A regular reader and commentator of this blog sent me 2 (always welcome) samples last week. I forgot about the name of the first one, which is the best thing I can do with that young, raw, low quality puerh. A look at the unclear brew coming from those dusty leaves and I knew already I wouldn't enjoy it.
This second puerh from Xia Guan is much better, the brew is clear and the color is almost shining. However, the age of 1988 seems quite exagerated. The dry leaves were already looking greener than they should, but the brew is much too light (on the right). For comparison, I've brewed from my (only) Jiang Cheng brick from 1988 (on the left). The difference is quite obvious.
-But color alone can't give you the age, you must also make sure that the leaves completely unfurl (1) and that the tea doesn't smell like my great uncle's farm (2). Otherwise, you may be drinking cooked puerh (1) or even puerh stored in a humid chamber (2). These 2 puerhs would look or even somehow smell like old puerh, but not quite like the real ones.-
One possible reason for using the year 1988 is the auspicious sound to Chinese ears (8 is pronounced Ba, which is closed to Fa and means getting rich). So Chinese merchants like to see one or two 8 associated with the name of their products. Even foreigners adapt to this custom in Taiwan. Mobile phone brands in Taiwan, for instance, very often add a '88' at the end of their western product numbers.
So, this '1988' may not be intended to deceive about the year, just a symbol for a good tea. There could be some truth to that, because it was quite nice to drink. I noticed very little astringency and a pleasant, fresh fruit fragrance. A polite tea drinker would stop here in order not to offend a generous friend who shared this tea. But I guess that he's expecting a more critical analysis from me. So, the weakness of this tea is it's lack of persistance as it fades away very quickly after you've swallowed it. I think it's also linked to its below average concentration. I was not able to make as many brews as I usually do with a puerh. So, in my opinion, this makes it a fair to good young puerh to be drunk now, but a poor candidate for long term storage. In case you still want to store it, I recommend drinking from it every 2-3 months to monitor its evolution. When you start noticing a decline, then finish it off quickly.