I've found myself in a pu-erh mood this week for a number of reasons--I got a selection of samples from NadaCha, I finally found a good pu-erh pot through Life of Tea, Hobbes has been posting about pu-erhs that I've tried, and it just sounds good. All signs point to a pu-erh review.
In some senses, the very idea of me reviewing an aged pu-erh is a bit absurd, considering how few examples I've experienced and even how little experience I have with contemporary productions of the same famous blended cakes. With me, it's always a learning process, though, and this is more of a personal journal than a critical forum. I can say with great enthusiasm that Nada's generous mission has multiplied my aged pu-erh drinking experience several-fold. If only there were just a few more vendors online attempting to sell quality and aged pu-erh at reasonable prices, the online pu-erh community might have a little more actual experience to go from, rather than blindly and hopefully accepting the oft-perpetuated 'facts' about this most mysterious and complex of teas. Enough meta-commentary, let's get to the tea.
Nada's shop notes for this tea are brief but tantalizing nonetheless. Since you don't have to know a whole lot about pu-erh to have heard about the famous 7542, I was very excited to add to my smidge of experience with this tea (a beautifully dry-stored sample of an 80's cake from Hou De, all of which is now sold out). The well-separated and treated leaves of my sample don't reveal a whole lot when dry; a bit of a frosting on the leaves does indicate they've received plenty of humidity. Nada is certainly not afraid of wetter-stored teas, which certainly broadens the list of options. For the most part, I'm lousy at pointing out specific other things that a tea tastes like, so I'll try and focus on some other descriptive aspects to convey my experience with this tea.
This tea's aroma is worth the price alone. When I say aroma, I mean a combination of 3 things: The tea's liquor in the cup, the hot/wet leaves in the pot, and the fair cup after pouring. Some teas put off completely different aromas in all three, and this is one of them. The cup aroma seemed to most closely resemble the flavor, starting off bold with an almost acrid edge (maybe not the best word choice, because I still found it pleasant). This was the most "basementy" showing the aroma gave me. The leaves were delightful to smell for about 4 infusions, alternating between a strong storage smell and a woody, chocolatey, rainy aroma until mellowing into a rather plain pu-erh aroma. The fair cup was another story again. I don't really enjoy aroma cups quite as much--a lot of trouble to use and clean, and I can never really get the aroma as well as I can burying my face inside the fair cup. If I hit it at the right time (not immediately after pouring, but before the pitcher's heat had evaporated nearly all of the tea residue), the fair cup aroma alternated between dark and light smells with some incredible results. On maybe the 7th infusion (I don't really count, sorry!) I impressed myself by taking a whiff and saying "Mustard! That's what that smells like!" But really the aroma tread a wide path across many varying sensations.
Flavor-wise, this tea certainly satisfied me. Though not as complex as the aroma, the flavor began with a gently pressing and very slight bitterness (maybe I oversteeped by a few seconds) that eased off after a couple steeps. Nada seems to have a flair for choosing more affordable teas that were clearly stored with plenty of humidity yet aren't overpowered by that characteristic. Though I've been most blown-away by the dry-stored aged teas I've tasted, I can see where Nada is coming from in many ways. I found the tea's flavor changed markedly depending on how much air I took while slurping, which is another good sign for complexity. Dark and light alternation probably best sums up my overall experience.
One last thing I noticed was a light astringency. Strange, though, because it was different from your average unaged sheng astringency--primarily in the mouth, and only lingering temporarily. Something that would go away with a few more decades of aging, or par for the course with aged pu-erh? Hmm. Maybe someone out there with more experience could enlighten me.
This tea was very fun to drink; I could see myself demolishing an entire bing in just a few months trying to understand all of its complexity. As it stands, I've got a small sample to keep tantalizing me as to its potential.