1996 Xia Guan Butterfly Spring Tuo sheng 250g

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Edit tea info Last updated by Gingko (manager of Life in Teacup)
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5 Tasting Notes View all

  • “I have been studying and researching different aged puerhs to see the effect storage type has on the tea and through my experience any aged puerh tea that has white specks of puerh mold which is...” Read full tasting note
  • “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...” Read full tasting note
  • “Wet aroma opens with a toasted earthy sweetness and, because of the purely dry storage, is not at all musty. The aroma is not bright but subdued and cellared. There is an interesting dichotomy...” Read full tasting note
  • “Finished off the last of my sample today, since it was raining and I was a bit hungover. I don’t have a lot of words for the tea. It’s good. Very warming and comforting. I think it’s interesting...” Read full tasting note

From Life In Teacup

Xia Guan tuo custom order by a Taiwanese merchant, who gave the product number GH9608.

Additional photos of this tea are available at: http://gingkobay.blogspot.com/2011/04/concept-tea-8-purely-dry-storage-96-xia.html

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5 Tasting Notes

3 tasting notes

I have been studying and researching different aged puerhs to see the effect storage type has on the tea and through my experience any aged puerh tea that has white specks of puerh mold which is called aspergillus like this Tuo Cha does means that it is almost impossible for it to be dry stored. You see, a good quality wet stored puerh tea might have a very small amount of these white specks because of the humidity in the air during wet storage and they should not take up a large surface area of the cake or tuo cha for if they do it usually represents that it was stored not only wet but too wet. So basically since this Xia Guan Tuo Cha is almost completely covered with white aspergillus specks I would have to say that the claim of it being dry stored would have to be a fallacy as it is more likely EXTREMELY WET STORED. This is not just my opinion either as I had a sample of this tea with me when I went to visit one of the most well known Chinese tea authorities in the U.S. and when I brought it out to show it to him and the rest of the tea enthusiasts they refused to even put their nose up to the tuo cha to smell it for fear of breathing in the vast amount of mold on it. I am not saying this is the vendor’s fault as they were probably told this was dry stored but i just wanted to state what I have found through research and experience now that I understand puerh much better than I did when I first bought it.


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Gingko (manager of Life in Teacup)

I respectfully disagree. I believe it’s not about who to disagree with, but what opinion to disagree with.

I can only guess the “white stuff” you are talking about is the crystallization on the surface of the tea. The formation of crystallization on the surface of old tea is significantly different from white mold. Even the crystallization is tiny and modest in my eyes, and probably one has to be very sensitive to feel the cake is “entirely covered” by it. This tea doesn’t have a taste of wet storage. In fact, that’s what some wet-stored-puerh lovers complain about this tea – they think the storage of this tea is too dry for their taste preference. To be honest, I thought it’s pretty easy to distinguish a purely dry-stored tea (like this one) and an “extremely wet stored” tea. And I had thought the major complaint received by this tea would be its “too dry” taste.

Mold is the number 1 thing we try to avoid for any of our puerh. Without being against wet-stored puerh, we choose to deal with dry storage puerh only. Although there are some wet-stored-puerh lovers, we choose to cater to dry-stored-puerh lovers.


Have you tried using a magnifier to look at the white specks? If it’s mold, you should see the little mushroom shape of the mold.


If the photos on the website are at all accurate, this is not extremely wet stored, at all. In fact, I wouldn’t say, based on those pictures again, that this is at all wet stored. Wet stored tea looks very different. Who is this nameless “tea authority” you speak of?


Let’s just say the last time I was in New Yor visiting my absolute favorite tea ROOM the proprietor and a fellow tea blogger both grabbed the chunk of Tuo Cha I had of this tea and refused to even put their nose close to it because it is covered in white specks and they said they wouldn’t even try it and told me not to as well because it’s almost certainly mold but then I told them it was sold as dry stored and they told me that there is no way. Perhaps i got one that didn’t match what was displayed on the website but I trust these two authorities quite readily about almost all subjects tea related and I think you should know who I am talking about by my language!


By the way this is ImmortaliTEA from teachat nice speaking with you again MarshalN. I have been reading your blog for some time now and have learned so much from you! I will post the two names of the authorities that I met with in NY in person when they inspected my Tuo Cha sample if you feel it’s appropriate!


I think I know who they are. I just talked to one of them about this, in fact, and it seems like there may be a little bit of confusion here – could it be that you got the wrong thing in the mail? That person’s description is that it smelled bad, and since they had other things to drink, it’s not something they were too desperate to try. The pictures, however, don’t seem to suggest that it’s wet stored, at all, nor suggest that it would smell nast in any way (and the few other reviews floating out there suggest the same). So perhaps gingko can send you another sample and maybe it’ll all clear up (hope you’re still reading this thread, gingko). Sometimes mistakes do happen!


It’s certainly possible that I got the wrong thing in the mail, however I still have the bag with part of the sample in it and it is labeled correctly as the 96’ Xiaguan Butterfly Tuo Cha. Since this website doesn’t appear to have many more Tuo Cha’s besides the one in question I highly doubt it’s a mistake but it definitely possible. I took some pictures of my sample that I would like you to see so whats the best way I can show them to you?


http://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/7873454116/in/photostream/
Here is a picture of the exact sample that they saw in New York and said what they said about!


Hmm, doesn’t look wet stored just from the pic. The white spots look more consistent with damage from using a pick to break the tuo apart than mold. Hard to say for sure, of course, without seeing it in person. Did you ever try drinking it? I noticed your initial comments didn’t include any notes from tasting it.


Yes I tasted it and it seems to have some serious mustiness to it especially compared to other dry stored teas I have tried around this age. It does have some astringency still so perhaps the appearance just threw people off or I got a different piece than what is represented on the vendor’s website. I was not trying to discredit this seller in any way but just wanted to let other tea drinker’s know what was said about it!


The only reason I decided to go with what was said is because I know those who gave their opinion have much more experience with everything tea related than I do. I apologize if it was out of line and I will make sure to take better tasting notes and get more opinions before posting another negative review such as this!


A few others have chimed in, here and there, about having tried the tea, and it seems like everyone thinks it’s very dry. So, it could be you got a bad piece, it could be you got the wrong thing…. either way, your piece seems an outlier of some sort or another


Dear All, after purchasing a sample of this tea last year, I bought a whole Tuo. My Tuo is filled with mold, white spots everywhere. My sample was quite different. My whole Tuo is very mellow, like a wet-stored tea. the sample I first ordered had a lot more astringency. I am pretty sure that my Tuo was wet stored. I recently broke it up, and there is white mold, and some yellow too, all throughout the dense Tuo. I guess I am saying that Nick ain’t nuts, far from it…..Ben


Thanks Ben1 I was beginning to feel like I got the wrong tea in the mail or that I was the only one who got an example with white aspergillus spots. Ok so perhaps what’s going on here is that the purveyor has different Butterfly Tuo’s that have varying storage types or perhaps some other explanation that could possibly explain why some feel it’s too dry and more than one have an example that is covered in white spots!


A most interesting case, since now we have two people getting moldy tea, not just one, which seriously diminishes the possibility that the moldy tea is a fluke. Hmmm


Hmmmmm I was looking at Life in a Teacup’s page and found this. I just find it funny that the only person agreeing with ‘the mold’ is practically non existent in steepster and just agreed in this comment out of nowhere…


Considering the fact that I have never heard from Ben1 prior to posting this review, I am going to have to agree with MarshalN in that since now it’s confirmed by two distinct separate intstances, the likelihood of moldy tea is much greater. I am in no way trying to “pull the wool over” anyone’s eyes, just trying to document my experience with this tea in particular. I have had nothing but great experiences with this vendor on all other products besides this tea and a mediocre Shui Xian, so I thought it interesting that the dry stored claim seems to be conflicted by the white specks. So I guess an appropriate question here would be, is it possible for completely dry stored tea to have white specks of aspergillus all too common in wet stored tea? Or how often has someone seen a completely dry stored tea with white specks? Thanks for your comments!

Gingko (manager of Life in Teacup)

Many thanks for those who are interested in this tea and those who have keenly followed this discussion.

Before giving further comments, I would like to say that I don’t believe Ben and Nick are connected in any way. I could tell from his writing here and on teachat that Ben’s comments are all out of good intention. I do believe Ben is confused about what’s mold and what’s not. He seemed to express that this tea is full of yellow and white mold and he thoroughly enjoy it this way – this is just impossible. A tea full of mold is toxic and by no means enjoyable. But I do believe Ben is a good tea drinker and simply wanted to express what he thought.

I don’t mind people giving truthful critics on our tea. In fact, I would love to hear them all whether or not I agree with each of them. Some of the negative comments we’ve got from tea friends were made out of the best intention and were the most helpful to us.

My previous comment here was made before I realized who Nick is and where he is from. If I had known, I would have refused to discuss with him about tea before he fulfills his obligation of simply paying for his GREEN TEA purchase OF $214.60 on June 3, 2012. Below are my updated comments on Nick (aka Nick305, also ImmortaliTEA on teachat, as mentioned by Nick himself in above comments):

[We will not release any of our clients’ personal information. None of the text below contains Nick’s personal identifiable information. All online activities mentioned below are either from public online records viewable by anybody or released by Nick himself on public websites. ]

• June 3, 2012, Nick placed a $214.60 order of green tea with Life in Teacup, paid by echeck and suggested that he would like the package to be shipped as soon as possible.
• June 6, 2012, Nick’s echeck on paypal was declined by Nick’s bank, and we emailed Nick about this.
• June 6, 2012, Nick replied and explained that it was a small mistake and was already fixed. He made another echeck payment of $214.60 and convinced us it would go through this time.
• June 8, 2012, we shipped Nick’s order despite that his echeck was not cleared yet. At this point, if you call me stupid, I wouldn’t object it. But we usually trust enthusiastic tea drinkers without a second thought, and almost everybody else deserved our trust.
• June 14, 2012, Nick’s second echeck payment was delined by Nick’s bank again and we emailed Nick again about this, fully believing Nick would soon respond and make a good payment. We didn’t get any response from Nick.
• June 18, 2012, we sent Nick an invoice to remind him of his payment. We didn’t get any response from Nick.
• In the following months, Life in Teacup was temporarily closed due to my personal reasons. Sometime between 2012 and 2013, we figured out that Nick who owed us money is the Nick305, aka ImmortaliTEA who has been active in online tea community. We are upset about this, but chose not to embarrass Nick by bringing this issue to the public. Instead, we sent Nick a couple of more invoices. We didn’t get any responses.
• June 16, 2012, another invoice was sent to Nick. We didn’t get any response. At that point, I figured it’s so hard to get hold of an online ID while the person behind it is completely irresponsive. So I decided to put this issue aside.
• November 14, 2013, after seeing Nick’s November 10th post on Tea Swap board of Teachat, I sent him the invoice of his order again through a private message on Teachat. We are not waiting for the $214.60 to pay our food and rent. At this point, the money Nick owed us is no longer our primary focus. But we believe one shouldn’t BOTH commit fraudulent payment AND still present himself as a trustworthy tea enthusiast in the tea community.
• November 18, 2013 and November 22, 2013, online records reflected that Nick visited Teachat for multiple times and got the private message I sent to him. But as always, he made no responses.

Now when I come back to review what Nick said here and on teachat about THIS tea, I’m no longer interested in what he said about the tea but rather interested in what he said about PEOPLE. Oddly, with them mentioned repetitively by Nick on teachat and on a relevant post of Tea Closet blog, the “4 teachatters” and “4 of the most knowledgeable members (of teachat)” that he said he met in New York City (who commented on this tea to him) have never seemed to show up in the relevant teachat discussion on this tea (it was a huge discussion!). Why wouldn’t 4 devoted teachat members and 4 of the most knowledgeable teachat members never speak up in a big teachat discussion where they were mentioned? I have full faith of our online tea community and especially communities like teatra.de, steepster and teachat. My question is, do these “4 teachatters” even know they are listed as witnesses by Nick?
Similarly, the “one of the most well known Chinese tea authorities in the U.S.” mentioned by Nick in the above comments never got his/her name mentioned while conveniently cited by Nick as his witness. Does that person even know s/he was listed as witness by Nick? No wonder MarshalN asked in his earlier comment “Who is this nameless “tea authority” you speak of?”
I wouldn’t mind it if there are really the most well known authority and the most knowledgeable tea drinkers who agree with Nick on this tea. But what I see here is Nick is keen on pulling a whole crowd behind himself and presenting himself as a popular member in tea community who has close friendship with the most well known authority and most knowledgeable teachatters. Well, if an honest person just feels like to present him in that way, there is no problem. But it’s absolutely not OK to BOTH commit fraud AND keep presenting oneself as an innocent tea enthusiast.

This is not business. This is personal. We believe we deserve to get paid for the tea we sold. But our business doesn’t rely on this $214.60 to survive. Discussion on this tea triggered by Nick didn’t bring us negative influence on our business. It only kindled more interest in this tea and our other teas. Even during the close up period of our business from summer of 2012 to spring of 2013, we kept receiving inquiries and sample orders of this tea and our other teas. For this, I’m thoroughly grateful to all the friends and tea drinkers who have been so kind to us.

I said this is personal, because I don’t believe Nick should keep presenting himself as an innocent tea enthusiast without fulfilling his obligation of paying for his tea and fixing his wrong deeds. I’m fully aware that if Nick remains irresponsive, my comments on Nick’s online IDs wouldn’t be able to force him to pay the debt. But I would do all I could to prevent him from playing an innocent tea drinker under these IDs. On the other hand, it’s not of my interest to make Nick look like a bad person. As long as Nick makes things right and pays for his tea order made in June 2012, I would delete all my negative comments on him.

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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

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144 tasting notes

Wet aroma opens with a toasted earthy sweetness and, because of the purely dry storage, is not at all musty. The aroma is not bright but subdued and cellared. There is an interesting dichotomy present throughout the cupping of this tea and that is the interplay between a cooling menthol/eucalyptus quality and a more wild and rugged tanned animal skin quality.

The liquor has a silky texture and the cooling aspect floats to the top of the palate as somewhat of a vapour. Anchoring the flavors is that subtle yet heavy primitive leather taste and a tree bark dryness left on the tongue. The hui gan is surprisingly profound and delicious reminiscent of a sweet and earthy Yunnan red.

Stiffer brews do nothing to ruin the profile of this tea and instead push each quality into greater pronunciation. It’s that versatility and durability that impress me most. Also the returning sweetness becomes fuller as one progresses through the cups.

So in the search for the best aged sheng on a budget I’m left with a couple of contenders, this being one. Actually, in all fairness, I’m left with 1a and 1b because the other one is a wet stored puer. The differences are not of quality but of characteristic.

And how cute is that butterfly :-)

Nathaniel Gruber

It’s so difficult to find decent Sheng pu’er in this country, so I appreciate your review of this tea. Though I haven’t tried this particular brick, by the way you’re describing it I know what you’re talking about especially when you said:

“liquor has a silky texture and the cooling aspect floats to the top of the palate as somewhat of a vapour”

We were trying an old Shou pu’er from 1998 today in which my description was almost exactly word for word. I will have to look in to getting a sample of this one.

Let me know if you have some Sheng’s that you know of that are especially nice because I’d love to try some more really high end stuff. Likewise, I have some great stuff as well if you’re interested.


Hey, thanks for commenting . . . get to know Gingko of LifeInTeacup.com. She’s really cool about providing samples of her stuff to enthusiasts and I’ve bought a fair amount from her. As far as good sheng (or anything, for that matter) goes, some of the best I’ve had has come from TheMandarinsTeaRoom.com. His tea is too expensive for everyday drinking on my budget though. I do like the 1990s Small Yellow Label from EssenceOfTea.com for the money. Their 1996 Menghai “Orange in Orange” is very good though more pricey.

The best young sheng I’ve had is a sample Gingko gave me of some 2010 Si Shui (Flowing Water) by Yi Ru Chang. I don’t think she even has it up in her shop but it’s worth inquiring about.

I poked around your store earlier today and it looks like you have selected some interesting offerings. I’m partial to aged sheng myself but that’s probably because I just haven’t had much really good young sheng or shou. The better shou I’ve had does carry that nice menthol quality but here’s just so much mediocre/bad stuff out there that it keeps me from investing too much into exploring.

Nathaniel Gruber

Thanks! I will definitely need to get in contact with her.

I understand wanting to find worthwhile teas on a budget. Our founder, David Duckler, is a Chinese language scholar who began his travels in China as a professor and an author over 3 years ago. Because of this, he did not come in to tea with the mentality of buying or selling it but rather, was able to meet some really incredibly people that shared their best tea with him (stuff that is not going to be shared with 99% of American tea companies). Knowing the language has helped us tremendously as well and he has been able to bring in some absolutely breathtaking stuff.

I agree with you that I always liked older Sheng’s, simply because most of the younger stuff was overwhelmingly smokey and astringent. I will say that our Sheng’s are far and away the best that I’ve tried in this country. I would rather drink our 2006 vintage over anybody else’s 1996 almost always. The leaf quality and care of these bricks goes so far beyond what was available previously.

Thought I’d let you know. I’m going to go ahead and buy some samples of the teas that you had mentioned as well as talk to Gingko as you suggested. I hope that we can continue the conversation throughout the weeks and months ahead as we both continue in the discovery of tea.

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240 tasting notes

Finished off the last of my sample today, since it was raining and I was a bit hungover.

I don’t have a lot of words for the tea. It’s good. Very warming and comforting. I think it’s interesting that the wet leaf aroma has a particularly noticeable basement character, but that that does not translate to the flavor, which I appreciate. Some slight hints of earth in the flavor, but then mostly woody, composted leaves and lots of vanilla, mint, and floral woods. Looking forward to pushing this one some more tomorrow.

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3294 tasting notes

I’ve been busy all day. My grand daughter came to visit, we made raspberry chocolate chip almond flour muffins, we had tea, & for the most part, all of the teas I drank are teas I’ve reviewed numerous times, so I’m not writing anything about them.

Then there was this!
One of the oldest teas in my collection, & merely a sample (from Life in Teacup), I’ve pulled it out a few times, ready to give it a go, only to realize that it might be better to wait. This is a tea I really want to savor, to dedicate my full attention to. So this was how I spent my afternoon & evening.

The dry leaf is compact & brown, with no real aroma.
Warming it up in a hot yixing, it bloomed into a marine aroma, but not necessarily in a bad way. Basically, it smelled a lot like spiralina, & as I breathed it in, I also smelled Matcha…
& pickles!
Yes, pickles!

I gave it a rinse & then started in with short steepings, with were immediately a beautiful orange amber color, & I only took a few sips before I was instantly transformed to a cosmic state of mind. The first cup or 2 tasted of aged clean straw & chalk, but with successive steeps there was a rapidly growing menthol quality, a vaporous sensation, wood, leather, & gratefully not a trace of anything undesirable.

I lost track of the number of cups I drank, but somewhere in the middle I passed through a tangy citrus/tangerine element for awhile, followed by a slightly bitter round which passed quickly, a briefly soapy taste, & then a pristine sweet spring. That’s where I’m at now, & I dare not drink any more tonight. Tomorrow I’ll probably give a rinse & see what else I can wring out of these leaves with some longer steeps. The color of the tea is still a beautiful bring amber orange. Absolutely gorgeous!


Pickles and cosmic state of mind? Yes please!!! ;-)

Terri HarpLady

Speaking of pickles, my pickling cukes are now in production! I picked 6 today, & I predict by the end of the week I’ll start stuffing a crock of salt water with those, along with homegrown dill & garlic! Silly me, we still have cultured dills from last summer, I guess we’d better get serious about eating them!


Mmmmm…love me some dill and pickles!

Terri HarpLady

I love dill. I plant it every couple of weeks, because it goes to seed so quickly, & so that I have a fresh supply of both herb & seed all season.


Shengs are cosmic!!!

Terri HarpLady

They are! I’ve had a few Shu puerhs that were also cosmic, but only a few.

Asaf Mazar

Menthol quality, a vaporous sensation and heightened state of consciousness: That’s about the holy grail of pu er in my book. Thanks for the added confirmation to put this at the top of my order list.

Terri HarpLady

I’ll look forward to your review, Asaf! :)

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