it turns out to be fairly ordinary, and I conclude that it is significantly overpriced, at $69.  My diary notes "While it could age into something decent [given its remaining potency], I would not buy it again, given the choice."

I need to be much more careful with Houde teas...

03 January, 2012

1980s 8582

Some times call for good tea. What better way to see in the New Year than with an 8582 from the 1980s? Due to the immense charity of my readers, in this instance BH, my previously-held opinion that 8582 is a poor counterpart to 7532 and 7542 when aged has been overturned. Only a fool cannot change their minds, and in the face of the evidence, it is with great delight that I change mine.

1980s 8582

Given the nature of the occassion, I opt for one, super-large session, rather than splitting the leaves into a pair of smaller sessions.  I am not one of those types who can, most admirably, get by with a smaller amount of leaves.  Hence, everything from the generous sample-sachet goes into the chahe, pictured below...

1980s 8582

This session started at around 5.30 a.m., when the sun had yet to rise; at the end of the session, the cold sun was high in the sky.  Such is the staying-power of this very well-aged example.

As with many older cakes, this 8582 has fragmented leaves, although they are of a large size.  (The "8" corresponds to the size of the leaf, indicating larger expected sizes than the "4" of the 7542 or the "3" of the 7532.)  I usually prefer a healthy mixture of longer leaves in the blend.  The leaves are quiet and asleep when I start, giving a reticent bookish aroma in the cold morning air.

1980s 8582

An advantage to using plenty of leaf is immediately obvious in the heavy, thick red colouration of the first infusion (shown above).  Throughout the course of the 25-or-so infusions that I spend with this tea, they remain the heavy burgundy colour shown above for the majority.

1980s 8582

Its intense darkness carries a sharp and powerful aroma: old and sweet.  In the pinmingbei [tasting cup], it is reassuringly thick and smooth.  It is consistently amazing to me how thick an aged tea can become, and even the fact that it thickens at all is a constant fascination.

As one would hope, its heavy sweetness dwells in the throat, lingering for over a minute after the swallow, as the warmth of the brew pushes into the furthest extremities.  My breath simultaneously cools, as if I had eaten mint.

1980s 8582

I had been saving this tea for a special occassion, and this was it.  It is my habit to write in my diary while I drink at the table.  A few sentences about the tea, but mostly about the curiousities of my little life, small thoughts, and so on.  During the course of the session with this most long-lived of teas, my pen consumed a surprising 18 pages.

Many thanks, once again, to BH for this very special treat, and a very happy 2012 to all.