For pu-er tea lovers, Lao Ban Zhang (老班章) is famously known as the king of raw pu-er tea. Its flavor is uniquely strong with a bold, complex taste. Tea lovers often describe the taste and the body feeling of Lao Ban Zhang as “霸气” (superiorly dominant). This is why they crowned Lao Ban Zhang as “The King”.
Ban Zhang is a very famous village in Yunnan Province, China. The village is located on a 1500-1900m-high mountain. Within Ban Zhang village, there are “Xin Ban Zhang” (New Ban Zhang) and “Lao Ban Zhang” (Old Ban Zhang). The distance between “Xin Ban Zhang” and “Lao Ban Zhang” is about a 12-minute drive. When the population of the Lao Ban Zhang area (Old Village) grew, many people decided to move to a new flatter, larger area that is more convenient for living. The taste of tea from Xin Ban Zhang and Lao Ban Zhang are different. Generally speaking, Lao Ban Zhang pu-er tea is stronger than Xin Ban Zhang, which is why Lao Ban Zhang pu-er tea is awarded as the best of the best pu-er tea.
This Lao Ban Zhang tea was a special order from the spring of 2008 for Tao’s personal pu-er collection and it has been stored in Toronto since it was received. 2007 and 2008 were the worst two years for the pu-er tea market in the last 15 years. The pu-er tea bubble in the Chinese tea market was broken in 2007. The price dropped to the bottom in the summer of 2007. In the spring of 2008, the price remained on the bottom and few people sought teas, especially for the famous mountain tea. As the price shows, it is impossible to find a good 2008 Lao Ban Zhang raw pu-er.
Here are the tasting notes from Tao Wu:
Tea: 2008 Lao Ban Zhang Raw Pu-er (Wild, ancient tree)
Appearance: Clean big and fat bud and leaves. A bit of shine on the surface of the cake. The tea cake was compress in a traditional way by using stone-pressing. Good pressure but not too tight. After prying a small piece, the tea leaves inside the cake and the on the surface are of a consistent standard (there exist poor tea cakes that use two different grade of leaves for trickery: good standard tea leaves for the surface to make a nice appearance and lower standard leaves inside the cake). The buds are a light golden yellow and the leaves appear dark green and black.
Aroma: When smelling the tea cake, it has the classic raw pu-er smell; a bit grassy fruity but very clean, deep, and strong. We suggest prying a small piece of tea from the tea cake and loosening the leaves carefully, warming up the teaware with boiling water, putting about 5-7 g of loose leaves into the warm gaiwan, covering with the lid, giving a slight shake, then finally smelling the warm leaves and the inside part of the lid. You will smell a strong and very clean tea aroma with hint of fruit, floral, sweetness, and a coolness (similar to menthol). Keep smelling the tea and lid after each steeping to note the changes.
Teaware: In order to experience the pure taste of the tea itself, we highly recommend using a ceramic or glass teapot or gaiwan. A yixing clay teapot is not recommended for pure tasting purposes only.
Steeping Time: After a quick rinsing of the tea, 50 seconds for the first steeping. For the following steepings, add 10 seconds, 15 seconds, 25 seconds, 35 seconds, then 60 seconds.
Tao himself usually prefers a stronger taste, so if you follow this steeping time, you will get a strong taste especially for the first steeping. Please adjust the steeping time based on your personal taste.
Taste: For the first steeping, the amber yellow tea liquor is clear and thick. With the first sip, the tea is very smooth and thick. The taste is very clean without any unpleasant taste (lower quality tea usually has a smokiness or other unpleasant smells and tastes). At the very beginning of the sip, you may find the tea is balanced and smooth, but it quickly changes to a strong bitterness. Once the bitterness fades in a few seconds, you will experience a strong astringency that only lasts a second, followed by a nice sweet taste and strong salivary feeling from the mouth to the throat. The taste changes vary fast and is long lasting, with a very pleasant after taste. Each sip is a tasting journey. After 2 steepings, you may feel it throughout your body. You may burp, which is a good thing and only caused by wild and aged tea. After the first steeping, you will enjoy all the coming steepings.
This tea has been aged very well in Toronto for 7 years. The tea aroma and taste is very clean and pure. Because the weather in Toronto is much dryer compared to the Southern part of China, the aging process is slower than in China. This tea is ready to be enjoyed right now, but you may also be pleasantly surprised if you age it for few more years.
Lao Ban Zhang tea is a strong tea both in taste and body feeling. If it is your first time having Lao Ban Zhang, please have it slowly and pay close attention to the taste, aftertaste, and your body. Bitterness is a very common taste term for good wild raw pu-er tea. For top quality wild ancient pu-er, the bitterness and astringency never lasts long. Pu-er of lower quality or from the younger pu-er plants usually has a much longer-lasting bitterness and astringency, sometimes out-lasting all other flavours.
If you are not very interested in this tea, please don’t purchase it. We would like to share this tea with people who are very interested in pu-er tea. This tea will give you an unforgettable experience and memory of good tastes and a strong body feeling of Lao Ban Zhang.