The other day some tea drinking friends of mine were having a conversation about how to optimize timing when purchasing gushu [old arbor] teas. Opinions around the tea table differed, as they always do, but the general consensus was that there are two strategies. Either get in early and hope, or buy late resign to forfeiting half of your mortgage payment for puer tea. In the case of Banzhang teas, even news tea carry a hefty pricetag, so maybe neither strategy is optimal.
Since acquiring a ten year old Banzhang cake of any quality is already completely out of reach of most smallfolk, I’d say one ought to buy good tea right away (1 – 3 years old), rather than when it has enough age (8 – 10 years old). There is a tradeoff. Buying young tea can be difficult because how it will age is anybody’s guess. However, this risk is outweighed by the alternative, which is paying far too much for tea that is difficult to know much about. Questions like where was this stored? and Is this really from Spring on that mountain? are easier to answer in the year of production. But, unless the leaves were picked, processed, and pressed by the hands attached to your body, there is always a little mystery.
The 2007 CYH Banzhang is in a transition stage from strong youth to strong maturity. The kuwei [bitterness] flashes in front of you with a quick gesture, and then quickly turns into sweetness that sits down in the mouth. There are some woody flavors emerging, but it is still in between feeling like a young tea and a middle aged tea. Some sort of tea Freshmen year.
The body is thick. Even 6.5 grams (about 20% less than I normally use) still makes a compelling brew. The depth of flavor and qi [feeling] is admirable. Even though this cake is in the middle ground of its age, still a worthy investment. Thanks again to Origin for the sample.
Another quick and dirty snapshot of a Wistaria tea – the 2007 Blue Mark.
Ben Folds once sang that ” fortune depends on the tone of your voice. ” I have no idea how that line relates to this post, other than Mr.Folds joining me on random in my iTunes – it’s been a long time since I have heard from him.
Perhaps it is a sign. I will sing about this Wistaria tea in a tone of praise. The 2007 Wistaria blue mark is loosely pressed. There is something very pleasing about pulling apart the interlocked fingers of the leaves with only a gentle nudge of the tea needle.
The soup is a light copper color. The material was labeled as Menghai area, which rings true from the first slurp. This cake has an unmistakeably Menghai nature about it. Tobacco, malt, and a little bit of body. More body than say, a lower quality Menghai production, but less than a higher quality Menghai production. Middle of the road in terms of body – without a lot of fireworks. But overall, a very pleasant session.
This is the last of my nostalgic holiday time posts. I am currently back in China, but before I left I participated in some much needed gaming. This post will recount that experience, in the traditional literary style of a Magic: The Gathering tournament report. I heard it is a bad strategy to write blog posts that alienate and confuse 99.8% of your audience, but we will be back next post with regularly scheduled programming.
I didn’t have much time to prepare for the Type Tea tournament. I’ve been out of the game* for awhile, but was ready to make a triumphant return to the DCI. I grabbed some old decks that had been sitting in my closet and mixed them together. My deck was not potent. A shabby compilation of common garbage thrown together last minute. I grabbed a 2012 Dayi Chatou brick for a shu, a crappy Bulang from 2007, and a Xiaguan 2012 Yiwu tuo. My veteran experience would have to compensate for my decks overall crapulence and lack of play testing.
Round 1: Xiaguan/Bulang vs. 15 Year Old Scotch
I sit down for round one and some balding guy sits across from me. I figure he probably has some experience, because he is one of the older guys at the tournament. I start shuffling, he wins the roll and decides to play. I mulligan to 6, but decide to keep because I draw a demon Bulang combo.
His first turn he drops a swamp, mox diamond, pitching another swamp, and casts a Glenlivet 15 year old scotch onto the table. I immediately call for a judge. I was under the impression this was a type tea tournament, where does he get the idea he can maindeck a 15 year old scotch? The Judge, a portly gentleman, waddled over and leaned on the table, which could barely support his weight.
“What seems to be the problem?” he wheezed.
“Scotch is banned in Type Tea.”
“This is a vintage tournament. Scotch is perfectly legal.”
This is going to be a rough match.
I drop an tea kettle and start heating some water, but I can’t match his early scotch. 0-1
Game 2, he gets another early jump, dropping a Jura on turn 3. I get a couple of steeps in with my Bulang, but the scotch has a much better finish. 0-2. That was a quick round and my sideboard didn’t have much to deal with the scotch. I decide to get some D&D in before round two.
Round 2: Xiaguan/Bulang vs. Apple Pie
My opponent this round was also unaware of the Vintage format and brought a newly brewed Apple Pie deck. He looks like a bit of a scrub, I figure I can take this round and still Top 8 if I win out.
Win the roll, decide to play. Keep an opening round Xiaguan Yiwu Tuo draw. He drops an early Battleflight Eagle, which is going to be tough to deal with. He insisted it was a valuable card, which seemed like nonsense. It’s a 4W 2/2 flier and its common. They have never even printed an eagle rare. In any case, I didn’t have many main deck fliers, so I am peeling for a prayer. The eagle keeps swinging in for two shots and I scoop. 0-1
Game two. I sideboard in some brats to deal with the Apple Pie/Eagle Rare non-bo. I get mana screwed against an early Apple Pie. This is a homemade combo if I have ever seen one. If there is one thing I hate losing to, it is scrubby decks with 5 drop 2/2 fliers and homemade combos.
The 1/1 Apple Pie swings in for one shot after another, I underestimate its impact on the match. After a few turns, I still can’t peel an answer and the Apple Pie damage is starting to add up.
I drop a gaiwan to block, but I am already at 8 life. The gaiwan makes short work of the apple pie, but he shatters my gaiwan and I only have two in hand. At this point I need to topdeck an answer.
Next turn he drops a 1/1 Smirnoff and a 1/1 PBR. I am not too worried, I’ve got answers. I peel an island, go. He casts overrun and swings with both. I cast dizzy spell, -3/-0 on the PBR, I refuse to take that damage. It buys me another turn.
I peel another blank. He casts Shred Memory and swings for 2. (Side Note: why was he maindecking this? 3 colors with maindeck overrun and splash for shred memory, why am i losing?) I reluctantly take damage from Smirnoff & PBR, putting me at 1. I scoop and decide to get some cake and water to take the sting off the loss.
I figure there is no way I make the top 8 starting 0-2, so I drop.
– The Apple Pie / Eagle Rare was a spicy combo. The damage adds up a lot faster than you think. Still don’t know about 3 color overrun.
It has been a few months since the beginning of my blog, and I have yet to mention much shu [cooked, ripe] puer, aside from these lousy teabags. It is not because I never drink shu, but within my puer drinking, it probably only constitutes 5%-10% of my overall consumption. (Or in the last two months, maybe 1%) I do enjoy shu puer, but find it less engaging than sheng [uncooked, raw] puer, so I usually drink it less often. I also tend to drink teas that are redder in color in colder weather, so when winter hits, I drink a lot more aged sheng and shu than in spring and summer, when I tend to drink younger teas. With old man winter announcing his presence this last week, it was time to bring out the cooked pu. (Although these pics are from a couple months ago)
In the past, I felt like I have crapped all over Liming Factory, due to this Qiaomu Chawang, which is mainly their own damn fault, for naming such an average tea the “arbor tea king”. Where is the humility?! But, a little bit of the blame rests on me for being picky and demanding. The price of the tea king isn’t reasonable, but I don’t hate Liming. And to prove I don’t completely hate Liming, I present this cheap shu puer. A similar shu is floating around Taobao and can be bought for anywhere between USD5- USD15, a totally reasonable price for a very drinkable everyday shu. (The shu below is a bit more expensive, but very similar, I have had both) If you are a fan of shu, I recommend you pick some up. If only their “arbor tea kings” has a similar price tag.
Now, Liming factory is sort of a copycat, and these cakes are far from the best shu puer you can get, but they are decent for their price. Having a cake of shu around which can be chipped into 15 gram chunks without fear of being decadent is a blessing. This is a solid shu, with a classic woody flavor and some medicinal kind of flavor floating around. A warm friend to help welcome winter.
Xiaguan – the workin’ mans’ puer. This little chunk of coal has fueled many late afternoon meetings at the office. The compact nature of the tuo makes it ideal for chucking into a bag or stuffing into a desk, to be summoned when energy is needed. This is the first real session* I have shared with this particular tuo. Prior to today, it was mostly a way to cut through Chinese business lunch or to kickstart a drowsy afternoon.
*real sessions include real or at least feigned efforts of analysis, attentiveness, gaiwans, an air of smug knowitallism, general indulgence
Blue collar affordability makes up for the shortcomings, at just a few dollars for 100 grams of tea, it is utilitarian puer. It has plenty of strength and character; also, hot pink packaging.
The liquor is a copper color, showing a little bit of age, but the age does not show up in the cup. It is still very youthful and dirty. At times that youth shows up as an impudent lack of grace, but that is what keeps the party going. Afterall, dinner parties with mannerly guests are boring and uneventful. A little ruckus keeps the host on their toes. Think of young Xiaguan like a dinner guest who insists on fervently espousing their political views during the opening course.
After a rinse, the combination of tobacco and smoke on the gaiwan lid smells like a hotboxed dorm room, but that goes away after the first steep or two.
I had a flashback to a particular pipe tobacco a friend of mine used to smoke, called Black Kathy. ( a quick google search told me that is was a black cavendish with vanilla flavoring). This tea has transported me several times to that flavor of dark tobacco and vanilla (kind of) sweetness that lingers in the mouth.
Despite a young Xiaguan tuos inability to win a popularity contest, I enjoy them from time to time. They are inexpensive and don’t require a lot of fuss. I’ve definitely got plenty in my storage stash, which I will look forward to enjoying a decade from now, with a similarly nonchalant attitude.