I had dinner with a friend and his wife today. Between library’s closing and dinner, however, there was a two hour gap. What to do?
Ah, there is a tea store near the place where we were meeting that I’ve gone to once to look at (but not taste) some cakes. That was a few months ago. Maybe I can go again and get some free tea out of them to cure my budding tea headache. The cakes also looked nice too.
So I went there. I think it’s a pretty upscale tea store, with a second floor that serves as a teahouse for people to drink tea there. The cakes I looked at last time were some Yiwu pressed by themselves, supposedly, although some cakes obviously had the neifei ripped out of the cakes. That, to me, indicates that somebody is being dishonest and selling something at an inflated price without wanting you to know where they got it from. That’s usually the only reason why you’d do such a thing. I didn’t feel like pointing it out, but I’m sure they have an elaborate reason, anywhere from “oh, the neifeis were mistakenly put in because they mixed up the two batches” to “we had agreed to sell these cakes to another tea house, using their neifei, but they reneged on the order”. Whatever it is… it’s just a story.
The ripped out neifei is in special contrast with the neifeis for their 07 cakes, which are definitely their own and deeply embedded in the cake. Why the contrast? Even more suspect.
But anyway, when I saw the 07 cakes, I decided I want to give them a taste. I haven’t really tried many new cakes yet, this year’s production being very slow and new teas are still not arriving on the markets in bulk (many are only getting to Kunming now, I heard). Prices being astronomical, it also gives me less incentive to try new stuff. But I figured… what the hell.
I asked to try the Yiwu Zhengshan. There were four new 07 cakes on the shelf. One is called Yiwu Zhengshan. The other three are Mahei, Luoshuidong, and Daqishu, three smaller sub-areas of Yiwu. The Yiwu Zhengshan is 600 RMB, Mahei is 1800, and the other two are similarly high priced (1000+). 1800 is something like… 250 USD. Extremely high for one 357g cake, considering that maocha this year in this region costs something around 500 RMB/kg, max. Divide it up to 357g, it means a raw cost of…. 180 RMB. Add in overhead, rent, labour, transportation… 400 RMB would already net them a reasonable profit. 600 a good one, and 1800….. an exorbitant one. Their 05 and 06 teas are even more expensive, with 05 Yiwus being something like 3000 a cake. Considering that is almost two months’ salary for a storekeep… it’s quite crazy.
Anyway, so I tried the “cheapest” tea there. It looks quite good, actually, small buds, hairy, robust. The tea is good, tastes nice, with depth and qi, and a nice huigan. Can’t complain too much other than tasting a little green and a little rougher on the tongue than I’d expect from a buddy spring tea. Definitely an old tree as advertised. Is it worth 600? No way.
Meanwhile, I think I have impressed the owner with enough of my knowledge of Yiwu area that she thinks I’m some sort of expert. When I’m in a tea store, I don’t mind masquerading as an expert as you get better treatment, instant discount, and nicer teas. One of the things you can do to pretend to be an expert is actually very simple — just being able to rewrap a cake nicely gains instant credit. When they see you can rewrap a cake beautifully, with no extra paper sticking out and no wrinkles on the front (oftentimes better than they can rewrap it themselves) then they will automatically respect you. Try it next time you’re in a teastore — make sure you insist on rewrapping it yourself and proceed to do it right away.
Anyway… what I was getting at was that the owner wanted me to try the Mahei. I said it’s ok, but she insisted. Sure… I’m not going to pass up the change to drink this rather exorbitantly priced tea. I know I won’t buy it even if it’s really good. It’s simply too expensive for what it is.
The Mahei definitely has energy, and is also definitely old tree. It is, however, also definitely overpriced. In my opinion, it’s not even as good as the 600 kuai one, since it gave out quite quickly into a rather bland tea. I’m not exactly sure why… but I’ve always found Mahei to be a bit weak, and this one’s no exception. I have a feeling that Mahei teas, on their own, don’t do so well in aging. I could be wrong, but I’ve had 2-3 years old Mahei tea stored in Guangzhou that didn’t impress me. This one definitely didn’t impress me.
They tried to hardsell me, asking me which one I want and how amazing they are. I equivocated, and eventually fled the scene. I think I need to walk around the corner next time instead of right in front of their store.