While paying a high price for a tea does not necessarily guarantee a good tea, I have often found that paying too little is a good way to make sure that you get what you paid for. I have verified this rule with this 2005 Xia Guan Tuo Cha (above). Xia Guan Tuo Chas are typically classified as special, first and second (Te Ji, Jia Ji, and Yi Ji). So, the above tuo cha is their lowest grade and cheapest. It costs less than 2 USD per Tuo Cha, with price going even lower if you buy the 5 Tuo Cha pack.
I have compared it to another Xia Guan Tuo Cha, the 2003 Jia Ji (first grade):
Here is the result of both teas. 2003 on the left and the 2005 on the right:
Sight: The tuo chas are pressed very tightly, but once you crack them up, you feel the tea like disintegrating. Both showed orange color. The 2003 had better color and clarity than the 2005.
Smell: Dry: the 2005 has strong pepper smells, while the 2003 is milder. Tea: A strong fresh smell of jasmine came from the 2003. It was mixed with cigarette smell. In the 2005, that cigarette smell was overwhelming.
Taste: After 4 brews, the fresh smells, which were rough, started to fade and only astringency and acidity remained. The teas had some length, but nothing elegant. The 2003 managed to have a little fruity moments, but the 2005 really live up (or down?) to my initial expectations: upset stomach, disgust from the cigarette butt smell. Nothing was missing.
The open leaves showed an even process for the 2003 Jia Ji, but all kinds of colors for the 2005: from very green to red.
Some consumers may believe the myth that any puerh will improve with age and buy these cheap tuo chas with this expectation. They may even think that all this astringency is proof of strength that is needed for aging. Unfortunately for them, my tea master (who has been drinking puerh for over 20 years) told me that only good puerh will improve. Like table wine turns into vinegar, bad tea will go from bad to worse. I just wonder if these tuo chas are not better in a closet with men's cloths, instead of lavender bags, to give the wardrobe a manly, musky smell...
So, why did I put this 2005 Yi Ji Tuo Cha in my selection (for a limited time, 6 months approximately)? To give my readers the opportunity to make their own experiments with this bad tea (drink it now and/or storing away until I retire in 25 years!). I always invite you not to take my words for granted, but to experiment for yourself. At less than 2 USD, the learning cost is low.
I live in Taiwan since 1996 and have been studying tea with Teaparker. He's a worldwide tea expert and author of over 30 tea books. The study of tea isn't just theoretical, but it's also rooted in daily practice. It's a path of continuous improvement. As my brewing technique improves I get access to better teas and better accessories. These things go hand in hand. My blog documents my learning since 2004. And I have set up an online tea boutique with my selection of top quality teas, accessories and tea culture.