Given this is a standard tea type (producer and products) the vendor source matters less, but this was from an order from Chawang Shop, from which I still have a few more teas to try. It's nice trying a range of less expensive but still interesting versions, teas I've been meaning to get to, like Xiaguan tuochas, along with some pretty good sheng versions.
These teas really need age, and trying limited counts of versions of any type, source, or quality level tea is relatively meaningless in comparison with a reasonable size sample set. This is the kind of tea someone would stash a bunch of instead, once they sort out preference a bit, versus tuochas just serving as samples. Buying 2007 Tulin versions at a local shop turned me back onto this page, but I've written about at least one Dayi version before, which at five years old now is just starting into a long middle age, which these two versions are still in, but at the other side.
I'd meant to try this as a simple, stand-alone tasting, to not clutter the experience and write-up with any form of comparison. Then I remembered that I wanted to try that 2011 Xiaguan mini iron cake along with this at some point, to see how they differ, given the origin year isn't too far off. A review of that was already covered in the Tulin tuocha review I just mentioned, so the point here is only comparison. I expect that both will be much better after another 5 or so years of age, but this should work as an interesting earlier-form snapshot, especially in comparison.
label of that other 2011 Xiaguan mini iron cake
it's even more tightly compressed than it looks
It seems crazy to compare pricing prior to a tasting, but the point of referencing the whole list of what I bought wasn't that, it was to check on tea volume for both. It is odd that the Xiaguan mini iron cake amounted to 125 grams of tea and this tuocha 250. I was just looking through those and wondering what that "2008 Yong Pin Hao Yiwu" sheng brick is; I'll keep going on trying these. Three more sheng I bought look interesting too, and they've definitely rested a bit from the trip a couple of months ago. It's odd I didn't try that 2006 Myanmar Kokang version yet; there's really no pattern to the order I get to them.
Related to value, since the pricing is right there for both, the tuocha is selling for around double the mini-cake (around $20 versus around $10). Both seem a steal to me for nearly completely aged sheng versions, at a lower per-weight cost than most vendors sell mid-range brand new teas. In a sense I shouldn't even be talking about this, since eventually I would want to order more of some of these, the ones I like the best, and drawing attention to them won't help with that. It's not as if that many people read this blog anyway, and some would be into better or at least different teas.
One last point; it seems like there should be a number code that goes along with this product, that they would separate products that way. Yunnan Sourcing sells a slightly younger version also only identified by this name, so I guess just using a branding name works instead, which just seems odd to me since that's only referring to it as a "special grade."
2010 Xiaguan Teji Tuo: the first infusion went really long, mostly due to messing around with writing this, rather than that being planned. Sometimes I do use a longer first infusion to clear past the initial transition anyway, to get the tea saturated, in tea versions for which I think that won't be skipping over something interesting. This tastes a bit like coffee; cool. I mean to the extent that if you gave someone this they would probably think it is that.
The tea is reasonable. It's definitely intense, but bitterness and astringency work at these levels. I'm picking up some wood tone and a trace of mushroom beyond that coffee range, and it will probably shift some over the next two rounds, so it's as well to do more with flavor-by-flavor description on the next one.
2011 Xiaguan FT Yun Mei Chun iron cake: interesting! This tastes a bit like coffee too, but there is a warmer, aromatic sweetness to it, in a completely different range. It tastes a little like that sweet scent of pipe tobacco, which is not all that closely related to the experience of smoking a cigarette or tasting forms of chewing tobacco. The other tea seemed moderately clean in effect, especially for being an early round (the first), and for brewing a bit longer than optimum, but this is even sweeter and cleaner in effect, and slightly more complex.
I'm already getting the sense that these probably would improve in a few years but they'd still be ok to drink right now. Conventional wisdom would say don't even think about it, that the true depth, complexity, and transitioned character isn't there yet. It's not as if I'll struggle to not drink these up but it will be interesting to check back in after another year, and I really should put more of what I like best away at this point, given where it already seems they're headed for character.
tuo version left, FT cake right
2010 tuocha: that mushroom really picked up; now this is equal parts coffee and mushroom (earthy, like a dried shitake). I used a more typical faster infusion time but for as intense as these are closer to 5 seconds might work better than 10. It's hard to say this tastes "clean" given the flavor range covers that much mushroom, with a bit of barn door as well, but in a limited sense it still is that. Those are odd types of earthy flavors but it's still not really musty, earthy, or expressing mineral range in any unusual or off forms. Per preference for flavors it would be as well if it moved off the mushroom but it's fine.
Feel is also fine, quite full with a decent amount of structure but still smooth in a limited sense, "mouth watering" versus dry (ok, maybe a little dry). Intensity and aftertaste are fine; that feel and these flavors could transition to a softer and deeper form and the overall experience would be great.
2011 iron cake: there's a sweetness, richness, and complexity to this version the other just doesn't have. I'd described it as similar to the aromatic range of pipe tobacco, which is close enough, but it could be interpreted in lots of different ways, and it's complex enough that a broad set would probably fit better than any one association. It's also like the rich, sweet, earthy scent of old tree bark, extending into how aged leather would taste (if anyone ever actually tasted that), like brewing up an old bomber jacket or leather bound book cover. A simpler but also intense and complex coffee-like range fills that in, like the effect of a light roast, not at all towards a higher roasted char.
Breakfast was a little light (I just ate a mango) and I'm really feeling these teas already. I'll eat a bit of chocolate and a few longkong (fruit that's hard to describe) to pad my stomach and limit this head-buzz effect. I don't mean it's stoney like a really old sheng or gushu version but I'd as soon that whatever the effect is like it's moderate.
I had already mentioned that it's lychee season, didn't I?
2010 tuocha: better! The mushroom is easing up, falling into a better balance with a lot of other range. Barn-door aged wood tone has given way to more aromatic wood flavor, not quite the cedar I keep bringing up in different reviews, maybe a milder version of well-cured redwood. I wouldn't consider this experience to necessarily be narrow in flavor range or lacking in rich, smooth feel but in comparison with the other version it gives up a little.
2011 FT iron cake: that one additional dimension makes a lot of difference, not just in terms of flavor (sweeter, richer, as described), but mapped onto feel richness and depth too, and trailing aftertaste range. This could almost seem older, as if a couple of extra years added more sweetness and depth, but it's a year younger, and a much more compressed version. I doubt that storage made the difference, given I'd expect it had all stayed local, being sold out of a Kunming shop. That FT or "for Taiwan" indicator seems unlikely to mean that it had made a round trip. It could just be from completely different material.
Oddly this version is much finer chopped, and more compressed, exactly how one would expect a tuocha to more typically be comprised, while the other looks a lot more like cakes tend to. So strange! I wouldn't expect it to be able to age faster due to finer chopped material contacting the air differently, given that it was so tightly compressed, but then really what do I know of such things.
Bitterness and astringency are playing reduced roles in these profiles related to how they must have been for the first half of their existence, but there is enough of both present that it seems the aging process definitely hasn't played out. I wonder if that mushroom flavor in the other would tend to transition and diminish? In a few years I'll have some idea, but I expect these will be better after 5 more.
2010 tuocha: it has transitioned the least between these two rounds but the character evolving over every infusion does add a nice depth to the experience. More of an old furniture flavor is picking up, aromatic components that relate to old wood or aromatic oils used in preserving old wooden objects. Mushroom is finally giving way, hardly noticeable in that balance in comparison to the prior level. It's not all that heavy on any aspect similar to coffee, as it had been, with the aromatic wood in the last round filling in that space instead. It's nice.
2011 FT iron cake: not so dis-similar to last infusion either, but the one sweet, rich tone somehow seems stronger and cleaner every round. It's not that far off a warm, aromatic spice. Maybe the idea of all this being tied to aroma has stuck in my head, as much a shift towards any different range than I normally experience has occurred.
Beyond the aspects break-down this version is a bit more pleasant; it has that extra bit of depth, along with more sweetness and a different flavor range, and it all balances that much better. It has retained a little more flavor tied back to coffee range, but again a light roast, no trace of char in this. They have a wood-tone range in common but it's not an identical version of it; this one's is darker and warmer, more towards a dark tropical wood, with the other lighter, less sweet, and dryer, which I'm interpreting as related to redwood, not so far from cedar, but in between that and balsa wood.
tuo version left, FT cake right (not aging fast, from the looks of these)
This will probably do it for notes; the late-round transitions aren't of as much interest to me, and the reviews seem best limited in length. Both these would really be six infusions along now if not for giving that first round a long soak, so well along the middle of the cycle already.
2010 tuocha: it's as good as it's been, just losing some points in comparison with the other, for covering a less complex range and not having quite as positive a character. It would make for a fairer assessment to wait a few more years and see how it ends up though.
2011 FT iron cake: they have transitioned to be the most similar they've been yet. Some of that aromatic sweetness is wearing a little thinner and the wood-tone is picking up. Again I think both will add more positive aspect range with just a bit more aging (3-4 years, with 5 or more better), and the traces of bitterness and very mild rough-edge astringency, which wasn't pronounced enough to say much about, will soften and shift.
I should probably sit both away for another two years before checking them again, but will probably do so whenever something reminds me of it. I should probably also try that 2008 Yiwu version brick before too long, while the impression of these is still clearer in mind. 11 years still isn't fully aged by most people's assessment, not even in the earlier edge of the fully aged range, but it's enough time to transition a little more. I would imagine that tea has started out in such a different place originally that comparing character with these wouldn't amount to much, but the contrast might be interesting.
I'm mixing a lot of themes but between making these notes and final editing I retried that 2006 random-brick version I bought in Shenzhen. It was better than I remember. I looked back through the notes and I'd liked it during that review, with an initial slightly harsher earthiness dropping out after early rounds, but I wasn't noticing all that much of that this time, trying it just a month or so later. I was wondering if the teas couldn't have been either speed-aged or just wet-stored but it seems the character shouldn't be cleaning up this fast even if so. Maybe I'd been on younger sheng around the time of that tasting and trying these not-quite-there-yet 2010-11 Xiaguan versions reset expectations related to rough edges.
almost the end of "reception" year, a couple days left
her last day of the school year