This tea version was shared by the owner of Tea Side, which is much appreciated. I've tried very little relatively old sheng like this, so I'll keep this intro short and move onto a description. It will be a good opportunity to let the vendor offer his opinion in more complete citation:
1988 Yuen Neun Hong Tai Chang Aged Raw Pu-erh Tea Cake
The original old sheng from the famous brand Hong Tai Chang. Delivered directly from the warehouse of the factory, where it was produced and stored since 1988. It’s already more than 30-year-old pu-erh tea.
This sheng is made from old Thai trees of Chiang Rai province in northern Thailand. The pu-erh was made exactly at the factory from which the brand Hong Tai Chang had started to walk around the world.
We are well aware of the Thai Pu-erh "kitchen" from the inside and are convinced that the traditions of Hong Tai Chang (and of course the original material from old trees) are owned by different pu-erh factories in Thailand...
There's more there related to the issue of diversity of sources and authenticity, including the remark "Hong Tai Chang is one of the most frequently forged tea brands."
I'm reminded of writing about the Xiaguan "Love Forever" cake recently, created in 2013 from older material, so very recently in comparison, about how there were two relatively identical versions produced (differing greatly in character, reportedly) that were only wrapped in a different tong wrapper, one paper and one bamboo. In that case varying storage condition issues seemed to diversify experienced outcomes a lot as well.
On to that Tea Side description of this tea character:
The taste is distinct and clear with the richest palette of hues of the wood-nut spectrum and the noble aroma of old age Chen Xiang (陈 香, Chén Xiāng). Infusion is smooth and easy to drink. Cha Qi is dense but delicate. The power of the material, amazing stamina, softness and density of the liquor gain endless respect for these samples of the classic puer tradition of Hong Tai Chang...
That listing includes a link to a video review by the guys at TeaDB (which I've not seen yet), and a positive comment by Emmett Guzman, a name that might be familiar to some. Good signs, but personal experience is a better yardstick, even for someone with more limited related prior exposure.
It's interesting how the two product reviews there that include flavor-aspect evaluation vary so much, and don't necessarily match my own. The general character described is very common between the three; that's how it goes with such interpretations.
I tasted the rinse to see where this is coming from and a bit of char or related milder carbon was present; the tea has seemingly aged to quite well fermented. I'll probably go a little longer on the first two infusions than I normally would to clear past that, not so much over 5 seconds, but stopping short of using very fast infusion times.
First infusion: hard to say if this is clearer, but it's pleasant as it is. A very "dark" range aged tree bark is closest to that carbon-like range, which again I expect to clear off relatively quickly. Beyond that aged furniture flavor and other range typical to aged sheng joins that, well roasted chestnut leaning towards dried fruit.
Second infusion: it's transitioning well, and quickly. The roasted chestnut range is much clearer. Next the obvious difference in people drinking and describing teas comes up, that there is a standard expected pattern of drinking tea for taste, then for mouth-feel and aftertaste aspects, then later for effect of the tea more, the cha qi theme. Feel of this is soft; all of the compounds giving young sheng that aggressive feel have transitioned. It has a rich fullness to it, and that flavor trails over, but that effect will change a lot as this opens up.
Maybe it's just my imagination but I think that I can feel this already, not even finished with the second cup. The dry leaf amount was in between what I would normally drink and not quite to double that so I used all of it, a judgement that usually goes the other way (and maybe should have in this case). I would hate to be stretching the infusions and preparing this in atypical form, but in short timeframe retrospect drinking a dozen rounds is probably going to be way too much, and I'll probably really be feeling it halfway to that point. I have some time off, since it's a Thai holiday, but my wife will be starting in about going to a shop somewhere for some errand, always. We'll see how it goes.
Third infusion: part of the sweetness resembles marshmallow; that's cool. Flavor may not be the main thing a lot of "advanced" sheng drinkers would be focused on but that part is pleasant, complex and unique. I probably over-use "unique" as a description; this really is different. The way this is so clean already, and combines that marshmallow with roasted chestnut and hints toward dark dried fruit is very nice.
Fourth infusion: I think next round it might be more where it's going to, which is probably going to be a long transition path. I am using relatively fast infusion times for this, around 5 seconds. For using a relatively high proportion of tea even that's a bit long, a bit on the intense side. This would be great as flash infusions; maybe I'll try one after the next round.
Not so different; again that marshmallow touch is nice, a great addition to the rest. The roasted chestnut is picking up sweetness, adding more in the toffee range. One aspect I can't really identify is how I'd imagine betel nut to be, an odd mix two different Chinese herbs people chew together that results in a dark spit that you don't swallow, if I'm remembering that right. It's something unfamiliar, at any rate.
Fifth infusion: with the pour this might have brewed five seconds; still not on the light side. I'm definitely feeling this. It's a heady buzz but also with a lot of body feel. It's probably a good thing I had breakfast before this, or I might be tapping out right about now.
As happens with every tea the flavor range shifts, the aspects balance, for going slightly faster, but it's not so different. I've not been doing justice to the role dark wood plays in this. It's like a mix of how mahogany and driftwood comes across, heavy in rich flavor (or aroma) and also mineral undertone. Then the rest I keep repeating. The higher end note that is in marshmallow range is picking up a hint of citrus as well; that's different. I could relate to a description that's just a list of dried fruits instead; dried tamarind and dried dark cherry would make sense. There's a lot going on for flavor layered in together, and expectations would naturally lead someone to identify the parts they were already expecting.
Sixth infusion: more of the same really; maybe as well to take a round off describing this.
Seventh: this really has settled into where it will be in these middle infusions, it seems. It's pleasant, interesting in flavor and other character, clean and complex, definitely intense. The hint of citrus is probably changing character and level a bit, more clearly an orange zest at this stage, more distinct.
This is not a tea to drink in a hurry. I'm not supposed to be in a hurry, but of course my wife not only has something she wants to do, there's a driving need to get on with it. The effect works much better for relaxing and appreciating the cool feel to the day (maybe 25 C / 75 F now, so room temperature, but cool for me), and the colors and sounds outdoors. I'm doing that, I just don't have long to go in keeping it up.
Eighth: I'll try the first longer brewed infusion for staring around at things outside so much, brewed much longer, well over 20 seconds. That effect is cool too, the blast of mellow intensity. All of those flavors I'd listed had taken turns to be dominant but none really dropped out, beyond the range cleaning up over the first 2 to 3 rounds. It's complex. I'd expect that hint of citrus to get pushed out of the way by the heavier, earthier range (when brewed for so long) but it ramps up in the same proportion.
Ninth: maybe that citrus hung in there brewed strong because it was still ramping up. This is definitely a dried version of orange zest; that drying process drops off the brightness but leaves behind plenty of related flavor.
It's interesting comparing this fermentation effect to that of shu. I can see why it's not a completely different thing, for a version that is completely fermented like this. It's just as unrelated as it is the same though. Lighter, subtle versions of shu can be closer to this than most, which taste like peat and the like. One part is earthy, for sure, but range in between earth and mineral is closer to root spices of some sort, not far off how ginseng comes across, that's just not exactly it. This is really clean, even though the descriptions I keep using probably don't sound it (well roasted chestnut, dark wood, etc.).
The feel from the tea is changing, less of a head buzz but still well centered in both my head and body. It's lightening a little, while still intensifying at the same time. I'm not really into "cha qi" feels like that but it is notable. As with thinking that bitter and sweet sheng is very pleasant it leads me to consider whether it would have to be interpreted as positive or not. I'm mostly against any and all drug use, pulling my own bias in that direction, away from embracing anything related. It's not exactly like being stoned (on weed), but also not completely dis-similar. Of course there is weed for that, or tranquilizers, stimulants, etc.
Tenth: it's nice how the root spice and citrus keep ramping up, with a hint of dried fruit around the range of dried tamarind, making this much less earthy at this stage. It's not losing intensity, more changing in form. In a sense the taste was stronger before, so that doubling timing to 20 seconds or so would maintain that level, if desired. This works well light though, not really all that light for brewing for just over 5 seconds.
11: I brewed this for around 10 seconds; that might be where I like it best at this stage. I don't think I'll get to try another half dozen infusions to "see this through;" I'm a few warnings in that it's time to go. Apparently we're off to see a "Lego museum," whatever that is. This hasn't changed enough to warrant repeating the round 10 description anyway, and probably will brew a few more similar rounds prior to later cycle transition and extending timing changing things a little.
I think I'll drop the notes and just drink the tea. What to add as a conclusion? It's an interesting experience, pleasant and novel. This is definitely not a breakfast tea; rushing through a dozen rounds would make no sense at all, and I've been at the edge for rushing things a little taking over an hour to drink part of it.
Thinking back on that it seems likely that the extent to which you "feel" a tea might relate a lot to what you expect. One could probably mindfully, with a lot of pre-conceptions, drink a strong mug of Lipton and seem to have a lot of whatever experience they expect as a result; calming, a real lift, whatever it is. Maybe caffeine and theanine always really combine to support both. Spending an hour just drinking tea and relaxing outside on a cool morning should feel energizing and relaxing, maybe even without the tea.
A second point, not so closely tied but not completely unrelated: no matter what someone experiences related to tea, or prefers, or expects, it seems that someone else would comment that to them that experience isn't valid, or in line with what they understand related to that particular tea (or subject theme, etc.). This was highlighted in a discussion about tea and cults in a Facebook group recently, a subject I wrote about not long ago.
Half the people responding seemed completely against mixing tea experience and religion / formal ceremony, or wearing flowing, naturally dyed robes as a shared group aesthetic choice. The other half (roughly speaking) were for all of that. That's an oversimplification that people inclined towards either side (bias) could object to, with good reason, but still at the core that seems to be what was happening. Specific types of liberal and conservative biases seemed to be the main perspective foundation, not the specific details being discussed. A couple of comments made that explicit: people said they didn't even need to hear the details, or click a link, to know where they stood, that a few short phrases of description already painted enough picture for them.
And what?, one might ask. It's just an observation, and one that ties back to the "cha qi" theme clearly enough that it seems unnecessary to flesh that out. Plenty of pu'er enthusiasts would be open to cha qi experience as valid without embracing ceremonial aspects of tea drinking. But without actually trying this particular tea it seems impossible to critique what experience should have resulted, if any one description is well-grounded or based partly in imagination. It gets a bit far into philosophy but I'd interpret all our life experience as based partly in preconceptions, which isn't far from a claim that our own ideas (/ framing) are a main experiential input along with external "raw data."
At any rate it was cool trying an older sheng version. I haven't tried many 30 year old sheng versions at all (maybe only one?) so I'm really not the right person to place it, related to any of the experience aspect range. I found it interesting and quite pleasant.
slightly creepy science museum display
on a green screen effect background (with Kalani representing Penn State that day)
Legos did come up