Outside some Menghai productions, I haven’t really explored big factory ripe productions. From what I gather the 7581 seems to be a pretty well known recipe, but all that really matters to me in the name is the 8 as I’ve generally observed that I tend to have a preference for ripes with a larger average leaf grade. The sample that I received has a surprisingly strong sweet rice aroma especially for such an aged tea. The appearance of the dry leaf is very dark and although the compression was probably reasonably high back in the day, time has gradually transformed the material into dry and brittle.
I used 12.1g in my 160ml Jianshui clay teapot and also drank the tea from Jianshui clay. I was foolish and neglected to break the one large chunk I tossed in into smaller pieces and ended up doing so after the first rinse which I followed with another. I did a total of seven steeps, the timing for these being 12s, 12s, 18s, 28s, 45s, 75s and 2 min.
The first infusion was still fairly light in terms of color, but the liquor was already really clear. The taste and texture were similarly still light, but the tea was very clean and there was a certain refreshing quality about it. The mouthfeel was also nice. There was some very minor sweetness and overall the tea was very reminiscent of berry juice. There was also a certain creaminess about it. This profile reminded me a lot of the general Menghai area ripe pu’er profile.
The second infusion brewed a slightly different shade, but not really much darker than the first steep. This applies to the session as a whole as the tea never really brewed much darker than this, which isn’t dark at all. The liquor was super clear. While the texture had gotten even lighter than before, I was actually getting some bitterness now. The flavor profile was generally darker than before, but no particular flavors besides bitter really popped out at me. At this point I was already noticing some cooling going on in my airways. The tea became extra bitter once it cooled down.
Steep number three wasn’t thick, but it had a sort of slimy texture, if you know what I mean. The taste was that of dry wood. The tea was quite drying in fact, especially at the back of the mouth. The cooling was only amped up, which in turn really emphasized the dryness. The bitterness was still there, but in a very minor role. At this point I happened to get a whiff of the empty cha hai and the aroma was absolutely wonderful. Definitely pay attention to the aroma of this tea.
By steep four the color seemed to already be fading, but despite appearances the body had now improved. On the flavor front you got the slightest hint of sweetness which then turned into much stronger bitterness which then also went away. My favorite steep was steep number five. At first I had difficulty trying to come up with a way to describe it, but then I happened to smell the tea in the cup and it kind of reminded me of medicine. After tasting the tea again, I arrived at the conclusion that describing the taste as medicinal might actually be apt. I have heard others describe some teas as medicinal, but before this I’ve never tasted anything I’d personally label as such. I really, really liked this steep.
The sixth steeping brewed strong and bitter with more of the prior dry wood taste. At this point I felt some slight burning sensation in my throat, but I don’t know if that’s solely the tea or if my throat is becoming a bit sore. Steep seven was the last one I did. By this point the color was very light and the flavor reflected this. The tea had become very basic with some sweet and woody notes to it. The leaves could have probably carried on with extended steeping times, but I decided to call it there as I expected the steepings to only deteriorate from this point onward.
For such a budget tea, I quite enjoyed this tea. 10¢/g is typically the bare minimum I pay for ripe pu’er, but I must say I’ve never really been particularly impressed by any tea at this price point. While this tea might lack the richness and body of some younger similarly priced teas, what you are getting is a very clean tea that offers amazing value for the money. I don’t think I’ve ever really found any of the aged ripes I’ve tried in the past worth it, as the age has typically come at a substantial premium, but in this case you get an ultra clean tea that costs the same as a freshly pressed shu. Granted, some modern boutique pressings that cost about the same may have the potential to surpass this tea years down the line, but for my personal taste for immediate consumption I prefer this tea to most affordable ripes I’ve tried. That being said, ultimately I’d categorize Red Star as a daily drinker and while this is a tea that’s fun for me to session once or twice, it is not something I’d be looking to purchase. I’m not really a person who drinks the same tea more than once every few months or so, so daily drinkers aren’t really something I’m looking for. That being said, shu pu’er as a category is probably closest to a daily drinker for me as it’s generally the most casual type of tea for me.
I honestly didn’t expect much from this tea as I’m generally really picky about ripe pu’er and tend to prefer only the really premium productions and teas from certain areas. While Red Star does have its shortcomings, I found it to be excellent value at just under 10¢/g and something I can recommend to someone looking for a clean, affordable daily drinker that you can also pay attention to if you so choose.