I pulled out the aroma cup for this one. The fragrance off the dry leaves was soft and muted so I was curious to know what might be hidden there. What revealed was a wonderfully complex fragrance with lots of carmelized sugars, mixed with floral overtones initially, then not-quite-ripe stone fruit. Still some greenness left in the scent from the young age of this brick but off to a good start, it seems. The fragrance off the wet leaves in the gaiwan echo the greenness in the aroma cup but it's a much-mellowed green, soft and leaning gently toward sweet, with no astringent edges present.
Banzhang leaves are said to have a strong assertiveness to them so I went at this initially with a gentle touch, starting with a 5-second infusion and pouring softly down the edge of the cup. To my surprise, the green aroma that was present with the rinse is now completely gone. In fact, there is surprisingly little aroma off the leaves at all, save for a far-off promise of malt and an even father-away note of new leather. The soup pours a deep amber color and looks to have some body to it. Not much comes forward in terms of taste, no hit of "bitter," although some floral notes rise in the nose. But this first cup really shines when it comes to mouthfeel, which is thick and silky, bringing considerable texture to the mouth. Good penetration, too. My whole mouth is tingling and buzzing.
For the next few infusions I really push this tea to see what it's got. It responds with more assertiveness in the fragrance showing a beautiful and unique perfume. Vanilla notes come out clearly here and there, and strangely I keep wanting to name the aroma as "beach-like," although there is no fishiness to it. It's just a clean beach-like water quality to it. Not a particularly sweet scent but nicely perfumed and pleasant. Interestingly, the taste stays indistinct but with a clearly savory leaning and a sparkling clean quality to it, helped along by the salivation being pulled from my mouth. But still no bitterness despite the much longer infusion times. The unique perfume returns on the breath and the strong qi seems to have mellowed and softened all the hard edges of my perspective. I take my time with this tea, partly for the mellow qi it imparts and partly to savor the plummy sweetness that rises long after the sip.
I couldn't help but think back to the 2003 Ba Mai I had recently (which I just added photos of the cake and wrapper here). Like the Ba Mai, this Xi-Zi-Hao seems unsettled but clearly headed in the right direction, although the Ba Mai is much stronger in terms of fragrance and flavor, making it a lot more fun to drink. But for both of these pu-erhs I'm looking forward to sampling them again as they continue to age. Both seem to hold some promise, but only time will tell.
|Lots of big leaves in this one|