30 November, 2012

2011 Yunzhiyuan "(Meng) Pashashan Autumn"

This cake is more than a little special; after I tasted it, we found out that my dear wife was "with child". So, I have decided to delay publication until some point in the future, as I'm sure you'll understand. It's a wonderful time (at the time of writing: February, 2012).

2011 YS Pasha Autumn

This cake, therefore, has something of significance in our lives - I remember its taste and character even now, because it was with me when we had the great news.

Mengpashashan is an area in Menghai County, in Xishuangbanna, that was settled some 300 years ago, where "Pasha" seemingly means "tall, straight forest" in the local Aini dialect.  The thought of an unsettled area dominated by tea-trees, as was the case with Mengpashashan before its settlement, reminds me of my favourite part in Aaron Fisher's book, "The Way of Tea".  Mr. Fisher is at his best when he describes, with great honesty and a gentle touch, the forests of primeval Yunnan.

This cake costs a very reasonable $29, and is a large 400g affair.  The large, beautiful leaves are pregnant with their own contents, as pictured above.

2011 YS Pasha Autumn

The 2010 version of this cake was, I thought, quite nice, in a grassy way, but it quickly collapsed into a "brown" feeling of lesser leaves.  I didn't give much further thought to it, but wrote it off as one of a bunch of four similarly unimpressive samples tried around the same time.

This 2011 cake is a departure, and is very decent.  I might even go so far as to suggest that it is objectively very decent, and not merely enjoyable because of the wonderful news that arrived while drinking it.

Pictured above, the stable, yellow brew turns into a gentle orange after prolonged contact with the air.  Its body is filled with the complex sweetness of a good honey, and it has the sharp, precise kuwei [good throaty bitterness] that I appreciate, without any sewei [rough astringency].  This is a significant improvement on last year's tea, and continues its robust, fairly solid texture into a goodly number of infusions.

2011 YS Pasha Autumn

Sweet, consistent, ever-present, and robust - this tea keeps pace with our happy conversation, and lends its honey-like sweetness to the proceedings.  I should buy at least a cake to remind me of the happiness of the moment.

For now, I put this article into storage, but look forward to the opportunity of sharing it with you, gentle Reader.  By the time you read this, we will hopefully have been blessed with another little teadrinker.

28 November, 2012

Minority Report


minority report
asked about his day:
"I made BAD choices"

26 November, 2012

2012 Puerh.sk "Mannuozhai"

Being a double-father is quite a blessing.  My first son, at two years of age, has started to develop his own (exceedingly strong) opinions, some of which have to do with tea.  My second son's opinions seem to revolve more around milk, but are equally determined.

2012 Puerh.sk Mannuozhai

This "Mannuozhai" cake from Pu-erh.sk is the first that Xiaohu has chosen - perhaps, if he is influenced at all by his father's strange habits, the first of many.  This story started out in August, when Xiaohu and I were sitting at the tea-table with the above packet, kindly provided by Peter of pu-erh.sk.  My (tiny) wife was wobbling around at the time, some seven months pregnant with another (very large) Anglo-Saxon baby.

Xiaohu and I liked this cake so much, that we bought some, which arrived shortly thereafter and which have been sitting in a box in my office ever since.  Now, with the arrival of Xiaolong, and my paternity leave, I thought it high time to bring home the goods.

The tong, shown above, is really very cute - it holds four cakes, and they are xiaobing (250g), which isn't obvious from the photograph due to the lack of scale.  Take a peek below, where we compare the Mannuozhai cake with a standard 357g cake, and you will see what I mean.

2012 Puerh.sk Mannuozhai

I don't speak hip-hop, but it appears that the wrapper has plenty to read in that language.  I imagine that these are the lyrics to some crazy new Slovakian gangster rap (pictured below).  You know those Eastern Central Europeans.  

"West Bratislava born and raised / in the playground's where I spent most of my days"

2012 Puerh.sk Mannuozhai

"COMEANDHAVEACUPOFTEA", Xiaohu remarks in one long stream of sound, without pauses.  I oblige, and the tetsubin is soon going about its business, my rather heavy son perched on his father's frail old knee.

2012 Puerh.sk Mannuozhai

Shown above and below, the pretty leaves (with a standard-size lens cap for scale).  The aroma of the cake is sweet and dense, though quieter than the craziness of the sample - it has had some time to settle down after production.

2012 Puerh.sk Mannuozhai

Xiaohu tried this tea first (as is his wont and privilege), although he does drink it from "Xiaohu's cup", which is a little wenxiangbei [aroma cup].  When asked if he liked it: "MORETEA...PWEASE".

We drank some four or five infusions of this tea together, which is something of a record for my dear son, whose attention is soon captured by the thoughts of playing with his toy dinosaurs ("TRICERATOPS") or reading about Robert "Bob" the Builder.

2012 Puerh.sk Mannuozhai

Mannuozhai is in the greater Bulangshan area of Menghaixian, and this does remind me of potent Bulangshan cakes of years past: it is heavy, extremely bitter, and highly enduring.  The exceeding bitterness left me rather surprised that Xiaohu enjoyed it quite so much, but he is my son, after all.

Peter (of Pu-erh.sk) wrote, "too much leaves will lead to tough tea soap, not for pu-erh novices" [sic].  I am thoroughly encouraged that my son is so hardcore.  I didn't even know that he had a core, let alone a hard one, but there we have it.  

2012 Puerh.sk Mannuozhai

It is a big, "soapy" tea, in that its texture is heavy, smooth, silky, and, well, "soapy".  It is not complex, but it is strong, strong, sweet, strong, tobacco-based, and strong.  Also, it is strong.  After the first small cup (after my son had taken his share), I was left wide awake and rather impressed.

One of those teas that leaves the tip of the tongue rather numb, this is a solid and unforgiving little cake, but that rock-solid backbone of embedded, integral sweetness combined with bitterness must surely bode well for the future.  At 40 Euro per 250g, it is not the most inexpensive cake in the world, but it's not quite up in the silly range, yet, and so remains quite appealing.

Xiaohu and I will be coming back to this one in future, I'm quite sure.  Perhaps Xiaolong will want to join us when we do.

23 November, 2012

2011 Menghai Banzhang Chaye "Bulangshan Dashu"

This might seem to be a strange cake with which to welcome your son into the world, but bear with me.

2011 Menghai Banzhang Chaye - Dashu Bulang

Some weeks ago, I tried a sample of this tea, which was kindly provided by "twodog" of the curiously-named new outfit, white2tea.  This is rapidly becoming one of my favourite places to buy very decent, and very decently-priced, cakes made within the last five years.  Twodog has a great eye for a bargain, and has an inventory which is a mix of Danzhen / Taochaju cakes from my friend Xiao Yunqing in Maliandao, and true bargain cakes that he has encountered along the way: you might remember the excellent 2006 Tiandiren "Bulangshan" and the 2007 Wild Elephant.

2011 Menghai Banzhang Chaye - Dashu Bulang

This cake is just twelve of your American bucks, at the time of writing, which is not a very large sum of money.  The cake hits all the wrong/right notes: it has a name loosely based on Menghai - and its wrapper, in English at the bottom, even states "Menghai Tea Co. Ltd."!  Note that the Chinese characters give the actual name: "Menghai Banzhang Chaye" [tea leaf].  Cheeky.

It has a Douji-esque style sticker on the back which is ab-so-lutely impossible to remove cleanly.  My wrapper is now almost entirely shredded as a result of my clumsy fingers / sharp pu'erdao trying to gain ingress.

2011 Menghai Banzhang Chaye - Dashu Bulang

Pictured above, the story continues: the cake appears to be something of a "shaggy dog", and it has plentiful loose leaves rattling around in the wrapper as a result.  "Worried it's going to suck", as a famous poet once wrote.

2011 Menghai Banzhang Chaye - Dashu Bulang

However, I'm not at all worried, because the sample that I previously tried had no suction whatsoever.  I take some fresh leaves from the cake with confidence, and enjoy the strong, sweet scent.

Mother and baby are asleep upstairs, while Xiaohu is currently out with his grandmother.  I prepare myself to enjoy, for the first time in quite a while, a guilt-free session.

2011 Menghai Banzhang Chaye - Dashu Bulang

This cake is something of a steamroller: ones expectations are lowered by the rancid appearance and minor label, until it smacks one upside the heed (sic) with its potent mix of aggressive sweetness and solid kuwei [good throaty bitterness].  While my eyes begin to widen, I remember that this is indeed a Bulangshan cake, and it does have the same raw power for which that region has become famous.

"Bulangshan" is actually a very large area, comprising many peaks, and so it is a little disingenuous to write about a terroire; that said, many of the "Bulangshan" cakes I have had in the past have hit like the proverbial articulated lorry.

2011 Menghai Banzhang Chaye - Dashu Bulang

This is not the emphemeral sweetness of a floral nature, that will be gone within a year or two: this is pinewood sweetness, embedded in the base of the tea - the kind that deepens and improves with age.  The pronounced punchiness also endears itself to me, because such cakes seldom "go quiet" - at least, those I have in my collection have retained their face-searing charm.

2011 Menghai Banzhang Chaye - Dashu Bulang

This isn't a complex cake, but it's power and sweetness keep me coming back, and retain my interest in a way that some much more expensive cakes somehow fail to do.  It is smooth, long-lasting in the throat, and... well, it's really rather good.  For a mere $12, you have to be thankful that comedy outfits such as the Menghai Banzhang Chaye Tea Company exist, because their products are always going to be underpriced and, if they continue hitting the right notes in the right order, as with this cake, then I'll be patiently watching.

Thanks again to twodog for introducing me to this humble, yet brutal, little fellow.  Now, it's time for me to make some more Chinese soups for my slumbering wife...

21 November, 2012

His Favourite Longcoat

Xiaolong Card

tonight he wears
his favourite longcoat
to meet his son

14 November, 2012

The Yellow Maggots

Pilau Rice

after cleaning away
the yellow maggots -
pilau rice

12 November, 2012

2011 Jin Dayi

I wrote recently about the on-going search of Apache and I for some "old-fashioned" recipe cakes.  Cakes made by The Fat were certainly of that ilk, as were the 2007 "Special Blue" made by Clouds.  We've been through the solid 2006 Baichatang.  Over the years, we've collided with many old-fashioned recipes together (some random selections here).

2011 Jin Dayi

This Jin Dayi marks the result of a recent investigation, in which we compared the original 2003 version with the latterday comparitor.  The original looks like this:

2011 Jin Dayi

It was a "special issue", made on request, as far as I remember.  It became known as the "Jin Dayi" [gold Dayi] after the colour of its label, which, if you ask me, is more of a sludgy brown than a gold.  The Chinese are rather poetic in their descriptions, however, so we'll go with gold in this case.

The basic cake from 2003 was delicious: robust and solid as you might expect, with the Dayi house style.  It's very hard to describe, but extremely obvious to detect.  Drink a few Dayi (even modern ones), and you'll understand what I mean.  It's "that Dayi character".  If I were writing notes to myself, I would describe it as dark-mushroom with malt, and plenty of hardcore bitterness.  That doesn't translate into other people's vocabularies, but is a placeholder in my memory for "that Dayi character".

2011 Jin Dayi

This 2011 version (pictured above) recognises the popularity / greatness of the original recipe, perhaps after realising that the latter has aged really rather well.  Either way, it is a good commercial decision for The Meng to try their hand at remaking some of their classic recipes that have proven to do well.  (Also, they could consider ditching recipes that aren't so hot.  Cough 0622 cough.)

2011 Jin Dayi

Whatever happened to Dayi in the last two years, the Taetea phenomenon has resulted in all sorts of useful / bizarre innovations.  The tong of cakes contained within them the sachet of gubbins, pictured above, which is presumably an attempt to maintain decent storage conditions.  Heaven knows what's in it - I soon got it out of my tong, preferring to rely on the tried-and-tested methods of tea + shelf.

2011 Jin Dayi

The moment that I cracked open the tong and revealed a cake, I took a deep breath of that patented scent and told myself, "I don't drink enough Dayi."  There is something that I actually, genuinely love about these cakes.  Something intimately familiar and constantly promising.  It's like coming home.

2011 Jin Dayi

Like many of the recent cakes, these Dayi are slim slim slim.  These are the San Diego of pu'ercha: toned, tight, good-looking.  The kind of cake that you could show to your friends.  

Admittedly, it smells less of Mexican food than does San Diego.

2011 Jin Dayi

The little leaves are very familiar, too: small, dark, shiny.  Even my grotty pre-dawn photography can't rob these charming little fellows of their appeal:

2011 Jin Dayi

The soup is a big, fat orange.  Boom.  None of your yellow purity, here.

I kick back in my chair, darkness of the dining room unfolding all around me.  England really is northerly: it is dark here, and cold.  I realised this when I came home from Brunei recently.  The hours of daylight are short, and it's not even winter yet.  It really is very dark.  But it's home.

That homely feeling goes very nicely with the comfortingly familiar Dayi scent.  This is a particularly good example, with potency and duration.  It lingers long in the cold morning air, filling every corner of our little house.  As I leave it to sit in the wenxiangbei [aroma cup], it turns low and sticky.  I like a tea with a good aroma profile; the scent never lies - or, rather, the undercurrent of the scent never lies.  It seems to indicate the base of the tea, once the florals have wafted away.  Such is my bet, anyway.

2011 Jin Dayi

The first infusion has a little young-cake smokiness, which soon dissipates.  I realise that I really need to drink more Dayi; even the modern cakes are rather thrilling.  It is such a basic thing to enjoy to such a degree, but enjoy it I do, and that makes me a happy man.  

At 4.30 a.m.  In the darkness.  And the cold.

2011 Jin Dayi

If there is a defining characteristic of this Jin Dayi, it is the constant Dayi potency, heavy sweetness, and a deeply satisfying base of rough-in-the-jungle savoury notes.  I loves me my savoury tea, which is why I chase Lincang cakes to the degree that I do.  This is tea from 'Banna proper, but really hits the granary sweetness.

Combine it with pronounced cooling sensations, untempered aggression, potent honesty, and 0622-but-good savoury aspects, and I am really very happy with this cake.

2011 Jin Dayi

This is $46 (available at The Fat), which is a little much for a Dayi cake, but not very much when you consider its quality.  If this cake were made by a Western-oriented vendor, I would be thrilled and buying it in quantity.  That it is Dayi means that you get all of this potency, combined with very good aging prospects, for a distinctly considerate and sociable price.

What an excellent start to a day.

07 November, 2012

Addressing His Men


addressing his men
the lieutenant-colonel
sings careless whisper

05 November, 2012

2011 Lauyufat "50 Years"

How fat?


2011 Lauyufat 50-Year

Or "Liuyufa" Teashop, if you're into Mandarin.  To be fair, this is a Hong Kong shop (of some reknown) and so it would be best to stick with the Lauyufat.

2011 Lau Yu Fat 50-Years

Apache and I share a love of "old fashioned" pu'ercha, referring to that humble genre of cakes that has typically formed the majority of what we consider to be "aged".  The venerable teagangster himself introduced this cake to me after a previous session, and we subsequently made a joint purchase from The Fat.  It took ages to arrive, but all good things come to those who wait.  In pu'ercha, you need patience.  International shipping ain't no problem.

2011 Lau Yu Fat 50-Years

The Fat celebrated its fiftieth anniversary with this cake, which is a blend of Bulangshan and Badashan leaves, and which sounds rather good to my ears.

2011 Lau Yu Fat 50-Years

I drank some of this cake after encountering a lesser 2012 cake on the same day and was subsequently impressed by this cake's thickness and fullness, both in aroma and in the cup.  The Fat has been in the business of selling pu'ercha for a long time and, while that doesn't necessarily equate to making great cakes, this one certainly is decent.

2011 Lau Yu Fat 50-Years

Apache and I have a hedging strategy, you see.  It basically comes down to the fact that the great cakes of ages past were of a certain genre, and that the modern tendency towards hyper-expensive, single-mountain cakes may be diverging from that genre.  This may or may not be a good thing, but it is wise to drink widely, as is true for most things in this little existence.

I have plenty of overpriced young tea in my collection, as I'm sure many of us may, but there is life outside the genre of single-mountain leaves, hand-picked by trained eunuchs, leaves subsequently dried within the warm confines of a buxom wench's ample bosom.  Despite what the commercial web-sites will tell you.

2011 Lau Yu Fat 50-Years

Like many of us, I'm a big fan of ample bosom - the modern genre of tea is a pleasure to drink at this young stage, after all.  The question is more one of extrapolation into future decades, and it is in this aspect that the uncertainty begins to creep in.

The best we can do is to drink widely, acquire data-points, and watch the evolution of our own experiments.  I've been buying tea in quantity for no more than seven years, which is a very short interval given the lengths of time that the Great Cakes have been around.  The best that we can do is to determine which cakes in our collections are coming on well.  We have data allowing limited comparisons:

(i) For those cakes bought when new, how are they now that they are, for example, six years old?

(ii) For those cakes bought at, let's say, six years of age, how are they now that they are twelve?

And so on.  

Usefully, we may compare those cakes that have gone from 0 years to 6 six years with those that have gone from 6 years to 12 years.  We may have some 12-year cakes which are doing very well, and of which we may recall their state at 6 years of age.  Do we have any younger, modern cakes that have grown into that state, now that they themselves have attained an age of 6 years?

2011 Lau Yu Fat 50-Years

For my collection, the best agers have been humble: the "old fashioned" recipes have made great strides in six years towards the state in which my most decent 12-year cakes started out.  The "hand-made" cakes have a greater failure rate.

It is, naturally, an inexact science, with the definition of "young cakes" changing, as more and more merchants pile onto the "visit Yunnan, buy maocha, make cakes" bandwagon.  Presumably, over this time, such merchants have been improving in their skills, their ability to pick and process good leaves, etc.  It could be that the merchant-made 2012 cakes are all amazing in 50 years, compared with the 2008 cakes.  

Therefore, Apache's and my strategy is really one of hedging: we are heavily invested in modern single-mountain cakes, but also heavily invested in "chenxiang" [old fragrance] cakes, just to be safe.  I find myself leaning ever more towards the latter category, it must be said, and I am slowing up considerably in my acquisition of merchant-made, ample-bosom cakes.  The last that I bought in any quantity from Western merchants was in 2010, I think, and I have been drinking samples since - with mixed feelings for the success of the merchants' more recent products (across a range of some half-dozen merchants).  This is just my own folly, but I share it for the purposes of comparison.

As prices begin to spiral, and merchants products begin to disappear into the stratosphere, some of us are left thinking: "You know, these old-recipe cakes are aging really nicely, and I can get an entire tong for the price of a single ample-bosom cake.  Plus, they taste great.  And there's no risk."


Hmm. It seems that I have whizzed through this article without actually referring to the nominal subject of the article, the 50-year cake by The Fat.  That's fine.  

The cake by The Fat, like all good "old school" recipes, offers little in the way of surprises, but much in the way of satisfaction.  It tastes like every old, good cake that you ever came across - just young.  

And that's exactly what I'm after at this stage.

January, 2015

Four years later, this is a good tea: sweet, husky, fruity - almost part of the Menghai oeuvre - with plenty of strength.  It endures many infusions without degradation, and seems to be aging in a stable manner.