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.