Received an 8 g sample of this from Mandala Tea, and thought it is one of their pressings, so I didn’t think anything in particular, aside from expecting the usual fruit n floral pleasantries that Mandala is known for in their young sheng cakes. Not the “tie me down and make me beg for mercy” type of drink. In fact I was eating ice cream at the time. Noted the compression in the cake chunk, took two rinses to git ’er to open up. Nice amber tangerine color. Took a whiff n sniff of the liquor.
Wait, what? This isn’t a Mandala tea at all. Whiskey, leather and apricot wood with a touch of smoke, this is serious. Nope this is a factory tea, but it is only 2014 and this cake is a 2009? Something is going on here. We have the usual aged flavors of what I associate with a Menghai, but at half the kick and not the astringency Mengku has had for me before.
A few small burnt particles from the wok gives the touch of smoke here, but it is not overpowering. Digging around in the Yixing I see a few tips, small leaves and a couple larger whole leaves. Six steeps and I am feeling mighty fine, beautiful cha qi, got my mental clarity on. But looking at the listing on Mandala, I am either really, really tea drunk or confused. A 400 gram cake for only $29? I am hallucinating or this is the deal of the century.
Researching this cake, I found it priced at $18.90 on EBay from Red Lantern Tea. Yep, that would be AllanK’s hated seller of the slow mule courier shipping. (Aside: seller has 100% feedback, 3000+ ratings). Then I found a review from shogun on TeaChat dated 2008, for this 2009 cake. A mistype? Or did shogun drink an Autumn cake. Or is this cake pressed from older material? Would that explain the nice aging going on…shogun noted a yellow tea soup, high astringency, and a “hay like” flavor, none of which I am tasting here. He paid $7 for this cake back in the day.
Or…has Mandala taken a middling tea cake and turned it into something wonderful. What I might be tasting here is a fine aging job from incredible storage. This cake is a bit of a conundrum with how old it actually is, but I can definitely conclude 100% that Mandala’s storage is fantastic, simply has GOT to be. No storage flavor and I think this tea is perfect now. I punished these leaves with boiling water all the way and got only a mild bitterness and astringency throughout, at a level I personally prefer. I want my tea to have at least some light bitter and astringency, I am not a drinker who likes tea to taste like food.
Could go another year or two for the lightweights new to sheng, but to me this is ready. The market for this cake prevents Mandala from charging a whole lot more, which is a boon for us, and sad for them because their fine storage here should be worth more, here is the breakdown:
Mandala: $29+ 5 shipping = $34 × 15% coupon = $28.90 for 400 g of tea at top quality storage.
Red Lantern: $18.90 + 9 shipping (by mule) = $27.90 for 400 g of tea at unknown storage.
Garret, I hope this doesn’t make you cry, because your aging here is top notch. Go buy this, people, 10+ steeps in and this is still going for me, tea this finely stored is a steal of a deal. Mandala will raise the price someday, once the other sellers wash out of this cake, and it will still be worth twice the money. Bravo, you have made a silk purse of this one.
Hope some pu-heads with better harvest knowledge than I can clear up the date conundrum I found on TeaChat.