One of my all-time favorite Onion articles is “Fuck Everything, We’re doing 5 Blades.” It seems directly related to tea companies naming their teas with ever loftier names like the Tea King of this or that region.
Tea King? Fuck you, Tea Emperor. I imagine a scene with a coked out Tea CEO yelling angrily at a boardroom full of underlings, “Oh, no, what will people say?! Grow the fuck up. When you’re on top, people talk. That’s the price you pay for being on top. Which [Xiaguan] is, always has been, and forever shall be… Tea Emperor? Tea God.”
If anyone from Xiaguan reads this, and the boardroom meetings are anything like my fantasy, please send video.
The Tea Emperor has an atypical smell for Xiaguan. None of the smoke or the burly lumberjack manliness. It smells soft and sweet.
8.8 grams of tea, how lucky. Heavily fragmented, lots of crumbs pouring out on every steep, the 8.8 grams is probably down to 7 now. The fragments are a product of the dust I chose to steep, the cake is just typical small varietal leaves and some chop.
The first rinse is very cloudy. Subsequent steeps follow suit and taper off.
Early steeps taste a bit like a sweet egg cream cake on entry. Lots of astringency in this young cake. Soup is gold colored.
Thick on the finish with a subtle huigan [sweet aftertaste] that is mostly overshadowed by the astringency of the puer tea.
Prices online seem to vary, roughly about $30-$50 per cake, which seems fine to me. There is a nice finish to the cake that a lot of teas which cost more lack. I have no idea how this tea will age though. The flavor of the cake is somewhat foreign to me. What I labeled as egg cream cake is a sickly kind of white sweetness. I don’t know what that is or how it will age. Would be fun to try in 5 years, if only for the sake of research.
Puer drinkers share a common goal of wanting aged tea. There are outliers who love fresh young sheng, but the smoothness and intrigue of an aged cake are tough to beat. Every so often my hands reach for a young cake, but left to my druthers I prefer something with some age. The problem is that old tea costs. But, lately, young tea costs too. Often is disproportionate ways.
Xiaguan Factory is not glamorous. Many turn up their noses at the crane, dismissing it as rubbish. But if you want a tea with age and value, it is a fine place to begin. This year Dayi 7542 was listed at a selling price of around $30 or so from Taobao wholesalers. If that is the price for a new 7542, then I am befuddled. I need someone to clarify how in the world still makes sense. Especially when the tea I am about to discuss is the same price, and 8 years older.
Granted, that Xiaguan 8653 is not the best tea. Maybe not even good tea. But, the likelihood of getting good quality 8 year old cake for $40 is low anyway, so we let’s not split hairs of an 8653’s flaws. Not to mention that for most people, especially people who are new to puer, this Xiaguan is more than enough to hold ones attention.
So, not good. Maybe not even average. But, not bad. Here is a litmus test of whether or not you got a good deal on puer tea in 2013 – can you check the following boxes?
Nearly a decade old
Could be described as “Not bad”
If you can say those three things about a puer tea purchased in 2013, then congratulations, you won. This is not an easy thing to do. Let’s look at the red soup.
The tea is medium dark, and even smelling the dry leaves screams Xiaguan. Mildly smokey, umber smells.
The tea is still a little bit astringent, but it is noticeably smoother than a 5 year or younger Xiaguan tea. Plenty of smells and depth come off of the gaiwan lid and leaves.
Some thickness; which, when you consider the price, is something nearing a puer miracle. A brief huigan [sweet aftertaste] and plenty of finish. In the back of my throat there is a nice coating and a slight molasses aftertaste. My tongue tingles a bit from the astringency, but it is not aggravating, just there.
Overall, a tea I would be totally comfortable drinking.
When you look at the color of the soup, and a tea that is for most peoples’ purposes good and ready, I don’t understand who would opt for the new 7542. I put the two teas in roughly the same category – big factory blends, which is what they are. Where the price discrepancy comes in is a debate for Dayi fans. I’d rather save 8 years of time and $10 and just drink the 8653 – and this isn’t even my favorite of the Xiaguan teas from 2004-2006, it’s just the one that happened to be in my cup today. Long live the crane.
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.
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.