I went to Maliandao today. There was a cake I saw last time that I wanted to try at a store I’ve never been to (there are lots of those), so I went there today and asked to try it.
We sat down, the girl brought over a cake, face down, and she started peeling tea off it and rinsed it. I took it in my hands to look…. and noticed it’s the wrong cake. Oops. I told her, pointed out the one I wanted. She wanted to throw the tea away, but I said since she rinsed it already… let’s try it.
The mistake was a Bulang cake, which is something I usually don’t fancy. I find the stuff not that interesting, especially when compared with Yiwu. Bulang is quite expensive these days, mostly thanks to Banzhang’s proximity, but nevertheless… I’m not a huge fan.
The cake I actually wanted to try was a Manzhuan cake. It looks nice, and it’s got a good price. The Bulang is a little more expensive, about the same age (3 years or so), but not as nice looking, cake wise. Both are from Quanji, whose tea I own some of already. I liked it last time, and this is the first store I’ve seen that carries it in Beijing besides the one where I bought my last lot from. I figured I could give them a go. Since I am usually a fan of the Six Mountains area tea…. Manzhuan was the obvious choice.
We started off with the Bulang, as it was ready. It was immediately obvious that the tea was decent. It hits the back of the mouth with a bit of a cooling effect. It is somewhat bitter, but leaves an aftertaste. There’s qi. The tea is not that rough, especially for a young tea. The taste is changing… losing the very green sort of taste you’d come to expect in very young puerhs. The few years of aging, wherever it was done, has done something.
The Manzhuan, on the other hand, is sweeter. The tea, however, was less strong…. less powerful, and has less feeling in general. It doesn’t penetrate as deeply as the Bulang. It was especially obvious after a few infusions, where the Manzhuan started acquiring a slightly puckery feel to it. The Bulang stayed the course and delivered strong infusions round after round, even when we were more than 10 infusions into the tea. The Manzhuan, on the other hand, started running behind, lagging. It acquired a bit of a water taste after a some infusions. It was obvious when you compared the two. Oddly enough, while the Manzhuan was brewing a stronger coloured brew, the taste was obviously weak and flat in comparison to the Bulang, which was lighter in colour but yet deeper in flavour.
I think I would’ve thought the Manzhuan to be a pretty decent tea, if I had not had the Bulang to compare. The puckery feeling was not strong, and the sweetness that it delivers is quite alluring, at least initially. I might’ve written off the weakness later on to amount of leaves or time brewed, and it’s always harder to tell such things when you have no basis for comparison. This is proof positive that, when trying to evalute a tea…. it’s best to have something against which to compare, and the question of which one being better and which one being worse will reveal itself very quickly. I had that with the two grades of Lapsang Souchong, where it’s essentially the same tea, but I am seeing this again very clearly in this instance.
I ended up not buying any of the Manzhuan, and picked up two of the Bulang. It’s probably one of the best young cakes I’ve had in the past few months. I am contemplating picking up more… I’m just a little weary of buying more teas, as I already have a bit of a stash. Then again, this cake really is quite good, and if I think I have extra room when I’m leaving town… I’ll go buy more of this.
I went around Maliandao some more, but nothing too interesting to report, especially not after this.
Some tea pictures….
I think you can see how one side of the cake looks more compressed than the other. I suspect the person doing the filling/rolling of the bag didn’t do it too evenly. Doesn’t matter.