Sunday, November 6, 2011

2006 GuanZiZai "Nanlahe" Yiwu #605


I got up to sunshine today, a pleasant and totally unexpected Saturday surprise from Mother Nature. Another one was waiting for me at the local post office where I walked at noon to pick up a small package from China. These lovely birds from Kunming brought me a sweet after-lunch cake.

It is one of the cakes I bought at Awazon (AWaShan, 阿佤山) Tea store two weeks ago (SAL was THAT fast this time, yes). I can never be sure of anything when buying a cake that I have not tasted before and therefore I intend to pick "intuitively" as much as I can. I am also quite curious and interested in discovering the variety of flavours and aromas, so this time I probably half intentionally chose an Autumn harvest cake.

This one is from Guan Zi Zai, a company which is sometimes praised for their Yiwu cakes on one hand and criticized for having wrappers more beautiful than their contents on the other. I am one of those buyers who buy through eyes too and I found this bing to be likable on the inside as well as on the outside, as far as the picture on the screen can tell. What I however liked the most at first "sight" was the company's name.  
  
GuanZiZai, 觀自在, is actually the Chinese name for Avalokiteshvara, the omnipresent Bodhisattva of Compassion (living manifestation of which is our dearest Dalajlama). Chinese name GuanZiZai is not a simple translation though, it has its proper meaning which refers to the attainment of the bodhisattva stage. One of the interpretations explains the meaning of GuanZiZai in Chinese as the one, who observes and therefore awakes own mind and the world through practicing the bodhisattva path (guan as to watch, observe or look at). The one who is free from samsara, who is able to halt the two kinds of birth and death and the five fundamental conditions of passions and delusions, can be called ZiZai (see more here).

I am not going to go deeper in this topic, no. It is nevertheless at least interesting to mention that it is believed by many (not only buddhists) that visualizing and contemplating the name we can come to understand its meaning (not in the rational way though). This is, btw, the principle of repeating mantras. Now you might already know what I am pointing at: what a gracious and compassionate deed the GuanZiZai company did for us! The beautiful GuanZiZai name, written in a calligraphy font on each wrapper, should in fact be considered the highest treasure of the cake (regardless of its flavour). You can see it written there even twice: in the right upper corner of the wrapper, and the third, fourth and fifth sign in the left vertical sentence. 

Btw, the vertical sign in the middle reads this is a GuChaBing (litteraly ancient or old tea cake, 古茶餅, which means either tea that has been aged or tea from old trees pressed in the cake shape) from Nanla river (NanLaHe, 南臘河). For those like me who did not know, Nanla is a river in Mengla county of Xishuangbanna. This, then, is the clue to the strange Nanlahe term in the name of the cake.

This cake si QiuCha, 秋茶, tea picked in Autumn which is also composed of very long stems and large leaf. I was interested in both, the Autumn Yiwu harvest as well as the stems effect. Some people praise the stems for adding a special ingredient to both aroma and flavour and I was wondering how different it could be. 

This tea asks for attention from the very first touch. It is simply beautiful. When separating the stems and leaves, they fell apart willingly and spontaneously as if they were giving me the permission to taste them. I must say this is a very special cake in all aspects.    

It smells wonderful, sweet and fresh. I was trying to figure out the aroma during the whole tea session and unfortunately did not come with anything better than sweet old Yiwu (how poor, I know). My dearest partner in tea, Hiru, on the other hand was much more expressive as she in a few seconds came with two very concrete findings in the aroma of the cake. By mere smell through the wrapper she clearly identified bábovka* and melasový koláčik (golden syrup pie).

*Please, do not make me translate bábovka, as this word would clearly lose its pure essence, and let me instead help you with a (lame) comparison to muffin.

The first rinse was of very deep colour, I therefore expected the first infusion to be the same. It really was, as the picture above is supposed to show (with no contrast or saturation added). The first infusion has a very deep sweet tone within, it covers all the tongue and throat and it is very promising and calming. The flavour is however as if covered under the lid. There is almost immediate huigan though, sweet, mouth watering, intense and nearly infinite. It brings a special tone of almond skin, coming from sweet to slightly acidic with nutty background trace, offering a symphony of tastes.   

**I have not been able to come with good pictures lately as my weekend regular gongfucha is getting longer and longer every week and before I finish my first cup, there is almost no light in the room... but in order just to show you how long the stems are... 


This tea is definitely a nice surprise. Its chaqi is very friendly, warming and relaxing and it nicely underlines the whole smooth and pleasant character of the cake. I have had just one single chance to meet this interesting piece but I am sure it will always be a special encounter in the future, especially with such a name.


2006 GuanZiZai "Nanlahe" Yiwu 605 [Autumn harvest], 400g

Date of production: November 2006

Type: Raw selected large leaf and stems from YiWu area
Flavour: Sweet and fresh, very interesting
Aroma: Sweet and fruity
Astringency: None
Bitterness / Smokiness: None
Aftertaste: Very long and pleasant

This tea is the kind of Autumn I am ready to enjoy.

Good life,
觀自在.


-ER-

~ 2 comments: ~

Hirundo says:
at: November 6, 2011 at 9:46 AM said...

What a wonderful post, I esp. appreciate your explanation of the name of this cake..the one who observes and therefore awakes own mind and the world through practicing the bodhisattva path.. beautiful.

esteban rivas says:
at: November 6, 2011 at 10:05 AM said...

Thank you, Hirundo, for your comment. It is not easy to come with a non-misleading translation. The word "observe" (guan) is often explained in this particular context as to imply "illumination". I nevertheless prefer the other term, "awakening", as I personally find it less confusing... but knowing how hard it is to translate anything, I respect all the efforts and this is just one out of many. I am glad it resonates with you.

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Drink your tea
slowly and reverently,
as if it is the axis
on which the world earth revolves.
Slowly, evenly,
without rushing toward the future.
Live the actual moment.
Only this moment is life.

Thich Nhat Hanh

Best to be like water,
Which benefits the ten thousand things
And does not contend.
It pools where humans disdain to dwell,
Close to the Tao.

Live in a good place.
Keep your mind deep.
Treat others well.
Stand by your word.
Keep good order.
Do the right thing.
Work when it's time.

Only do not contend,
And you will not go wrong.

Tao Te Ching, 8 / transl. Addis & Lombardo