12 August, 2013

I am Iron Man(zhuan)

Heathen swine among my gentle readership should note carefully that the title refers to the Black Sabbath track, and not the Marvel comic.

The 2005 Zhuiyuantang "Manzhuan Zaochun" by Xiangming Longxing co.

Earlier in the summer, I had the great pleasure of meeting Mr. The Dog, proprietor of white2tea and penmaster-general of the twodog teablog.  We drank some tea, started some street-brawls - all of the usual things that one would do when passing through Beijing.

On the way to visit Mr. Dog's charming friends in a teahouse near Guomao, he generously sprang this rather hefty-looking bing on me.  All I had to offer in return was my thanks and the unpleasant aroma of my 24-hour-old travelling clothes, maturing nicely in the baking Beijing sunshine.

Sensors indicate that this 2005 cake is currently, at the time of writing, being sold by Mr. Dog via his white2tea web-site for the sum of 74 American bucks.  I've previously been impressed by his ability to balance tasty beverages with a reasonable price-tag, and so am particularly keen to examine this eight-year-old Manzhuan example.

Manzhuanshan is in the "canonical" puer'cha zone, of Mengla County within 'Banna, and this cake was produced in nearby Xikong, by the Xiangming Longxing Chachang [tea company].  Spannered across the front of the cake are the characters for "Manzhuan Zaochun" [early spring], and the brand name: "Zhuiyuantang".  Everyone's gots to haves their brand name.  It's like Menghai Tea Co. using "Dayi", for example

There are lots of "tang"s in brand names, which is a traditional word for "hall".  Sanhetang is responsible for Xizihao; Chenguanghetang is responsible for thick-necked, rather expensive "premium" cakes; and so on.  "Zhuiyuantang" is, very approximately, "chase-far" hall.  This may or may not be a cultural reference that eludes my laowai sensibilities.

Bookwork aside, let us examine the facts.  This cake looks mighty tasty.  I am currently writing up my notes on this tea from my lab, and the photographs already make me wish I were back at the tea-table, hoovering up some of the loveliness of this dark little beauty.

Our cold little country is, unexpectedly, being warmed by a yellow-orange sphere in the sky which, I am told, is "the sun", and which is entirely complementary to the nature of this large-leafed cake.  How terribly amused I was to be returned from Beijing (temperature: crazy-mad) only to be sat at the tea-table back at home sitting under a blanket and wearing a thick jumper.

Manzhuan can be Good Tea.  It is a reliable place for me to find cakes that appeal.  From the start, this cake brews a solid orange, as pictured below

The wenxiangbei [aroma cup] reveals that this is a dark-molasses cake, but the character in the mouth is immediately suggestive of dry storage: it is crisp and sharp in its sweetness, but has a base of solid molasses.  Its activity is felt throughout the mouth, which indicates that it still has plenty of stamina left in it, and something on which the aging process can act.

This is a mellow cake: it is enjoyable and smooth, without being particularly strong or aggressive.  The white2tea web-site describes this cake as being "easy to drink", which is a conclusion that I have also drawn.  This is relaxed, feet-up-on-the-desk tea, which, while it contains some traditional 'Banna characteristic rich sweetness, does need some pushing.  I found that I was brewing it "long", allowing the next infusion to brew while I was drinking the current infusion, after just a few pots.

I will undoubtedly return to this cake when I am after some "comfort brewing".  As I wrote in my journal at the time, drinking it immediately after my return from China: "This is the taste of returning to my family: warmth, sweetness, and comfort."

As if to emphasise the point, my eldest son ran up to the tea-table, his bottom still bare from a recent trip to the "potty" (he is "in training"), and nabbed a cup.  "Pu'ercha!" he noted, with an approving grin.


  1. 74 bucks it's much for eight year old for this cake? Sorry i don't know market that good.

  2. Dear Donald,

    $74 is pretty good for a cake like this, given Western prices. You can always sample these things, too, which I recommend before buying, so that you can decide for yourself. :)




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