I sampled 2 Xiaguan pu erh teas during a morning while I was in Guangzhou.
I had the opportunity to sample the 2003 Xiaguan iron cake and the 2006 mushroom tuo cake. Both are raw pu erh and you will observe from the above pix that these 2 forms of tea compression are usually found in Xiaguan pu erh tea products. Xiaguan tea factory commonly compressed their pu erh tea into cakes, small tuos and bricks. Sometimes, the pu erh tea are compressed into iron tea cake and mushroom shaped cakes.
This iron tea cake I tried is the 2003 version. You do not see the 'Xiaguan' name on the wrapper but the tea factory's name is printed on the neifei or inner label on the cake. I believed 'Xiaguan' changed to their own wrappers in 2005. A retired CNNP manager friend told me that the use of machines to compress these iron cakes came from Russia technology and to this day, iron cakes are considered the highest compression pu erh tea cakes.
The mushroom shaped tea is a 2006 production. Weighing in at 250g per tuo, these tea are packed in threes into a paper bag. Notice the tibetan flame logo, which indicated that these tea was primarily produced for export to the Tibetan regions. There, the people have little access to green vegetables for their fibre intake and the tea was drunk as a digestion aid. Butter, spices, salt and sugar were added to the boiling tea and are drank frequently by the people there. Nowadays these tibetan flame tea are also appreciated by Chinese tea drinkers and such tea are now available in many tea shops in China and in countries like Malaysia and Hong Kong.
Before I sampled these Xiaguan teas, I was happily thinking that I would have an exciting smoky Xiaguan morning and looked forward to drinking these older tea especially the 2003 iron cake. Yes, it was a wonderful smoky experience but I was surprised that the 2003 iron cake tasted newer than the 2006 mushroom tuo. I believed the high level of compression of the iron cake was the main reason for the newer taste. This would suggest that only the tea leaves on the surface of this cake aged well while the leaves under the iron cake's surface aged very slowly as hardly any humidity could 'get through'. The mushroom tuo, had a nicer aged taste but tasted a bit rough as more chopped tea leaves were used in the making of this tuo. Even though my tea friends and I believed that better or whole tea leaves were used for the iron cake, most of the tea leaves would had been broken when I forcefully pried off some of this tea for a brew. However, I found the taste profile was better in the iron cake……liked there were more flavors in the tea. It was a nice morning going though about 10 infusions of each tea….savoring every cup and every drop.
But I digress…..today is the funeral of Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew, former prime minister of Singapore. He had been credited with transforming Singapore within 50 years to achieve top world rankings in terms of economy and finance, education, investment and standard of living. Time magazine had written many articles about Mr Lee and he had even been on their covers on a few occasions. Requiescat In Pace.