Did I say how happy I am with Finepuer-Sampletea teas? I am actually, very much so. Not that everything would be oojah, but I think that the ratio of good teas to not that good teas (a matter of taste, I know) is probably the most favourable from tea shops I know. Of course, there are many stores worth going through and I do think that one should not stay fixed too much upon his "favourite" vendor - but if you have not tried F-S conglomerate yet and you're out of samples, it is a good one to try out.
Finepuer says that this tea comes from Lao Man'E tea factory, however, Chawangshop has a Menghai tuocha, obviously from the same maker and it is supposed to be from a Menghai Banzhang company. Anyway, both these teas seem to be dirt cheap, this 2007 especially as it is supposed to be Banzhang material. I had the tendency to think "Banzhang for $22 per 400g, haha, good joke, I'd be surprised if it was even Lao Man'E material". Alarm bell was certainly ringing. Nevertheless, the tastings of this tea have shut the alarm bell down (or up? I love that Han->C3PO "shut him up or shut him down" joke from SW anyway). Let us have a look at this surprising tuocha.
The leaves look small in reality, but actually, they are rather large, just a bit broken. It definitely is not like today's fancy puerh which has almost only whole lush leaves.
When I smelled the wet leaves, I thought "Wow, Gan En returns". Although the aroma is obviously not the same, the Banzhang character is obviously present. It is mainly a mixture of sweet granary (the sweetness becoming deeper with aging), a mixture of overripe "red" fruit and light ground after spring rain. Shah has recently written something like "stone fruit" which is another good way of looking at the aroma/taste. The mentioned components are joined by cedar. Given the price range, the aroma is surprisingly rich and good. Not given the price range, it is still rich and good.
The cup and playful bubbles show a degree of darkness which is not that usual in a 2007 tea today. I'd say the storage must have been perfect or nearly perfect. The tea is nicely developing, it has abandoned the entirely youthful features and is deep and welcoming now.
The taste is basically a good Banzhang - what I said about the aroma is there in the taste too.
The fruit is complex and changes slightly between steepings, rowanberries appear sometimes and complement the rest quite nicely. I myself would prefer a bit less of the fruitiness and a bit more of the light ground taste, but that's only a personal preference - the taste components are nicely balanced together.
When one talks about Banzhang, he usually mentions the bitterness. It is present here, but it quite depends on how you steep this tea. I prefer using less leaves and longer steepings, where the bitterness is low to none. When I did 7g in a 120 ml teapot, the bitterness was rather strong. It appears after a while and transforms quite reasonably. The transformation is slower than in 2005 Gan En or 2005 Finepuer, but much faster and better than any Lao Man'E I have had. Could this be Xinbanzhang material? Possibly...
There is a slightly strange pre-aftertaste finish to the tea, somewhat similar to certain red teas, maybe English breakfast? The other Banzhangs I have tasted had this too, but in less extent. It is interesting anyway, although I could live easily without it.
The performance after swallowing is also very good, there is intense cooling feeling and overall good activity on the tongue. Not only strong, but long too. Lovely sweet scent remains in the cup.
First I thought that the tea did not have much of a longer aftertaste, but it does actually, but it does not happen immediately. There is an interesting pattern - the cooling feeling goes away, but then reappears, accompanied by youthful fruitiness. I thought of better word - I thought "constringent" could do it, but then I put "constringent fruit" to Google to see if at makes any sense. Well, I was surprised by the two first results (especially the second one). Well, see for yourselves. No, I don't think I'll say the fruit is constringent then.
I noticed a very pleasant qi. It concentrates me (I even noticed largely narrowed field of vision) and I feel a lot of movement in me when I drink this tea. This is further supported by the water from a tea stove.
Allow me to ramble away here - the water is probably the best investment one can make when wanting a good cup of tea. Investing in water is, I believe, more efficient than investing into expensive good tea and way more efficient than investing into pottery. The stove water brings reasonable amount of warm qi to any tea I drink with it, not mentioning the countless taste aspects it improves. And it leads to even better results with teas that have qi "on their own". Anyway, this is nothing new, when one reads through The Leaf and Art of Tea, the references to water being boiled on real fire and the impact on qi are numerous.
Back to this Banzhang - I like it a lot. I often found myself thinking how I like the Banzhang character/taste, but not $200-like. Via this tuocha, I can have plenty of it for great money. At this cost (about $22 per 400g), I'm generally happy if a tea tastes good. But pair that with a higher-end features like the cooling/active feeling and good qi and you get the impression that this tea is a bargain. I asked Alan, the owner, how come the price is so low and he said that Banzhang (not Laobanzhang) material did not cost as crazy money as now back then and that he did not raise the price!
Has any of you had this? I guess the price is really deceiving into thinking "this is such an obvious fake that I won't try it"...