I am very excited about this tea. You don’t bump into a 1996 Xia Guan tuo every year! Besides, this is a product made for Taiwan market, which usually means the leaf materials are more strictly selected. This specific one is said to be made with leaves from 300 year old arbor trees. I don’t have a way to confirm this information. But I can tell the leaves are of very high quality, a quality that’s almost never seen from any Xia Guan product today. Above all, what makes me most excited about this tea is, it’s a sheng that has stayed in purely dry storage in Yunnan in all these years. 16 year old sheng from purely dry storage is extremely rare, because 16 years ago, most people who stored puerh were in Taiwan or Hong Kong, and the storage conditions were much more humid (even without artificial humidification, which was very often used) than Kunming, Yunnan. The dry storage rend started merely 10-15 years ago.
So, you can imagine I was really excited to put my hands on this tea :D
The leaves are beautiful. On my way prying the tea, I still dug out a cotton thread… so far, no stones or straws yet…
The liquor is bright red/orange. The texture of the liquor is smooth and soupy. The front taste is somewhat like shu puerh, minus all post-fermentation taste of shu. What’s most wonderful is its aftertaste, which is like a weak resonance of a typical sheng, bright aromatic, even a little floral, and very sweet. This lingering aftertaste made me elongate the interval between sips and cups, and taste the tea very, very slowly. In between the front taste and aftertaste, I think I’ve tasted something milky and buttery. It’s usually not a feature I find in puerh, either sheng or shu. So possibly it’s just my illusion. But also possibly that’s what the tea mean to be, since I’ve tasted milky flavor from Hei Cha products, which went through post-fermentation as puerh does.
I’ve seen a lot of discussions on dry storage, Hong Kong storage and wet storage. But currently the missing link is dry-stored old sheng – there aren’t many of them. Most Chinese tea drinkers I know don’t like the taste of Hong Kong storage (but in Hong Kong and Guangdong there must be a lot of people loving it). But they don’t have much dry-stored old sheng in hands either. There are a lot of debates about dry storage and Hong Kong storage, because people have to hesitate and struggle between the two options. (Probably also because many people have an urge to feel their rightness. Otherwise why can’t we say all options are good as long as they work for some people.) I believe in future 5-10 years, there will be more dry-stored old sheng available in the market. Once the direct comparison is available to most people, there is no need to debate. You can just choose what you like and store your tea accordingly. Or that’s what I wish. In puerh, people will always find endless subjects to debate on :-p