Young pu and now factory tea. Aren’t you the guy that published that super-negative Xiaguan report. At least young pu’erh is popular in our western pu’erh community. Who the hell is talking about factory tea in the west? Other than the odd cake here or there, or a LP/Toby group buy most of our pu’erh drinkers are chugging White2Tea, Bitter Leaf, Yunnan Sourcing, Essence of Tea, Crimson Lotus, etc. Then we have another collection of drinkers buying up Yangqing Hao and Wistaria. Factory pu’erh is the neglected child, that is championed amongst some old school drinkers, a group of drinkers that isn’t really represented in the western pu-sphere.
- This report should also be prefaced with saying that it reflects a lot of my own personal drinking preferences.
The teas from the Xiaguan report from last year were darts thrown against the wall when I didn’t know what I was doing. This sort of buying is common amongst newer drinkers and given the lack of information is pretty explainable. Here’s a few conditions that I used as rules when selecting samples for these teas.
- Avoid the young stuff. Good factory teas from the big two (Dayi, XG) are usually really strong tea. Unless you are a lover of the most burly/bitter brews, avoid things under 7 years of age. You’ll notice most of the teas in this report are right around 10 years of age.
- Select for humid stored teas. Xiaguan is known for their rock-hard compression. These are not stone pressed cakes. Even their normal cakes are very compressed. Dayi may be a bit looser, but is very compressed compared to your western-facing private production. While we can debate the merits of drier vs. wetter storage, these teas can really use that extra humidity. Especially if you are buying <10 year old tea, select for places like Guangdong and Taiwan over Beijing or Kunming. One reason why I buy from MX is the storage they select for, which tends to be often from Guangdong.
- Follow those who have gone before you as well as you can. There are a lot of factory teas! Repeat that… There are a lot of factory teas! With multiple batches, and huge variance… Most of us are also working with incomplete information. Teas are cheap for a reason. There’s also the additional dimension of storage. Take other’s advice in order to avoid duds.
My methodology for picking out teas was basically to order samples of anything around 10+ yers old from a couple of Guangdong based vendors that are considered to be generally reliable. This was principally MX and Donghe.
Access & Global Market
The market has become increasingly global. This is a good thing for the consumer as it gives us access to lots of teas that we’d have to go through resellers. Information in English has lagged behind, and this is highlighted in taobao where there is a ton of selection. One of the goals of this report is to give a few recommendations to start with and help people overcome the inevitable choice paralysis.
Sampling is also a challenge. One dud cake and a couple hundred dollars wasted can be enough to dissuade someone from participating in taobao. Taobao is not a simple place to sample from and you will often be forced to working with a cake as a sample. This combined with the overall distance of working with an agent to get the tea is a big hurdle for the uninitiated.
I’ve mentioned the tale of the 2005 Xiaguan 8653. If you search on taobao for this recipe from a single year you will be overwhelmed with different cakes and different productions. Slightly different wrappers, slightly different production dates, iron cakes, non-iron cakes, FT versions. The price and quality can vary significantly. Many of these are cheap for a reason and you often get what you pay for.
- MX Tea now sells samples relatively cheaply for some of their teas. Worth checking out for anyone that wants to avoid many of the problems listed above.
- Shoutout to Toby for recommendations and helping me parse through the choice paralysis and scores of tea.
<$0.20/g ($40/200g, $71/357g)
If you’ve only been drinking young pu’erh, maybe you forgot that pu’erh gets this cheap. You don’t necessarily need to be spending $100/357g beeng ($0.28/g) to get decent-enough factory tea that shows real age. Are these teas pure gushu? No.. But depending on your taste many are functional, decent blends, that are drinkable now and should continue to improve with time, albeit slowly in the west.
2005 Dayi 8582 501, $0.16/g
Unsurprisingly, very different than the smaller leafed Dayi recipes, 0622 and 7532. This has good thickness and a nice round body. Smooth, sweet, light bitterness. Pine, wood, quite mellow and easy drinking if you like larger leaf. It’s roughly the same caliber as the 2006 0622 and 7532. A bit boring but easy enough to drink. It doesn’t have a ton of depth but there’s some returning sweetness to the throat.
2006 Dayi 0622 601 200g, $0.14/g
I’ve drank through most of a cake (200g) and have five more. I like this a little better than the 7532 now, but it doesn’t have quite the same body and may not be as good in the long run. I enjoy the better-than-average depth to this tea and the cherry syrup mouthfeel which leaves a nice sweet feeling in the mouth. These help to counteract the somewhat thin body.
2006 Dayi 7532 660g, $0.10/g
An interesting comparison with the 0622 (also from MX). This is a lot less sweet but more robust and well bodied. It has some of the cherry, syrup action but is less pronounced. It is soft and has a tendency to get sour and is a bit more front-focused than the 0622. I think it may be a better tea in the future, but I’d rank them pretty evenly.
2007 Dayi 7742, $0.20/g
Bready, retired smoke. It’s soft, and lightly spicy. On a certain steep it became massively sour. Some mouth coat and an interesting mouthfeel but overall I don’t really care for this tea in its current state.
2005 Xiaguan FT8653-5, $0.15/g
I own a single cake that I drink on occasion. It’s nothing amazing, but good enough for me to drink now and then. It starts out with minerals and grainy before moving to more of a menthol/soft wood profile. Gritty mouthfeel. It’s really not smoky at all and has a surprisingly decent depth that extends to the back of the mouth. The 2004 Xiaguan FT8653-3+1 from the FT warehouse is a bit better, but also more expensive.
2006 Xiaguan FT4 Pink, $0.14/g
Xiaguan wrapped in pink seems like an odd combination, but I dig it. Thick, oily body. Higher noted than the FT8653-5 and probably either stronger compression or lighter storage. Can feel the strength swell in the cheeks. Has a perfumey, powdery texture. Becomes more wood/pine as it steeps before moving to a cherry sweet pine vibe.. Gets increasingly bitter for a few steeps. Fairly front focused and doesn’t have a ton of depth. No discernible stomach discomfort. Good Xiaguan tea for newcomers to the crane that are a bit wary of being beaten to death by giant cranes.
2006 Xiaguan FT Canger, $0.12/g
Tippy blend. Soft and relatively smooth. Thickness is medium, but it is nicely oily. More tar and smoke compared with the FT4 or FT8653-5, but those notes fade after a few infusions. More bitter than those teas. For the faint of heart this is probably best brewed light where it produces a soft texture, less bitterness but a thinner soup. Moves to a mineraly, floral brew late. The bitterness here lingers for longer and is slower to transform to sweetness although it eventually does happen. There’s some light huigan that comes a bit later. Some stomach discomfort.
2006 Xiaguan FT Mini-Iron, $0.09/g
Just OK and kind of unexciting. It has all the characteristics of Xiaguan but is just not terribly exciting. Still plenty of smoke and decent longevity, but it has relatively smoothed out.
What Would I Pick?
Unlike teas from the previous report I am interested in these teas. I’d choose in order:
- 2006 Xiaguan FT4 Pink (drinking, storage)
- 2005 Xiaguan FT8653-5, 2006 Menghai 0622/7532 (drinking, storage)
<$0.40/g ($80/200g, $143/357g)
This is fairly normal territory for a lot of young pu’erh from all vendors these days. >$0.40/g was actually the cutoff for my recent fancy pu’erh report.
2006 Dayi 66 Classic Beeng, $0.26/g
Big beeng, so it really isn’t a cheap buy-in (~$170USD) despite it’s $/g. Above average Dayi. Could use more time. This tea still stands out as having a very clear potential towards aging. Mix of leaf grades. Decent bitterness, inoffensive light smoke, above average body. Good thick mouthfeel. Nice soft texture, wood, stone fruits, herbal notes. There’s no throatiness while drinking but some returning huigan. Leaves a pleasant sweet feeling in the mouth. I still wouldn’t buy it, because it’s not that good and not exactly cheap. Nice enough to try.
2003 Xiaguan FT Box Fangcha, $0.32/g
Good and worth the money. Dark fruits and leather early. Some light smoke in the initial steep or two. Quite a sweet tea and it reminds me of a better, more forgiving 0622 in some ways. It has a syrupy texture to it and can develop a mild tanginess when pushed. Viscosity is on the light end but is sufficient. As it steeps it moves towards the territory of standard Xiaguan with more wood and pine notes. The aftertaste leaves a lot of sweet flavors mainly centered around the roof of the mouth. There’s a little in the back of mouth and throat but it’s pretty light.
The 2004 one is much cheaper. I have not tried it but heard that it is much inferior as well.
2004 Xiaguan FT Nanzhou, $0.25/g
This fits into a different stylistic category than the rest of the XGs in this report. The immediate aromatics of rich, tropical fruits. It’s somewhat soft and is a good mix of fruit, savory/vegetal tones, and lower register notes like wood, leather. Light throatiness. A bit drying and can definitely still get bitter. Longevity is also good and the tea outlasts my interest. A decent quality factory tea that is pretty drinkable but one that isn’t quite interesting enough for my own particular preferences.
What Would I Pick?
- 2003 FT Box Fangcha
The More Expensive Rest
I fully suspected to not be enthusiastic of the more expensive teas sampled, the primary goal being education.
2002 Dayi Red in Red, $1.06/g
Strong, robust aroma. Starts with sour hay, minerals, grains. It is very thick and oily with quite a lot of sourness and bitterness. The pungent bitterness becomes sweetness quickly and there’s also some returning to the throat huigan. Good depth as well. This is a very powerful tea and is easily one of the strongest Guangdong stored teas from the 2000s I’ve tried. It also has some qi. Unfortunately it does seem to fall off and lose its potency around steep 7 or 8. It goes on for a while but starts to steep into a basic sweet, ripened stone fruits. Is this tea worth it? Not from a purely quality standpoint to drink, but it does illustrate the oomphiness and reason why a good, classic Dayi tea is the stuff that is a proven commodity to age.
2003 Dayi Yiwu Zhengshan Purple, $0.61/g
Had a very compressed bit of the beenghole to work with. The body starts out a bit thin, but it does thicken as it steeps. This is still quite bitter and has a base taste of brown sugars and florals. The best part is the feeling in the back of the mouth that stays there. It’s expensive for what it’s worth and there’s no reason to buy this for drinking.
2004 Dayi Peacock Qiaomu, $0.59/g
One of the two samples from Donghe. I do enjoy this tea and it’s an interesting contrast vs. the 2002 Red in Red. They’re both quite strong but also very different from one another. This is oily and never as thick as that tea. It has a quick returning sweetness to the throat in the early steeps. It is bitter at the beginning and this becomes more pronounced as it steeps, moving into an herbal, aspirin profile. This is accompanied by a stronger mouthfeel and sweetness. This overall feels more modern while the Red in Red feels closer to a classical Dayi production. I need to watch my consumption here as this tea is quite strong. A touch of qi, but not a ton.
2004 Dayi Purple Nannuo, $0.71/g
This is from Donghe and drier stored. Soft, oily, hay, florals. Can get a bit sour. I suppose this could be a decent tea, but frankly it’s charms are lost on me.
2001 Xiaguan Olympics, $0.54/g
Not as good as the FT8623. It has a sweet BBQ smoke that persists longer than expected. Leaves are on the small end but not as small as FT8623. A touch of ginseng/TCM in a few of the steeps. Pretty front-focused and no qi.
2003 Xiaguan FT8623-3, $0.54/g
Some light smoke in the initial steep or two. Quite a sweet tea and it reminds me of a better, more forgiving 0622 in some ways. It has a syrupy texture to it and can develop a mild tanginess when pushed. Viscosity is on the light end but it is sufficient. As it steeps out moves a bit towards the territory of standard Xiaguan with more wood and pine notes. The aftertaste leaves a lot of sweet flavors mainly centered around the roof of the mouth. There’s a little in the back of mouth and throat but it’s pretty light. Roughly same level as the FT Box, perhaps slightly better.
|2006 FT Mini-Iron||Xiaguan||$11.25||125||$0.09||C-.|
|2006 FT Canger||Xiaguan||$59.00||500||$0.12||C.|
|2004 FT Nanzhou||Xiaguan||$50.00||200||$0.25||B-.|
|2006 66 Classic Beeng||Dayi||$174.00||660||$0.26||B-.|
|2003 FT Box Fangcha||Xiaguan||$40.60||125||$0.32||B.|
|2003 FT 8623||Xiaguan||$194.00||357||$0.54||B.|
|2004 Peacock Qiaomu||Dayi||$235.00||400||$0.59||B.|
|2003 Yiwu Zhengshan (Purple)||Dayi||$216.00||357||$0.61||C+.|
|2004 Purple Nannuo||Dayi||$255.00||357||$0.71||C.|
|2002 Red in Red||Dayi||$379.00||357||$1.06||B.|
I enjoyed these teas far more than the previous Xiaguan report.. I own a few of these already and will probably buy more! To those that have yet to try, don’t be put off by factory tea and give it a try. Much of it is decent and not very expensive.