31 August, 2012

2011 Yangpinhao "Mijingchuanqi"

All being well, we are still in San Diego.  I leave you with notes on a cake that was really rather good.


I learned long ago never to underestimate the Dark Side of the Force cakes from minor factories.  Yes, they may have daft names, but even big factories are not immune from giving their cakes silly titles.  Xizihao: I'm looking at you.

This cake comes from the super-generous Kengmaster General, teachum in excelsis from Singapore.  Mischievously, this cake reads "Menghai Qizibing" over the top.  This is a commonly-committed felony, presumably an attempt to get the public to think something along the lines of "Menghai gud".

2011 Yangpinhao "Mijingchuanqi"

The amusing name of this cake is "Mijingchuanqi" [mee-jing-chooan-chee], which is positively Taiwanese in its faux-poesy: "sacred mysterious-place legend".  My dear wife likens it to being "vulgar, like the computer game of a teenage boy".  You can't get a worse put-down than that, ladies and gentlemen.

2011 Yangpinhao "Mijingchuanqi"

What is decidedly not vulgar, however, is the cake.  Checks you out the above bingcha.  What say you?  Delicious indeed; sultry-looking, and almost louche.  This is why minor-label teas with silly names should not be immediately disregarded.  Just because the chap in the marketing department is terrible at naming cakes doesn't mean that the leaves are bad.  If ever there were a case of not judging books by their covers, it must surely be pu'ercha, where even the most revoltingly-presented cake can turn out to be a gem.

Perhaps it is this "treasure hunting" aspect that contributes towards the appeal of pu'ercha.  Yes, one can find some unknowable, anonymous, roasted wulong leaves in the back end of Mr. Miyagi's shop in the backstreets, but these delights are thin indeed compared with the thrill of finding pu'er cakes of considerable awesomeneity hidden among the dross of the marketplace.  This is the case for your humble correspondent, at least.

2011 Yangpinhao "Mijingchuanqi"

This daftly-monikered cake comes with its usual blurb printed on the (oddly circular) neipiao, pictured above, and the authentication stamp, pictured below.  Remember kids, if you're going to try to counterfeit minor-label cakes, then you've got to be thorough.

(Apache recently made me chuckle during a recent sesh, in which he produced a new Menghai cake along with a UV lamp that showed the latest in anti-counterfeiting technology on the neipiao and neifei of the cake.  You know you're cool when you own your own UV lamp, and they don't come cooler than Apache.  He's like a Chinese version of the Fonz.  "What's the Fonz?"  "Fonzie's cool.")

2011 Yangpinhao "Mijingchuanqi"

It almost seems criminal to break into this pretty cake, but break into it we must.  I hack into it like an explorer making his way through jungle undergrowth.  Like a fat man tearing his way into a particularly sugary confection.  Like a lazy writer breaking into a particularly easy cliche.

The result is pictured below, in which the individual leaves may be seen to be furry, mostly whole, and very well-preserved.  The company, Yangpinhao, is based in Jinghong, the capital of Xishuangbanna.  There is an old pre-Communist brand of this name, which has clearly been appropriated by this more recent company.  It is, therefore, somewhat cheeky that the wrapper claims that the company was founded in 1912.  Such tactics are par for the course in the PRC.  Don't get me started on the effects of the cultural revolution on institutional continuity.

2011 Yangpinhao "Mijingchuanqi"

The soup is a yellow-brown colour, as shown below, and I am impressed by an immediate and penetrating sweetness that brings shengjin [mouthwatering sensations].  It is green, clean, and not at all mean.  I appreciate its very decent base of lower, mulled sweetnesses.

2011 Yangpinhao "Mijingchuanqi"

I wrote in my diary that it is "surprisingly good".  It has a smooth, "soapy" character that sounds dreadful, but it actually very good: the texture is thick and slippery, above that base of green, sweet spiciness.  Most impressively, it lasts well after the swallow.  I appreciate its sheer endurance, which is correlated with those cakes that have gone on to age well in our collection.

2011 Yangpinhao "Mijingchuanqi"

This is a great example of why one should not discount cakes from a minor label.  It is reasonably inexpensive ($56, according to Keng), and delivers a good amount of promise for that outlay.  I look forward to seeing how this strong little cake proceeds in the coming years.  It has opened the batting very well.

29 August, 2012

Walking to the Park

Xiaohu Bike

walking to the park
one daffodil
at a time

27 August, 2012

2006 Sanhetang - Xizihao "Taiji"

Lei is heavily pregnant at the moment.  She is 6.5 months through, and so has 2.5 months to go (all being well), and yet is absolutely enormous.  I think our second child is going to be a big'un.  I think I've mentioned before that he's a boy, which will be great fun for Xiaohu and a blessing for us both.  As an amusing consequence of working in biomedical research, Lei gets plenty of ultrasonic equipment tested on her by our overexcited doctoral students.  The upside of this is that we get 3-dimensional baby scans in utero; the new baby looks almost exactly the same as Xiaohu did at the same gestational age, even down to the structure of the nose.

The good doctor and I are off to the USA today*.  If you're going to IEEE EMBC 2012 in San Diego, then send us a message!  This time, I get to be the "partner" - Lei has been invited to give a lecture and chair a session, and so I will be humbly presenting a separate paper (which is also hers!) in a parallel session as a second author.  It's good to be put in one's place.

I leave you in the capable hands of Sanhetang.

*The only other time we have been to the United States was for a conference in Montana. It was cold, but entirely excellent.  We saw bison.


Following my recent communications with my Eastern European chums, it is with great thanks to long-time teachum TA from Slovakia that I sat down to try this "taiji" cake from Xizihao.

I recall that when these cakes came out, I was travelling to another city to see my new wife - we lived apart for the first year of our marriage, while she finished her PhD.  However, after three hours on the train, I got to spend every week-end with her.  These days, I have the luxury of seeing her every day, and thinking back to that time when we were apart reminds me of how lucky I am.  It's quite something to look back and see how dramatically life has changed.

Set against that background, the Taiji cakes from Xizihao were teas that I always wanted to taste, but never got around to it, and the price of which would have then been far beyond my means (as a humble DPhil student myself, at the time).

2006 Xizihao Taichi

You know the drill with Xizihao.  They typically look amazing, and this cake is no different: the long leaves (pictured above) have gathered some redness / darkness through age, and they give out a very decent sweet scent.

I didn't take any photographs of the soup, and so you will have to imagine the heavy orange colour looking cheerful in my small little white cup.  This is a Laobanzhang cake, and the heavy slug of sweetness that it delivers to the throat is very decent.  As you might expect (and hope), it has the complexity of good honey, which persists throughout the mouth.  It is a penetrating tea, and we are reminded once again that Mr. Sanhetang makes reliable cakes.  His record may be somewhat variable, but he certainly made solid cakes back in 2006.

2006 Xizihao Taichi

It's probably for the best that I cannot remember how much this tea costs.  Currently, it hangs in the balance between the green nature of its youth, and the darkness of age.  The storage, presumably at Houde headquarters in the southern United States of America, has been good to the cake.  It remains substantial.

Given that this cake is the black-wrapper version, I imagine that it is the "yin", whereas the white-wrapper version would presumably be the "yang", if the usual symbology for the "taiji" is used (i.e., the famous yin-yang circle).  I've no idea of the differences between the two, but this black version is fine by me.  If you own a cake or two of this, I assume that you are very happy with your purchase!

It reminds me of a very special time in my life, and it is a great pleasure to revisit.  Thanks again to TA for the trip back to those student years.

24 August, 2012

2006 Simao Gupu'er

You may not be intimately familiar with the collected works of the Simao Gupu'er Tea Company, but hang in there. It'll be worth your while. I had never come across them before Keng, Singaporean teamonster and all-round nice guy, sent me a set of cakes from their back-catalogue.  Now, they are firmly on my radar.

2006 Simao Gupuer

What I like about the cakes of Simao Gupu'er is that they're not tremendously expensive, but they are chunky, made with large leaves, and seem to store very well indeed.  Recapping my experiences with them so far, I have had a 2004 huangpian [yellow-flake] cake that was surprisingly good, a sister 2006 Bangwei cake that was really very dense (and available for next-to-nothing on Taobao), a cheeky 2007 blend which was a steal at 90 RMB, and a similarly cheerful 2010 Qianjiazhai cake that delivered plenty of straightforward Simao charms.

2006 Simao Gupuer

This particular cake has no markings that indicate its origins, but its probably from somewhere in Simao, given the company's name and the fact that its 2006 sister cake was from Bangweishan (Lincang county of  Simao prefecture).  I wouldn't like to hazard a guess as to where; I don't recall any tell-tale signs of, for example, being from Jingmaishan.  However, it has been in Singapore for some time, and has adopted the superdense sweetness that comes with such a blessing.

2006 Simao Gupuer

Just looking at the photographs of the this cake reminds me of its dense spiciness.  For a low-cost cake, this certainly does look very nice indeed.  Given that its sister cake, which is six years old, can be bought for as little as 60something RMB on Taobao, you really have to appreciate what's on offer for that amount of money.

There's something wonderfully old-fashioned about a super-inexpensive cake that delivers on its promises, and, perhaps due to Singaporean storage, exceeds them.  In this world of spiralling pu'ercha prices, it's good to bring oneself down-to-earth and be reminded that not everything has to cost a frightful amount of dirty cash.

2006 Simao Gupuer

What were you doing in 2006, when this little fellow was being processed?  I remember that I was up to my eyeballs in my doctoral thesis, and that tea was a welcome relief from hours spent fussing over experiments.  Years later, this tea has reached a very pleasant state.

2006 Simao Gupuer

The dry leaves have a pungent scent of clean, strong humidity, as is typical of many of the cakes that Keng's generosity brings to our table.  It is not "wet" storage, but you can tell that the cake has dwelt in the humid, tropical fires of the Singaporean climate.  It works wonders on the leaves, darkening them and sending them hurtling into a state of deep sweetness.

In line with expectations, the heavy soup is a correspondingly dense orange colour, and it is as humid and spicy as one would hope.  It reminds me of sweet, darkened wood - mahogany, maybe.  It is smooth and captivating, and, noteworthy in a tea of its humble pricing, it has a long, cooling afterfeeling and is entirely absent all abrasiveness.

2006 Simao Gupuer

We're all looking for an amazingly good cake at an amazingly low price.  The Simao Gup'er cakes can offer "artisan"-style processing, without the price usually associated with such things, and gives a very straightforward and honest quantity of enjoyment, without too much fuss.  My positive impression is, naturally, skewed by the delightful storage to which this cake has been subjected, and there are no guarantees that a Taobao version would be as enjoyable... but given the low prices of this company's cakes, surely it's worth finding out.  

What fun.  Thanks again to Keng for the excellent session.

22 August, 2012

River Limmat

Gran's Swans

river Limmat
pushed along by
the sound of bells

20 August, 2012

2010 Longfeng "Red"

You don't get more continental than the name "Zdenek Prachor".  We have some thirty or so souls in our research group, two of whom are English (inc. your humble correspondent).  That makes for twenty-eight dodgy foreigners, who are, despite their foreignness, thoroughly lovely.  They span the globe, from Bolivia to China, from South Africa to Pakistan.  None of them, however, can match the name "Zdenek Prachor" for sheer quality.

This tea is made by Zdenek Prachor, and was kindly provided by the entirely charming (and somewhat foreign, but still nice) Tomas Arva.

2010 Longfeng Red

If I've learned one thing from working in such a multicultural environment it is that, no matter how different our cultures, we are basically all the same people.  We have the same bad sense of humour (exception: our  German colleagues); we have the same proclivity to doing things at the last minute; we all like to use violently blue language when our research articles get turned down by journals.  Those darned, darned journals.  

Likewise,&nbsp I am always struck how much the love of good old pu'ercha brings different people together.  I have been chugging down this Zdenek Prachortastic cake safe in the knowledge that Tomas and his chums have been similarly enjoying it in whichever corner of some foreign field they don't call forever England.  I can barely even converse with some of my wife's family, but we can communicate over a pot of hot tea and a bowl of dumplings.

2010 Longfeng Red

If my name were as brain-numbingly awesome as Zdenek Prachor, I would be putting it on every wrapper of every cake I ever made.  However, this cake comes under the "Longfeng" label, which I am going to assume means "Dragon-Phoenix".  Longfeng.cz is a Czech teashop, and is just as brilliant as Pu-erh.sk, which is my other "go to" outfit in that neck of the woods.  I appreciate that the Czech Republic and Slovakia are now entirely different countries, but I am quite slow at changing my neural pathways.  Bear with me.

Wrap your ocularities around the leaves shown above: are they not appealing?  This "red" Longfeng cake comes from Shitou Xinzhai, where "shitou" is pronounced SHER-TOH and definitely not in any other way.  I recall that "shitake" mushrooms have a similar pronunciation problem when Anglicised.  Shitou is in the Nannuoshan region.

Let's Czech it out.

2010 Longfeng Red

This is actually an autumnal tea, and I appear to have been much maligned by various autumnal cakes lately.  However, it must be said that this is a rather excellent example of the genre.  The soup, pictured above, has a yellow colour but which has a telltale hint of "brown" hue about it.  This doesn't come out in the photograph, but is quite clear in real IRL.  

Heavy, rich fruits dominate the aroma.  The body of the tea is rather late in arriving, but, when it does develop, piles on a long, mouthwatering sweetness.  In the background lurks a fishy, grassy tone reminiscent of all those Japanese greens that I'm doing rather a good job of avoiding.

2010 Longfeng Red

Happily, this moves into the "damp straw" genre which, while sounding undoubtedly grim, is really rather good.  It reminds me of a few Yiwu cakes that I have, in a good way.  While it doesn't taste a great deal like the Nannuoshan cakes with which we've become familiar, it satisfies, with its late, fruity sweetness of autumn.

I understand that this little baby sold for something like £15 / 200g, which is very decent, and upholds the tradition of the new wave of teashops that are offering solid, fairly potent teas for a very appealing price.

2010 Longfeng Red

I found a review of this tea (in Czech) on a long-forgotten web-site which notes that this tea "affects 1, 3, 6, and 7 chakra".  I appreciate that kind of specificity in one's mumbo-jumbo: if you're going to get into something, you may as well jump in with both feet, and do it properly.  Kudos, Czech chakrapersonage.

Whether or not this cake affects your chakras (chakrae?) in the range [1  7], fans of "guhua" autumnal sweetness will find a lot to appreciate, as will fans of reliable tea at low prices.  I'll be keeping my eyes firmly swivelled towards Longfeng and their contemporaries over the coming months.

Today, we are all Zdenek Prachor.


Errata: I have just been informed that the name of the protagonist in this article is, in fact, Prachar - apologies to Mr. Prachar.  However, I'm going to stay with "Prachor", as the "or" ending has a suitably malevolent feeling to it: think SKELETOR, MORDOR, and LIBOR*.

*This economics joke inserted for the balding Roman professor of economics in my readership.

17 August, 2012

2005 Menghai Gushu, 2009 Hailanghao "Gaoshanzhai", and 2011 Xizihao "Laowushan"

One of the multitude of reasons that I enjoy drinking tea is to share samples with likeminded weirdos people.  Sometimes, those samples turn out to be awesome (dude).  Sometimes those samples turn out to be the proverbial suck.  Every time, however, I have a great deal of fun, and get to talk about tea with my teachums.

2005 Menghai Gushu

All three of the cakes that I tried today really, sincerely, genuinely suck.  They suck amazingly.  Their suction is so great that I was forced to drink three teas, to try and find a good one.  I failed.  However, as I wrote above, I had a great deal of fun in the process.

First up: the 2005 "Chengli Jinian" cake (pictured above) from an outfit called the Menghai Gucha Tea Company.  The name means, approximately, "establish memory", perhaps referring to the fact that the company was seemingly granted permission to use the "zhongcha" design on their wrappers the just before its production.

2005 Menghai Gushu

This cake is just $14, at Chawangshop.  For a seven-year-old cake.  Alarm bells are already ringing, before we contemplate the bruised, almost crimson redness of the leaves (shown above and below).  It fulfills the primary rule-of-thumb for dodgy companies, being named "Menghai Something Tea Co."

2005 Menghai Gushu

This cake tastes rather like a few samples of tea that I had from an outfit called Teacuppa.  They were, like this sample, difficult to identify as being pu'ercha.  All flavour has been thoroughly pre-oxidised out of the leaves, hence the colour, as has kuwei [bitterness], complexity, sensation, huigan, etc.

2005 Menghai Gushu

When the third infusion begins to taste disconcertingly of sour coffee-roast, you know it's time to change teas.  The wet leaves, pictured below, are nearly scarlet.  The memory established by this "establish memory" cake was not in the company's favour.  It's probably not aimed at pu'ercha drinkers, however, given its near-wulong style floral notes.

Thanks to JT for the excellent introduction!  While it was terrible pu'ercha, it was great fun.

2005 Menghai Gushu

"Hailanghao will taste great", they said.  "You'll love it", they said.  Oh, foolish mortals...

2009 Hailanghao Gaoshanzhai

This is the 2009 "Gaoshanzhai" cake from a brand that I love to hate.  Perhaps that's a bit strong: I am mildly irritated by the fact that a company that used to make decent, lo-fi cakes priced at a suitable low price now attempts to market themselves as "premium pu'ercha".  They charge stratospheric prices, but the quality is often a bit on the ordinary side.

The leaves, however, look good.  Pictured above, the compression is light and the maocha is made of long leaves.  Perhaps not obvious from the photograph, but they are tinted towards a rusty red colour.  (Rut-roh.)

2009 Hailanghao Gaoshanzhai

There were two Gaoshanzhai cakes made by Hailanghao in 2009, supposedly from the same trees.  Given the autumnal appearance and limited flavour in the cup, along with the orange colour, I assume I have the later leaves.

Modern technology!  While sitting at the teatable, I e-mailed TA to find out if this was indeed the autumnal cake sold by Yunnan Sourcing (for $90).  Before the infusion had completed, a reply was waiting in my inbox (pictured below).

2009 Hailanghao Gaoshanzhai

This tea does have virtues: it has a long sweetness, it has a vibrancy in the mouth, it has something reminiscent of huigan.  However, it has the low, low ceiling of autumnal leaves, and the result is limited and tightly constrained.  By the fifth infusion, it is generic and rather boring.

Time to change gear!

2009 Hailanghao Gaoshanzhai

I always rely on Xizihao.  Yes, they have their unfortunate moments, but they're generally very reliable.  This "Laowushan" is the follow-up to their 2010 version, which I found to be pleasant, but a touch "light and delicate" (read: somewhat empty).

2011 Xizihao Laowushan

The leaves are mighty fine.  TA apparently bought this from a local Slovakian outfit named "Longfeng".  The maocha is of small leaves, nicely compressed, with a good number of silver, furry tips combined with chunkier basis leaves.

2011 Xizihao Laowushan

It has a husky sweetness that is rather out-of-place in a Xizihao cake, even for a tea sourced in western Simao (specifically, Zhenyuan County).  It does have the savoury character much beloved from that region, which combines pleasantly with a cooling aftertaste.

This tea probably isn't inexpensive; Sanhetang products seldom are.  For the presumed high price, this is, like its predecessor, rather watery and, for want of a better word, "empty".

However, it marches on with a "dry" sweetness rather like a decent French wine.  Comparison between wine and tea is a heresy (in both directions) in which I don't usually indulge, but here, I think, the similarity justifies the means.

2011 Xizihao Laowushan

I opened this article by decrying the suction of all three of these cakes and, in fairness, only the first two really suck.  The Xizihao has a good sweet finish that causes shengjin [mouth-watering behaviour], while its body has an excellent honeylike tone.  Yes, by the eighth infusion it tastes leafy and green, and has collapsed into mundane normality, but it does rather well before it reaches that stage.

Finishing up and tidying away, I raise a cup of thanks to both JT and TA for an excellent session, which was tremendous fun, if nothing else.

15 August, 2012



conference -
longing for my wife
and toothbrush

13 August, 2012

2003 Yongpinhao "Yinhao Tuocha" and 2011 Lishan Hongcha

Yinhao [silver-buds tea] represents the ladyboy end of the pu'ercha spectrum, and is typically something I avoid because it doesn't age well. It is often soft and sweet when young, before dying away due to its lack of real leaves.

The Jakub has kindly sent me a tuocha made by the Yongpinhao company of Yiwu town which is apparently the yinhao that it's OK to like.

2003 Yongpinhao Tuocha

Yunnan Sourcing sells this little 100g fellow for $11, which isn't a huge amount for a tea that is now nine years old.  The leaves seemingly come from Yiwu and Badashan regions; as you can see from the above, there is much more than yinhao in the blend, for which we should be truly thankful, amen.

2003 Yongpinhao Tuocha

Lei and I headed out into the garden to enjoy this one.  The water isn't as good as drinking indoors (coming from a hot thermos flask), but the atmosphere really brings out the best in the tea.  I probably wouldn't drink my most demanding pu'ercha out here, due to the water, but it's entirely fantastic to drink more sociable teas al fresco.

2003 Yongpinhao Tuocha

This little tuocha is actually rather good.  You wouldn't expect so, given Yongpinhao's less-than-excellent track record, but this tea packs a serious set of sensations into its finish: my mouth was simultaneously numbed and cooled in a pronounced manner.  Combined with a fairly penetrating sweetness, and the sweet-straw of some decent aging, and it was very enjoyable.  Add the setting of the garden, and it all worked out rather well.

2003 Yongpinhao Tuocha

Just for fun, I brought my gadgetry out with me for a quick scribble.  Thankfully, there is no wireless signal out this far from the house: one must disconnect in order to connect (with others).  However, I couldn't resist a rapid sketch.

Readers to whom I'm connected via Facebook will probably already have seen many of this series of scribbles.

(I don't actually like Facebook, but it is the only social network to which absolutely everyone I like is connected.  Everywhere else seems like a wasteland by comparison to Facebook's bustling metropolis.)

2003 Yongpinhao Tuocha

I've found that drinking outside leads me to consider teas that I wouldn't otherwise get the time to drink.  This includes wulong, hongcha, dancong, and so on.  With thanks to Tom, a teachum from near my place of birth in East Anglia, we dipped into a Taiwanese wulong, from Lishan.

2011 Lishan Hongcha

The leaves are tiny and curled, rather like a Chunmei lucha, with the occasional rusty tip.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, they have the fruity scent of wulong leaves that have seen maximal oxidation.

2011 Lishan Hongcha

This is a very accomplished hongcha, being big and chunky in the mouth, while managing to be smooth and well-produced at the same time.  I dread to think how much Jing-of-London charge for this little number, and refuse to look.  However, it is very nice, and is probably worth paying at least a decent price.  That said, hongcha is hongcha, and it doesn't march on for too long.  While it lasts, it is floral, malty, rich, and (who'd have thought?) rather like Lishan wulong.

2011 Lishan Hongcha

Many thanks both to The Jakub and to Tom for a great session.

10 August, 2012

2003 Xiaguan "Jiaji"

One of my favourite Chinese books (which I can read only in translation) is Hongloumeng [hong-loh-mung], literally "Red Mansion Dream", but often translated as "Dream of the Red Chamber" or other variants.  It is an 18th-century romantic story of life in a good Chinese family, with all of its intrigue, romance, and breadth-of-character.  While it is true that translations often fail to capture the essence of an original text, the Penguin version ("Story of the Stone") and the official Beijing University Press version are both excellent, and each runs to four or five volumes.  When we consider that the original Chinese text is contained in a single volume, it shows the necessary expansion that occurs when translating Chinese to English.

(Chinese is a very dense language, in which a few symbols can convey as much as a whole line of English.  I think of n-ary encoding schemes: Chinese symbols have a high information density per symbol, and so, at the same symbol (baud) rate as English, manage a much bandwidth.  I like to compare spoken Chinese to the QAM/QPSK communication of a modem.  The information rate is high in Chinese, but it results in significantly increased likelihood of data corruption when individual symbols are parsed: witness a Chinese person trying to convey an abstract meaning in a small number of characters, where they often have to resort to adding additional context.  "Your name is Lei?  Like the flower?  Or like thunder?"  They often then draw the character on the hand for additional context.  Chinese works perfectly, when written - spoken, it is a little more susceptible to the limits of information theory...)

So, Hongloumeng.  One of the characters finds herself a little worse for wear, after consuming too much alcohol, and is prescribed some pu'ercha to remedy the situation.  I wonder if this is partly responsible for the  claim that pu'ercha is "good for fatigue and the effects of alcohol" which so often appears on neipiao [inner tickets] in bingcha.

It is something that often comes to mind on those (now reasonably rare occasions) when I find myself nursing a sore head in the morning, slumped over my tea-table, like the reprobate that I am.  My dear wife is very forgiving.

2003 Xiaguan Jiaji

The night before drinking this tea, I had been to a "farewell" dinner for the graduating year of engineering students (all six of them) at my old college.  The senior engineering tutor was very generous in extending me an invitation; I think it's because I tend to lose to him at pool in the bar, in the small hours after formal events.  To say that he is viciously competitive would be something of an understatement.  He's charming, but he'll happily attempt to destroy you over any competitive game to hand.  He's like a muscular, Australian version of Oddjob, crushing dice into powder using his bare hands.

The after-dinner conversation with the graduating students went long, in the common room afterwards, accompanied by unnumbered bottles of variously dodgy spirits.  By the time they come to leave, the students and their two or three tutors tend to know each other very well; I'd taught them mathematics, and had some good fun doing so.  Against tradition, some of them even managed first-class degrees.  There wasn't a single "gentleman's third" in sight.

After all that liquid socialising, the tea-table seemed most welcoming.  I headed over to a recent delivery from THE JAKUB, and came to settle on this Xiaguan "jiaji".  Modern Xiaguan may taste like the wrong end of a spent cigar, but the older stuff (let's say pre-2006ish) can be very reliable.  Like The Mighty Menghai, good old Xiaguan have collected a huge amount of blending expertise over the years.  Older "XG" products are usually very reliable.

When the head is pounding, you look for reliability.  Now is not the time for dodgy, insipid ladytea. It's time to take Hongloumeng's recommendation, and drink something that'll "do you right". 

2003 Xiaguan Jiaji

One of the charms of Xiaguan is its uncompromising nature.  You can't separate the leaves from the superdense fusion that is the tuocha compression?  Perhaps you'd like to go back to your tieguanyin, mademoiselle.  Xiaguan tuocha redefines what it means to cram matter into small volumes.  I remain convinced that, if the 16+ dimensions of superstring theory are to be found, the core of a Xiaguan tuocha would be a sensible place to begin the search: where matter is do dense, that the dimensions have collapsed in on themselves, into a latent subdimension of unknowable density.

Looking at the photograph of the nuggety fusion of this "jiaji" [top grade] tuocha, I can almost see those hidden dimensions, nestled between the compressed leaves.  The leaves, typically, are tiny.  I enjoy the humid sweetness that manages to escape the gravity-warping field of the leaves.

2003 Xiaguan Jiaji

The aroma cup soothes my eyes as I hold it over each in turn.  Its warmth comforts me as I hold its length under each eye.  Pu'ercha is very good for recovery.

This 2003 version brews a proper orange, as pictured above, and you will be expecting to read that it has a strong, pinewood-like body.  Its long sweetness burrows through my muddy, turbid mind, bringing me a small quantum of peace.  Peace, that is, until the beeps of the washing machine arriving at the end of its cycle pierce my ears at an ironically amusing time.  On the inside, I scream.

Xiaguan potency marches on for many infusions: it doesn't change very much, not developing anything other than robust, heavy sweetness, but that's what we've come to appreciate.  You don't drink Xiaguan tuocha for its complex floral femininity.  You drink it to have your throat and mind scoured clean of all evils.  It is a rite of purification.

Love your Xiaguan.  It'll take care of you, when you need it most.

08 August, 2012

Bone Dry


bone dry
its first gulp of water
in millenia

06 August, 2012

2012 Essence of Tea "Bangwei 33"

Bangwei 33

I typically look forward to the release of new cakes from Essence of Tea (nee Nadacha).  This year, as with the past two years, cakes from Nada have been my first introduction to leaves from the new season.  There are five cakes available this year.  I like one of them very much, I like one of them a little less, and I find three of them to be "not my cup of tea", although all are well-made.

Let's start with that which I enjoyed the most: this Bangwei xiaobing.

2012 EoT Bangwei

The pretty wrappers are quite charming this year, as shown above.  Call me shallow, but I rather like a good design on a tea-wrapper.  Calligraphy is quick and easy, and nods towards classicism, but is less satisfying than a beautiful watercolour.  Each production has its own design this year, which is lovely indeed.

This cake was selected by an associate of the proprietors from leaves from 33 "old trees" in the Bangwei area.  You can see that it is a little smaller than a normal cake, presumably due to its high cost per weight.  Pictured above, it is piggybacked on a regular cake.

2012 EoT Bangwei

It will come as no surprise to learn that the cake is excellent to behold, with long leaves bound loosely into the bing.  There is a fresh fragrance about them which reminds me that, despite the English rain, it is spring (and now summer) somewhere in the world.

2012 EoT Bangwei

This Bangwei is yellow, clean, and penetrating.  Its sweetness is complex and thoroughly engaging, much as the interesting cakes to which we have become accustomed from previous years productions from Nadacha.  As with those earlier cakes, this Bangwei exhibits the telltale signs of good tea: a pronouced cooling sensation in the mouth, a vibrancy on the lips and tongue, a solidity and smoothness of texture.  I wrote that "its energy is captivating".

2012 EoT Bangwei

Again, like cakes of years past, this Bangwei demands attention, and refuses to release me from the tea-table.  It has the strength to continute into many infusions, while it has the excellent of character to remain interesting throughout, and the sheer content to provide many complex brews.

2012 EoT Bangwei

My diary has "Difficult indeed would it be to find a tea of this purity, complexity, and sweetness."


Now a delicate point, made all the more delicate by the fact that I count Mr. and Mrs. Essence as friends, whose company and tea I appreciate greatly.

It would not be fair to write about the 2012 cakes without mentioning the price.  I must also be honest: the prices this year are rather off-putting.  Plotted above (more or less to scale) are those data I have for previous years.  The fact that I can plot such a graph is a complement to Nadacha, of course: I have the data simply because I have been a captive customer to date.  

For the record, and so that he does not feel obliged to repeat himself, I report that Nada stated that his profit margins remain unchanged this year with respect to that of previous years.

Overall - a superior tea, at a difficult price.


P.s. teachum EdoB tells me that there has been a recent run on Clouds cakes in Hong Kong, with one vendor citing this humble blog as the "cause of such sudden demand".  Madness!