It’s with a feeling of relief that I write this post. I’d been holding off on this, while I waited for our tea from Nannuoshan to arrive in Kunming. With usual haphazard inefficiency somehow our package of tea took 1 week to make the 10 hour journey from Menghai to Kunming.
Following warnings about unscrupulous tea farmers and the very late arrival of our tea I began to question my instincts at trusting our farmer friend in Nannuoshan. I’m happy to say that once again our instincts proved correct and our bings arrived safe and intact, tasting as good, if not better than I remembered the maocha tasting. Next time though I’ve made a mental note to take a sample of maocha away with me to be able to compare to the freshly pressed bings – I realised that if our tea had been switched there would have been no way to prove it. But thankfully all is well, so on with the story…
Following lunch we set about tasting some of the farmer’s 2008 Da Shu Cha maocha. First off was the 1st Spring picking. The first picking of Spring is traditionally the most sought after, being more aromatic than it’s subsequent siblings and this one didn’t disappoint. Throughout the infucions, it smelt and tasted great, however in the first couple of infusions there was a slightly burnt taste and hint of a burnt smell which worried me slightly. Having memories of drinking another tea which exhibited this characteristic in a much more pronounced manner I enquired as to the sha qing of this tea. Erduo (the farmer) confessed that yes, he’d messed up the sha qing for this batch of tea, leaving it a little too long in contact with the heat and scorching it slightly. What a pity.
Next up was the second Spring picking. This had less smell in the cup, but had a thick soup and a nice lingering hui gan. A nice tea to drink.
I thought about pressing a few bings of each one, and then the idea hit me – what about blending the two maochas to get the best qualities of each and even out any shortcomings either may possess. We went back to the sacks and grabbed a handful of each tea, mixed it up as best as possible and refilled the gaiwan.
The flavour was good, the smell was good, but there was still that hint of too much sha qing that worried me. I decided to play it safe and decided just to buy some of the second Spring picking maocha.
While discussing the pressing of the bings, Erduo volunteered a friend’s factory in Menghai. He trusted their attention to detail and they’d be happy to press the (relatively) small quantity of bings that we wanted. He volunteered to bring us there that afternoon before dropping us home.
Once again our luck exceeded any of our expectations. While chatting about our plans for the rest of our tea trip, and hearing that we hoped to go to Lao Banzhang the following day, Erduo expressed some reservations. Lao Banzhang is a couple of hours drive up a dirt track from the main road and is accessible only by 4×4, motorbike or truck. He doubted that we’d be able to get there very easily and, after some thought, volunteered that he’d drive us there the next day. He’d drive us back to Menghai that afternoon, bring us to press some bings in the tea factory and stay with us in Menghai, ready to make an early start the next day. Perfect.
Since we had a bit of time to before we needed to go back to town, we looked around his tea processing setup. For Da Shu Cha and smaller quantities of tea, he used the same wok setup for his shaqing, but when processing larger amounts of taidicha he had a machine for this purpose. Basically a revolving drum mounted over a fire, the drum had spiraling fins inside to keep the tea moving around and working it’s way through the machine
Also in his mechanized setup was a rou nian [rolling] machine, taking the manual work out of another stage of the processing.
Then it was into the van, to take a drive through his tea plantations before heading back down the mountain, towards Menghai.
We stopped briefly at the factory, drank yet more tea & chatted with the friendly owner, discussing our bing pressing requirements. With a little coersion from Erduo, he finally agreed to let us in to have a look around the factory – apparently (and it’s not the first time I’d heard of this) the government has a ban on foreigners going into tea factories – perhaps they’re worried that the unhygenic conditions in many of the factories might reach international attention. Luckily there was nothing to worry about here. We donned our white coats, hats and plastic shoe covers and wandered around freely.
Much of what we say here was very similar to the other factory I posted about a few weeks ago so I won’t go into any detail. The one major difference here was that they package their tongs in the traditional manner, bound in bamboo husks. This process was intriguing to watch, with the worker stripping, cutting and binding with speed and ease.
Then off for some food & some sleep before our early departure in the morning.