Today I went to Maliandao again, although without BBB since he just left for Datong this morning.
I went there after lunch, not really looking for anything in particular and instead just going to check things out, hoping to taste a few teas, and maybe finding something good. After the whirlwind tours of Maliandao with BBB, I decided that good tea on Maliandao is just going to take lots of time and lots of searching. Considering we didn’t really find much that was good…. out of the at least 10-15 cakes we’ve tried, I think only two or three were truly good.
These days I tell the cab driver to stop at the entry to Maliandao — the left turn alone into the street can take 15 minutes if I’m not lucky, by which time I’ll already be at the various tea cities. Today was the same, and I generally enjoy the stroll down the street, looking at the windows of the various street vendors of tea, but rarely going in, because they usually don’t have anything exciting.
Today, however, I walked into one of them. This place only sells puerh, and BBB and I walked in there briefly. Today, I took a closer look. There was a naked cake (no wrapper) just labeled “Yiwu”. Since I tried the Chen Yuan Hao two days ago, and Yiwu is sort of fresh on my mind, having read a bunch of stuff on sanzui about Yiwu, I decided to give it a go.
The sales girl started telling me how great this cake is, Yiwu, blah blah, 10 years, etc etc. I just nodded. She started brewing it, and …. surprise, it’s nowhere near 10 years. It’s lucky if it’s got 5 (what I said to her — didn’t want to say outright that I think it’s only 2-3 years old). A typical Yiwu type taste — mild, not very impressive when you think about it. Cha qi is low. Everything is pretty mediocre about this tea — I didn’t find it interesting.
And the asking price? $80 USD. WOW. Talk about sky high.
I decided to see how I can bargain. So I started with an offer of $10 USD. Didn’t bite, of course, but the price is already lower — $60. I upped my offer by $2, not budging — I walked. From her looks though, I think she knows she overquoted me to start off with, but I suppose lowering her price THAT much was pretty much like admitting that she lied to me, big time.
I then went into Maliandao Tea City and searched for that store that sells puerh books — found it, and looked around, but nothing really interesting. There’s that puerh facebook, basically, that includes lots of old puerh. There’s also the “yearly” book from 98-2003, and the year book for 2004. Those are something like $30 USD each, which I thought was slightly high. Tried to bargain, no go, so I didn’t buy any. I figured I don’t really need them, although they’re interesting to look at, that’s for sure.
From there, I walked all the way down the street to Chayuan again. So far, the best stuff I’ve seen are all from there, so I figured I might get lucky.
I didn’t go into the mall right away, deciding instead to go to another store that’s near it that sells teaware to browse a bit first, but before I got in, I noticed that there’s actually another puerh store next to it (looks like it’s closed), so I walked in to take a look at what they’ve got.
There were some interesting looking cakes, and again, it was a company that nobody has ever heard of, Stateside (or, really, Chinaside). There were something like two dozen raw cakes there, plus a number of cooked stuff. They are one of those stores that does a very nice thing — they unwrap their cakes halfway, so you don’t have to go pick it up from the rack, unwrap the thing, look at it in the hand awkwardly while trying to hold up the wrapper so the bits don’t fall out, put it back, try to wrap it while having no support, and repeat twenty times for twenty cakes. When they are half unwrapped, you can easily scan a number of the cakes and find out which one looks better and which ones look worse.
I picked one out, asked if I could taste it, and the girl at the store, after giving me a slightly funny and uneasy look, agreed. Turns out this cake is not really for sale — they have a sample here, but it was pressed by a private collector who gave them one. There’s a price on it — something like $150 USD!, but not for sale as there’s no stock. But she was willing to brew me some anyway, so we had some.
Good Yiwu cake. Better than the other stuff I just tried, and better than the Chen Yuan Hao. Nice cha qi, reasonable huigan, the nice sensation goes down to the throat, although not terribly prominent. Soft, subdued, not too aromatic…. all good signs. The leaves look decent after brewing, not a lot of red, etc etc. Too bad it’s so ridiculously priced, and more so it’s not even available.
Then she brewed something else for me — something called “Tiaosuo Cha”. It basically means elongated shaped tea. I think it’s basically the same stuff as the old tea tree stuff that BBB bought from Six Famous Tea Mountain — long, large leaves covering the cake and the inside being more or less the same, except this one is extremely smoky. I felt like I was smoking a cigarette, except I was drinking tea.
Beyond the smoke, the tea is not too bad. The leaves don’t look too bad either, but the smoke was SO EXTREMELY OVERWHELMING that I found it hard to justify buying any of it. I don’t know what happened, but somebody burned something when making this thing. It will take years just for the tea to lose the smoke flavour.
Then I pointed to another cake that I wanted to try, and she said “you only pick the good stuff, don’t you?”. This, of course, is partly so that I will feel good about myself and hopefully will get me in a better mood for buying things, so I pretty much ignored it. The tea was also a Yiwu, supposedly. It was impressive. Soft, smooth, again a typical Yiwu with very subdued flavours, light aromas, decent cha qi — but very good huigan. I could also feel the tea going down my throat, in a sort of minty way that reminds me of some of the better teas I’ve had in Hong Kong and maybe a Xizihao or two. It was good, very good. The brewed leaves looked good as well. In fact, I think it’s far better than the $150 one. I wanted some of this! I asked…. turns out it’s another “we don’t have any” cakes. They don’t have any in stock. Meh. No wonder she said something about me only picking the good stuff… seems like they don’t have good stuff in stock.
I should add that while tasting teas, there were a bunch of girls sitting in the back room doing what sounded like Mandarin lessons. When tasting the last cake, a girl came out to taste it with us. Turns out her dad was the one who made this cake — well, I guess her family did. So, after some prodding, she said that their family in Yunnan still have a few tongs of this, and can probably part with one. I asked for a price…. not too cheap, especially for mainland fare. I asked for a discount. She ended up calling her dad to confer, and gave me a price. It turns out to be a “take it or leave it” price. She didn’t care if she sold this tong of tea or not, and neither did her dad. I tried pretty hard in bargaining, but there was no budging — her dad’s price was the final offer.
At first I stood pretty firm. In fact, she left with the bunch of girls (turns out they are on training in Beijing before being sent back to Yunnan to work in a teahouse there, or maybe work in Beijing, I didn’t get the whole story) and was off for the day and I didn’t buy it. I was a bit disappointed about the tea and the fact that the price was non-negotiable. But this was by far the best new cake I’ve tasted on Maliandao. What do I do?
After about another 10 infusions of this tea… I caved 🙁
Oh well, spent more money than I thought I would today, and they still have to ship the tea over from Yunnan. I probably won’t see it for two weeks. Yet, I think I bought something really good. I think… I’l
l probably bring this to Hong Kong when I go there in Christmas and get some second opinion there. I feel pretty confident about this one though. Let’s hope I’m right…