29 April, 2013


ODB: that oh-so-talented member of the Wutang Clan had his good name co-erced into referring to the Baoyan brick, made by Xiaguan, for reasons that may be obvious.

Baoyan is an interesting tea, which became even more interesting recently when we undertook a clinical study in Tibet.

2002 Baoyan
This sample kindly provided by Bannacha

The study was to attempt to drive down hypertension among the Tibetan elderly by (i) reducing salt intake and (ii) stopping smoking.  Both of these were very difficult for different reasons: the latter is difficult for everyone, given the addictive nature of nicotine.  The former is difficult given that elderly Tibetans love them their Baoyan.  The hitch is that they add salt to their Baoyan in huge amounts.  Their Baoyan is laden in salt.  This causes hypertension, and leads to unpleasant consequences that we and they would like to avoid.

2002 Baoyan

The manner in which removing the salt was achieved was interesting: Tibetan households in the villages that we studied typically had a large container of Baoyan bubbling away from the start of the day, to which copious salt was added.  We simply provided a second container, to sit next to the salt-laden container, which contained no salt.

It took some acclimatisation, but arguments about long-term health generally seem to have overcome the obstacles provided by habit and culture.  In my opinion, the removal of the salt also improved the taste of the Baoyan.

Baoyan (approx. "holy flame" in the Tibetan sense) is undeniably rough, hence the moniker ODB.  However, like the ODB himself, it is innately appealing and tremendously enjoyable.  Zillions of Tibetans cannot be wrong.  (I am unsure of their opinion of Wutang Clan, however.)

I have previously tried the version from 2001, preceding this 2002 version.  In that article, I compared bricks brought from skip4tea (Malaysia) to those from Houde (Texas, USA).  Shown above, the leaves of this 2002 look similar to that 2001 version.

2002 Baoyan

This is why Tibetans love Baoyan: check ye out the colour of the soup pictured above, and marvel.  You can almost taste its hairy, brusque, powdery sweetness, can you not?  Its black flavor from mysterious Xiaguan processing.  Its creamy texture, its robust kuwei, even now, after 11 years.

While Baoyan leaves are notoriously low in quality, they are a mixed bag indeed: shown below, enormous sections of larger leaves can be found among the black mulch.

Here's to more studies in Tibet.

2002 Baoyan

With my desire for rancid darkness sated, I turn my attention to another cake from Bannacha: the 2012 Mangjing.

2012 Bannacha Mangjing
It is possible that this is the cake I drank, if it is the spring version

Mangjing is not a familiar area: it is some short distance away from Jingmaishan proper (in Lancang county of Simao diqu), just to the south of that popular region, but has a characteristic entirely of its own.  Mangjing village is populated by the Bulangzu, following a migration some generations ago.  WO of Bannacha notes that this cake was made from leaves obtained from old gardens, and produced by one Ai Gong.

2012 Bannacha Mangjing

The area, like Jingmaishan, is covered in trees with smaller leaves, as pictured above and below.  The buttery aroma of immediate youth manages to fight its way through a blocked nose, which is testament to its strength.

2012 Bannacha Mangjing

Jingmai cakes are usually "nice", in that they are approachable, and famous for their lanxiang [orchid fragrance].  This Mangjing cake is definitely not like that

This is to its credit, in my opinion.

2012 Bannacha Mangjing

This cake is, rather like the ODB, no stranger to a good punch-up.  It is aggressive and surly straight off the bat, where as its Jingmai cousins tend to prance around like a ballerina.

Strong and grassy, this cake builds quickly, leaving a rather substantial kuwei [good bitterness] in the throat long after the swallow.  The lanxiang is present, far beneath the surface, amusingly enough.

2012 Bannacha Mangjing

Drinking this tea is good exercise, both mentally and physiologically.  Perhaps it is a mite thin and acidic, but it is definitely great fun and something of a novelty.  If you like Jingmai, and are looking for a challenge, this tea looks forward to meeting you.

It might be interesting to see how this tough little beast ages.

26 April, 2013

The Five-Year-Olds

The day of reckoning for some of my cakes is at hand.  I selected five of my five-year-olds, which share a few common traits:
  1. they were all bought in 2008, with quite low prices;
  2. we bought our house in 2008, and so these cakes have known no other storage except for our house;
  3. they have remained untouched on our shelves since then.
Should you be of the mind to do so, Gentle Reader, you may wish to take a quick peek into my updated notes for the following five.  I will summarise at the end of this page for your convenience.

The 2008 Dayi Dajingdian is the "Great Classic":

2008 Dayi Dajingdian

The 2008 8582-801 is the first batch of the classical 8582 recipe from 2008:

2008 Menghai 8582 801

The 2008 Dayi "Menghai Kongque" is the "peacock of Menghai", one of a set of five:

2008 Menghai Kongque

The 2008 Dayi "Mengsong Kongque" is another cake from the same range:

2008 Menghai - Mengsong Peacock
Colour-balance rage!

The 2008 Xiaguan "Duling Fengsao" is a slightly-above-mainstream special cake from Xiaguan, infamous for its blackness akin to Baoyan:

2008 Xiaguan Duling Fengsao

What all five of these cakes also share is a truly surprising sweetness that has developed over the last five years.  The raw aggression of their youth (and it was extremely aggressive in some cases) has attenuated, as if exchanged for this deep, penetrating sweetness.  To varying degrees, they have acquired the humid "woody" characteristics of cakes that are turning the corner.

Each was remarkably encouraging.  My journal, for more than one of the above, waxes lyrical about the sense of satisfaction that accompanies the realisation that we bought these cakes for very little outlay, and that they have become really very pleasant.  Indeed, many of them remain quite inexpensive.  The feeling of satisfaction that corresponds to buying low-priced, but decent, cakes and seeing them improve is, surely, the name of the game that we play.

The storage here in middle England is definitely not "dry": the cakes taste humid and have soft, woody bodies without the crisp "dryness" of less humid lands.  However, nor are our cakes "humid" in the sense of south China, Singapore, etc.: we have none of the temperature that leads to hot, humid, spicy cakes, and here have something rather different - and, dare I venture, rather pleasant.
The conclusion is encouraging.

24 April, 2013

Every Cupful

2008 Menghai Kongque

every cupful
another mouthful
of Lun Yu

22 April, 2013

Real Books

If all has gone according to plan, then you are reading this while I am eating snails, wearing a beret, and playing boules in Paris.  Fingers (and baguettes) are crossed.


What do you do at the tea-table, apart from drinking tea?

Some days, I just drink.  Sometimes, that involves being slumped over the table looking like a zombie, staring vacantly into the middle-distance.  Most of the time, I drink while writing in my journal (a small proportion of which corresponds to my tea-notes), and I have racked up a truly surprising number of journals.  I first started writing in the back seat of my father's car while he drove me to university for the first time, when I was 18.  I was "leaving home".  Since then, the number of journals that I have filled has reached 51, and they have travelled a reasonably-sized chunk of the world.

My journals remind me of my favourite films is "Se7en", directed by David Fincher.  In that film, the atrocious master criminal, played by Kevin Spacey, fills piles of identically-appearing notebooks with bizarre thoughts, unlabeled and unordered, in homogenous handwriting.  Line after line after line.  My journals are just like that (minus the vitriol).  I can't imagine what I am going to do with them all.

1997 8582

Sometimes, however, I take my current book to the tea-table.  Often, it is a book on whatever variety of statistics has recently absorbed me.  The tea-table is a very good place to read difficult books, given the sharpness of the mind that occurs as a result.

Today, I have been reading the Lunyu ("Analects") of Kongzi / Confucius.  I first read this book when I was an undergrad.  It was interesting, but a bit stuffy.  These days, it is absolutely different, and reads like a handbook for the professional academic.  I was genuinely surprised by how entirely relevant each page seemed to be to my own situation, as if a fantastically-experienced and thoroughly proper mentor had seen fit to dispense some wisdom for a junior wannabe.  Maybe I have grown into the book a little, but I can see why it is held in such regard by traditional Chinese.  Have a go yourself, if you have not; if you have, be tempted to re-read it!

1997 8582

Today's article is the concatenation of two sessions, which have my reading of the Lunyu in common.  The first session explored the 1997 Menghai 8582, kindly provided by BH (first tried here).  I heartily approve of the maximum amount of re-use that this sample bag has experienced!

1997 8582

An old 8582 is a perfect companion for the Lunyu.  Recalling that the "85" refers to the year in which the recipe was standardised, the subsequent "8" refers to the large size of the leaves used in the blend.  Pictured above, we can see that these are substantially larger than the usual Dayi mixtures, and I wonder if this contributes to the excellent aging capability of the 8582s that I have been encountering of late.

1997 8582

There is plenty of humidity about these leaves, which is no bad thing.  The resulting brew, pictured above and below, looks not dissimilar to a beautiful Burgundy.  There is no disputing the fine qualities of this particular example of 8582.

1997 8582

The cup, pictured above, was a generous gift from Mr. and Mrs. Essence of Tea, which seems perfectly paired with this rich old tea.  The cup has a smooth thickness in common with the soup of the 1997 8582, and is quite obviously very happy to be filled with Good Soup.

1997 8582

Sometimes, you just have to drink a solid, fragrant, sweet and everlasting tea when the chips are down.  It is, after all, what it is "all about".  For my part, young shengpu is my usual diet, but older teas such as this example so kindly provided by BH are a treat, and a reminder of where I would like my cakes to go.

2002 Liming Banzhang Zhuancha

Regular readers may recall my description of a recent, and mighty, tea session with Apache at chez nous.  I omitted one particular tea, preferring to focus on it at some length in an article that would do it justice: this is, as pictured above, the 2002 Liming Tea Factory "Banzhangzhuan" [brick].

Pleasant photographs are all very well, Hobbes, but do you have any rancidly-lit images of this brick, perhaps ripped from a vendor web-site?

I am, if nothing else, a slave to your wishes, Gentle Reader:

2003 Liming Banzhang Zhuancha

The frightful thing above is, believe it or not, that which gave birth to the decent leaves shown below...

2002 Liming Banzhang Zhuancha

This cake takes a million years to get going, which is why Apache and I didn't really get into it during our mutual tea session.  Given a day all to itself, this brick goes on to reveal its true colours - a heavy orange/red, in this case, as pictured below.

Tea with Apache

This comes a very close second to the 2002 Menghai "Chawang Qingbing" that Apache took home for further drinking, following our session.  The Liming is darned, darned fine.  And it is a brick.  What a curious conjunction.

Sweetness and heaviness of character abound, this tea sits in the throat, churning out huigan [returning sweetness] for many minutes.  The massive weight of its body leaves my tongue slightly numbed, in the pleasant way of good leaves.  It has the low sweetness of aged, actual Banzhang and I love it very dearly.

2002 Liming Banzhang Zhuancha

The bad news is that this currently sells for 1800 RMB on Taobaowang, which is just under £200 (approx. $300).  That is one heck of a lot, but it is very lovely.  Apache has expressed a temptation to buy this.

Writing about this Liming cake led me to recall the only other time I have encountered teas from this factory.  Around five years ago, I wrote about the Liming "Tuowang" from Royal Puer.  Back then, the 250g tuocha cost $40.  I liked it, rather a lot, and only just came down on the side of not buying it.  On checking the vendor's web-pages just now, I see the price has only increased to $47.20!  Needless to say, I snapped some up and look forward to their arrival.  They will, perhaps, reflect the glory of the 2003 "Banzhangzhuan" upon me.

Maybe I'll get the Lunyu out when the Liming "Tuowang" arrives.

19 April, 2013

Ave, Apache, Pu'ercha Plenus

I hope that's the feminine singular nominative.  School was a long time ago...

Plenus or not, the big man rolled up at my place last week-end.  He was heavily laden.  I had bought 15 litres of water in preparation.  We were ready.

Tea with Apache

Apache, like everyone from Hong Kong (Kenny and GV, I'm looking at you), seems to have a long-standing relationship with The Fat.  And why not?  I've never been to the Fragrant Port, but would make calling in at the famous teahouse an essential part of my visit if ever it occurred.
The Fat does most things well, when it comes to tea, but I cannot say that I have ever tried their wulong before.

Tea with Apache

Pictured above, this is a miscellaneous "gongfu chawang" of which we know little, excepting the facts that (i) it is roasted, and (ii) it is still quite young.  This makes for a mighty fine wulong experience, and I even did the unthinkable and managed to find my roasted-wulong pot.  That little pot doesn't get much action.
This was, perhaps expectedly, a very good wulong: buttery, green, young - but smoothly roasted, without being heavy-handed.  A fine balance between light and dark, yin and yang, Force and Sith.  The running order for today's session was decided by Apache himself, and this was a great opener.

Tea with Apache
2003 Menghai Tea Factory "Qiaomu Laoshu" Cake

You may have read recently of Apache's hideous treatment at the hands of a vendor whose name cannot be named, in which we was peddled a fake 2003 Dayi Qiaomu Laoshu.  Keen to restore balance to the Force, Apache brought along a sample of the actual Dayi cake, provided by a friend of his from Guangdong province.

Tea with Apache
2003 Menghai Qiaomu Laoshu

This version, pictured above, does not suck at all.  In fact, it is quite the opposite.  The leaves, pictured above, are separate, long, and very well-aged.  The Taobaowang price at the time of writing for this little baby is currently 300 English pounds (approx. 450 Amurcan) for a full cake.  It is not at all cheap, but exceedingly cheerful.

Tea with Apache

Clean, elegant, heavily sweet, and yet laden with kuwei [good bitterness] even after a decade of storage in south China - this is quite remarkable.  Heaven knows how delicious this will be after another ten years; it certainly has the strength to turn into something even more fine.  As it stands, it is woody, enduring, and darned solid.
Dayi special cakes have come under heavy (financial) speculation within the last half-year or so, and the prices are generally going through the roof for anything Dayi that isn't a standard recipe.  You may not have seen this in Western markets, because we tend to see just the basics (7542, 8582, etc.); the better "specials", however, are taking a huge pounding.  The case of the amusingly-priced 2011 Jin Dayi is one that you might have come across, for example.  Apache and I bought that by the tong about a year ago, and the price has since approximately tripled.

Speaking of overpriced speculation...

Tea with Apache

Hualian ("Waloon" in Cantonese?) is the teashop on Macao that is famous for the "1997 Hualian Qingzhuan" [green brick], allegedly made entirely of laoshu leaves.  This 2004 cake is more down-to-earth, but is supposedly more Banzhang material.

Tea with Apache
"Banzhangwang", anyone?

The leaves are small and crunched, as one might expect (pictured below).

Tea with Apache

Interval: we discovered the following nestled inside the leaves of this tea.  We have absolutely no idea what these... pearl-coloured pods might be.  Tea-seeds?  Insect eggs?  You decide.  Either way, we chickened out and decided not to brew them.

Tea with Apache

Minus the worrying eggs, the actual tea was... pretty good.  It was lighter than the previous 2003 Qiaomu Laoshu, and quite obviously so.  There was good sweetness, and a decent body, but it was all rather underwhelming and quite straightforward.

Tea with Apache

The soup, shown above, looks good, however.  For completeness, an image of the wrapper is shown below, where "Shengtai Yesheng" means "Natural Wild".  The former term is sometimes translated as "ecological", referring to the manner in which the trees are (allegedly) maintained.

2004 Hualian Shengtai Yesheng

The cake that we drank next I choose to omit from today's proceedings.  This is merely because we gave it short shrift, and I went on to enjoy it the next day.  So delicious was this unnamed tea, in fact, that I will write about it in another article.
So, instead, let us move on to the next cake after that: the 2003 Menghai "Chawang Qingbing":

Tea with Apache
Menghai Tea Factory 2002 "Chawang Qingbing"

This final cake is a heavy hitter.  It is The Real Thing, where you should pronounce the capital letters.

Tea with Apache

With my pot given over to That Mysterious Tea omitted previously, we parked this 2002 Menghai "Chawang Qingbing" in Apache's appropriately-labeled gaiwan.  It is one of those rather huge Dayi affairs that seems entirely suited to brewing this tea.
I rather like gaiwan brewing for the speed with which one can evacuate the water from the leaves.  Perhaps I should use one more often, but I do so love my little zisha pot, "Zidu", who brews 95% of my tea.

By the time Apache and I got into this tea, we had been going some three hours or so, and were rapidly reaching tea saturation.  Such a thing appears to be possible!  This 2002 Menghai reset the clocks: it was immensely solid, with a base of cement.  Density, infinite density!  Sweetness, strength, unfathomably long-lasting... a tea to drink again.
In fact, Apache did it the very great honour of taking it home to drink the next day, which is wise indeed.

"Top tier for the year in which it was produced", concluded Apache.  I could only agree.  You would have to search far indeed to find a better cake from 2002.

Tea with Apache

And then, it was all over.  I always enjoy these epic sessions with Apache, and learn a great deal each time.  My appreciation for the rarer Menghai "specials" has reached new heights... as has the price of these cakes, thanks to Chinese speculators.  Therefore, we must "make hay while the sun shines".

Such lovely hay it is, too.

17 April, 2013

Between Tutes


between tutes
the lawnmower mows
the playing field

15 April, 2013

The Lower-Dimensional Subspace

Regulars among you, Gentle Readers, may recall tale of an epic battle of blood and fire, in which Captain Ahab of white2tea landed a mighty bargain: the 2012 Ruiyuan.  I found it to be beefy indeed, and subsequently parted with some local currency to acquire a cake.
In conversation, it turns out that the producer, one Ma Yongwang, has made an even beefier cake.  Presumably, we are in for a substantial serving of beef here.

2012 Ruiyuan Nannuo Gushu

Ma is straightforward about the contents of his cakes, so the story goes, and noted that this "gushu" cake is acutal gushu.  It is correspondingly unavailable.
Perhaps using his own wily negotiating expertise, Captain Ahab managed to get 50g out of Ma, kindly sending me a large portion of it.  An unexpected pleasure, surely!

2012 Ruiyuan Nannuo Gushu

The wrapper (pictured below) is one of the "laoshucha" versions, shielding the upgraded version's leaves within (pictured above).

2012 Ruiyuan Nannuo Gushu

Examine ye the leaves below, and revel in their furry majesty.  Pretty much everything is included in this blend, from the tips down to the huangpian [yellow flakes].  At least that suggests that it's hand-made.

2012 Ruiyuan Nannuo Gushu

The rinse is yellow-brown.  This is an interesting shade which dominates in many of the gushu cakes I have tried.  I wouldn't like to try and describe it further, because I'm quite sure that you would conclude your humble author is one slice short of a loaf.  Just keep an eye on the colour of your gushu, is all I'll say.
The first infusion is clean - almost brutally so.  It looks like yellow crystal.  The scent is long, warm, and very buttery - straight out of the... wok?  It has the scent of immediate production, that is to say. 

2012 Ruiyuan Nannuo Gushu

I usuaully dial back my enthusiasm when it comes to Nannuoshan: good teas, fragrant and zesty, for sure, but perhaps they are a little too light and fluffy to go the distant through the years?  Not so.  As the lesser Ruiyuan demonstrated last time, this area can provide real content.
This tea is like drinking an old bush.  It really is a definite and obviously ancient lifeform that is being soaked in hot water in my pot.  It is potent, vibrant, and intensely cooling... and yet it is perfectly rounded and rather "mature" in some sense.  Right at its centre lies a beautiful and quite dazzling sweetness - a core of solidity.

2012 Ruiyuan Nannuo Gushu

It is not aggressively bitter, and I end up adding more leaves to the pot, for which I am rewarded with a stronger base.
The tea builds slowly, adding kuwei in each infusion, slowly unrolling as if it is in no hurry, and refuses to yield immediately.
And there's the rub.  It is dazzling, and pure, and charming, but it is also extraordinarily constant and unchanging.  Hence the name of this article: this tea occupies a manifold with a small number of dimensions.  Those dimensions are delicious, but they are few.  Perhaps here we have the danger of "single tree" cakes: they sometimes do not stretch the imagination, for all of their purity.  I am left recalling the rounded benefits of the "inferior" version: while these leaves are clearly better, the more humble version actually seemed more enjoyable to me.

2012 Ruiyuan Nannuo Gushu

I am exceedingly grateful to PM for procuring this rarity, and for the opportunity to taste such obviously "gushu" gushu.  It also reminded me how wide the gamut of pu'ercha can be, and how advantageous is that random wandering which takes in some of its wide scope.

12 April, 2013

Welcome Home, Xiaolong

This cake is pretty great, and I first tried it on my first session after the dust had settled, following my youngest son's arrival into the world.
I sat at the table, the happiest father in the whole world, for the second time.  If you have children of your own, then you know exactly what I mean.

2007 Taochaju Daxueshan

This is the 2007 Taochaju "Daxueshan".

Why pick Taochaju?  This one came as a generous gift from white2tea (thanks again), and was originally made by all-round-nice-guy, Xiao Yunqing.  I won't recount the backstory here, as you may recall it.  If you happen to be visiting Beijing, you should certainly go to his mall, to visit both him and Fangmingyuan.  I hope to be there in May, schedule permitting*.

*It's amazing how one can find time to reach Maliandao...

2007 Taochaju Daxueshan

The little leaves have a wonderfully dense and woody scent, and are fragmented and medium-size in appearance.  The soup, pictured above, is likewise heavy in sweetness, with a soft, dry-stored body.  The texture is the gentle powderiness of elderly teas, which is very welcome.  I enjoyed it strength but also its robust base of malt and tobacco.  The occasional wood-flower scent in the nose is pleasantly surprising, for a cake that is six years old.
Brewed long, in much later infusions, the Daxueshan cake remains stable, solid, clean, and very sweet.  Xiao Yunqing has selected some great leaves.

2007 Taochaju Daxueshan

The baby monitor pictured above tracks the quiet breathing of our new baby.  I heartily recommend parenthood.