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I embarked on my tea journey when I studied abroad in China in 2008 and traveled around Taiwan that summer. I'm here to share my experiences and offer my own opinion, advice, and comments on tea.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

2009 Guan Zi Zai Ban Zhang

This one is dedicated to Tea Goober, and his relentless quest to find quality Lao Ban Zhang. See product description here.

To be honest, I have purposefully been avoiding the Lao Ban Zhang samples I have, because of their reputation, and the ever-present question if what we're tasting is real Lao Ban Zhang, or if it's been mixed with filler from other areas (Lao Man'E, New Ban Zhang, Bing Dao, etc.). I'm at the point where it's not a question of if a particular cake is "pure" Lao Ban Zhang, it's question of what percent, because it's almost never going to 100%. It's unrealistic, because the area is only so large, and everybody wants it.

The second reason why I've been avoiding my Lao Ban Zhang samples is that I have seen "the truth." Simply, I have had the opportunity to taste a 100% Lao Ban Zhang cake. Okay, this was a private-private solo pressing, and everyone present (including pu-erh expert BBB) gave the general impression that this was the real deal. It had that bitterness that everyone and their mother associates with Lao Ban Zhang, but it wasn't as potent as one would think. Sure, it was extremely bitter, but the bitterness was fleeting, descending into a really awesome hui gan. It was very good tea, and I know what the fuss about Lao Ban Zhang is all about, because it really deserves the reputation that it does. Okay, so that experience created a set of expectations from my samples, and sadly these expectations weren't going to be fulfilled. So my Lao Ban Zhang samples sat in the corner while I danced with general merriment with the likes of Jing Mai, You Le, etc.

Third reason (I promise the actual review is coming soon) is that this cake seems too cheap to be what it claims, though even if it's 50-75% Ban Zhang, it might be worth it. The wrapper seems pretty enough too, and to be expected from the older brother of Yong Pin Hao.

The anticipation of expectations are right here in these leaves


I've only tasted one other Ban Zhang besides this one and the one mentioned above, the 2008 Lao Ban Zhang which was pressed as a side project of people from the Shuangjiang Mengku company. The 2008 disappointed me a bit, with its lack of fresh bitterness but it was still enjoyable enough with its bouquet of roses.

My first sip...and holy cow! This stuff is quite bitter. In fact, the word "bitter" appears in every sentence of my tasting notes, except for the first one: "dry aroma of leather and sweetness." But it's not an astringent bitterness, but it's the bitterness that I (and many other tea drinkers who employ Chinese) as ku. This is quite bitter, even more so than the private pressed cake that I sampled. The bitterness is quite present throughout the brew, and only in the 6th infusion does it "mellow" down. The bitterness is followed by a smooth/creamy and sweet hui gan, but it's slow...if that makes sense at all. But the bitterness sticks around, even in the aftertaste, as a constant reminder. It has a nice caffeine kick, and I feel my hands shaking and I have a slight cold sweet breaking out. Remarkable endurance, and though I don't keep track of how many infusions...it has been at least 15+ infusions, and still showing some slight bitterness!

It was interesting, and I wish I had more experience with Ban Zhang so I could "out" this one as being an authentic example or a "fake." Honestly, the bitterness didn't endear to me, and it stayed far too long than it had to. The mouth feel was pretty solid, and this certainly appealed to be more than most of the samples I have. But would I be willing to spend $48, when their $30 Jing Mai can satisfy me completely? Probably not. I know this review is making this tea sound lame, but it's pretty tasty...though if you're not a fan of bitterness, stay away. The aftertaste and hui gan is quite nice, and the bitterness itself itself of the offensive kind, it's bitterness but in a good way.

Tea Goober, if you want, I'd be more than happy to send you what remains of my sample (around 15 grams) as my donation to your quest to taste different Lao Ban Zhang. I also have a sample of the '08 cake version Lao Ban Zhang if you're curious to see if there are any differences between the brick and cake version.

*addendum* 11/7/09

Even though my initial impression of this tea may have been a little critical, after tasting the 2008 Mengku Lao Ban Zhang and the 2009 Yunnan Sourcing Ban Zhang I've been thinking more about the 2009 Guan Zi Zai Lao Ban Zhang. Out of all these samples, the Guan Zi Zai had the most "guts." I'm doing a blind competition tasting sometime soon, and hopefully it'll confirm this. I recall Hobbes said that the 2008 Menghai 7542-801 was like "being punched in the face by an old friend." (see here for details, scroll down to #1026) To put my spin on it...the 2009 Guan Zi Zai Lao Ban Zhang was like being kicked in the crotch by an old friend. Depending on what Tea Goober thinks of it, I may buy a cake of this with my next order.

*addendum* 11/8/09

Going back to the product description, it actually doesn't say Lao Ban Zhang at all! It just says Ban Zhang. So somehow in mind I automatically thought it was Lao Ban Zhang. I'm beginning to think that it may be harvested from Lao Man'E, which another area inside the Ban Zhang region. This is a pretty good thread about Ban Zhang, which also supports my belief that the maocha is from Lao Man'E: here
This would perhaps explain why this particular offering is so inexpensive compared to other Ban Zhang cakes. From both the product name, wrapper (at least from what I can see on the Yunnan Sourcing site), and product description don't refer to Lao Ban Zhang at all! I admire Guan Zi Zai's integrity and honesty in not fudging the facts about the provenance of their maocha.

1 comment:

Bret said...

Thanks Maitre I,d be tickled pink to try those teas. Your tasting notes on the Guan Zi Zai sounds like this could be something I,d pursue. If your interested I would be willing to return to you some samples of various teas Ive got in storage, too many to list but I,d make a asst. variety pack. Keep up the good work your blog is always a good read. bret_wiley@yahoo.com for home address.