Xia Guan Tuo, is the legend of “people’s” puerh. By people’s, I mean, it is one of the least expensive yet excellent puerh. (I should also mention many people don’t believe Tuo Cha should be put in Puerh category, although most people do call Tuo Cha puerh. Nomenclature of tea is a jungle, so let’s not get there!)
I am very glad to have obtained this 2004 Xia Guan Tuo, because in my eyes, new Xia Guan Tuo is simply undrinkable. It’s one of the excellent teas, but it’s undrinkable when it’s new. At least I can’t bear with the smokiness, astringency and possible bitterness in its new tea. Then, time changes it. A 5-year-old Xia Guan Tuo is still relatively in expensive, but now it is very enjoyable and still very strong.
The dry tea has a nice smoky aroma. It smells almost a little like Lapsang Souchong, smoky and plumy. The tea block is much easier to break than new Tuo, (many people say, new Xia Guan Tuo is such a hard rock and can serve as a weapon!) I used a 130ml teapot, and dry tea leaves about the same size as one and half Triscuit. The first infusions were about 15sec each. The tea is very strong. It is lightly smoky, in a pleasant way. There is very prominent prune aroma. After several years of storage, the smokiness, astringency and bitterness of this tea have mostly faded. There are still hints of astringency and bitterness. I enjoy them at this level. They hit the tongue but don’t stick to the tongue. Very often, astringency and bitterness are what cause the sweet aftertaste several seconds later. Besides sweetness, the aftertaste of this tea also contains some fruity aroma. To me, the sip of tea provides the source of energy that hits your throat solidly. And the aftertaste is the fun part of this tea to enjoy.
A dozen infusions down the road, the tea becomes much weaker, but still stronger than initial infusions of many other teas.
I always believe tea is a luxury of time, but not necessarily a luxury of money. Puerh, especially Xia Guan Tuo, is an excellent demonstration. Five new Xia Guan Tuos of 5×100g are less than $5 in Chinese market. Since puerh tea is deadly heavy, shipping from China costs more than the tea. But still, it’s possible to get them with less than $30. If you keep them for some years, these inexpensive Tuos will become miracles! Current price of 1980s Xia Guan Tuo is many times of 2009 Xia Guan Tuo price, because Xia Guan Tuo is one of the teas with best potential of quality improvement over years. However, how many people are willing to, and able to keep some Xia Guan Tuo for 20 years? There are barely any difficult technical details involved. The most challenging part is the 20 years of time. The very fact of keeping some tea for 20 years in your primary living unit (hot attic and wet basement won’t work) means it has to be one of the priorities in your life.
Should I, and can I stock up some of this tea and keep it for another 5 years or 15 years? I don’t know. But I am very much tempted.