Friday, September 12, 2008

Mystery Xiaguan Tuocha

Jade Cicada of the Pu-erh LiveJournal Community found this Xiaguan tuocha hiding in a vendor's cart, selling for $8 a piece. She supposed it was shu, but later found that something was different about it. To help identify, and reassure her opinion that it is not a young Xiaguan shu, she enlisted the help of a few fellow tea enthusiasts. It took me a while to get to this, but here we go.

A simple examination of the dry leaf already reveals much. The color of the leaf is dark, however, the golden color of the buds and stems show that if it were a cooked pu-erh, it would have to be on the light side of fermentation. Though these looks alone aren't revealing a lot, the smell of the dry product gives big hints towards the identity of the tuo. A floral/honey aroma is what comes from it. This is the main giveaway that it is, in fact, uncooked. I can't recall a cooked pu-erh that smelled anything like honey and flowers.

The white you see is mold. Showing only on parts of the tuo, I would say this is a sign of wet storage at one point or another. White mold is said to be ok, and some say that an aged pu-erh will not be good without it. The mold is not just on the outside, but spread throughout the tuo. In fact, there is more visible on the inside. This is likely because handling of the outside has rubbed some of it away.

Whew! While rinsing and warming up cups, it is completely obvious that this tuo is a sheng, uncooked pu-erh. Smoky, spicy aromas fill the air around the table. Aroma from the cup is mellow, with a woodiness, and a hint of sweet. Color is a deep red match to my gongfu table. Taste is smooth, relaxed, mellowed out. Flavor is actually pretty minimal. I get a good sweetness, a lovely wood and, yes, a pleasant aftertaste. The aftertaste is sweet and lingers for a long time. No acid, no bitter, only perhaps the slightest touch of astringency.

My conclusions. It is definitely a sheng, no doubt about it. It underwent some wet store, and it's my guess that this mellowed it out significantly. Depending on how long the wet storage was, I would guess anywhere from mid to late 90's. It could be as old as early 90's, but that would mean a short wet-store, and a very long dry-store. It is a boxed tuo, so a long dry-store is actually likely.

Did I like it? I did, a lot. It's not a complex tea, in fact, it is quite the opposite. Mellow sweetness, but with enough wood/leaf flavor to keep it interesting and very enjoyable. If intense flavors really do make good aging candidates, then my guess is the lack of bitter, astringent, and acid flavors in this tea means that it won't stay as tasty in the long run. Another 5, 8, even 10 years? Sure, I think a few more years would make it delicious. But I also think that it's already delicious enough to enjoy regularly.

So, congratulations JadeCicada, on finding this little gem. Not only is it a cheaply bought aged tea, but it's well stored, and very tasty. Thanks for bringing me into this tasting.

Here is JC's original post on livejournal. Here's the follow-up on livejournal. Here's the post on TeaChat. Here's JF's entry.


Brent said...

What? A monochrome image? How uncharacteristic of you! :)

Seriously though, lovely photos. I really like the first and last ones.


Salsero said...

Sumptuous review, dude! Very appropriate for this tea. Of what are the first and last photos? They are gorgeous! I also like the mouth of the gaiwan photos.

Wes Crosswhite said...

Thanks Brent, thanks Salsero.

They're of a boutonniere from my sister's wedding. It's a dead rose that has been hanging around for a few years now.

The last photo's original was a very odd creation. There is an incandescent behind the flower, with a strange yellow shade over it. The colors in the photo came out very displeasing. I thought I'd delete it, but I found something about it relaxing. So I added a few tints of color, then desaturated, sucked most of the color out of it. It came out nearly sepia, but with just a tinge more color.

EAnglin said...

Thank you so much for the wonderful review! It's been exciting to see what others have been able to coax out of this tea and to learn what experienced Pu fans look at when evaluating a tea.

To be honest, I was very surprised when people mentioned the white mold, and a bit aghast as well,as I have seen so many disparaging comments made about improperly wet stored tea.

The mold wasn't visible on the outside of the tuocha at all- I examined it closely in bright outdoor light when I was photographing it. In the much dimmer light inside my kitchen, I couldn't see it at all as I was breaking up the tuocha. (Not my middle aged eyesight. Nope. {/denial})

I've learned a lot about aged teas from this project, and I must say I'll be a lot less fearful of trying teas that have been 'wet stored' now.

Thank you again for the lovely review and the gorgeous pictures.