I had ordered this 250g ripe pu erh brick from Awazon from the internet. Awazon's proprietor describes the tea as " This Pu-erh brick tea is product of the year 2000, carefully preserved through Dry Storage Method (a traditional way of producing fine Pu-erh tea). It is produced with Qiaomu (arbor) tea from high mountain hundred years old tea tree in Yunnan province. It brews transparent brown liquor, and gives smooth & great aftertaste with pure Pu-erh aroma." It costs me about US$17, freight inclusive.
Breaking this particular brick up gave me a surprise. The cake was compact and I had to use a knife for assistance. The surprise was the difference in appearance of the tea leaves on the outside of the cake compared to the inside. The tea leaves seems to be of lower quality on the inside of the brick - meaning the tea leaves looked so broken and crumbly. I have never drank this tea before and I was concerned with this findings (see pix 3/4). In addition upon brewing the tea, I found the 1st infusion slightly cloudy due to the fine tea dust.
I contacted Awazon to let him know of my findings; that maybe the distributer that sold this brick to Awazon may have shortchanged him on the sale. I received a reply from the proprietor; "This 2000 aged Pu-erh brick was made by Yunnan Tea Import and Export Company. Traditionally they have higher grade loose Pu-erh tea outside and lower grade Pu-erh tea leaves inside. This sort of production for Pu-erh tea cakes you may see in traditional ripe Pu-erh tea cakes, such as 7572#,7552# produced by Menghai Tea Factory and 7578# and 7598# made by Haiwan Tea factory. I broke a brick and checked this brick, here in Kunming the inside part is also loose (as produced many years ago), but dry (not damp, maybe Kunming has a dry climate....... It's normal sometimes you have cloudy infusion when brewing ripe Pu-erh tea...This tea is safe."
The implication of the reply seem to indicate that some production of pu erh before the tea companies were privatized, may have been compromised, in a sense, that some tea cakes and bricks have better leaves on the outside and lower quality leaves are used on the inside. I had heard of this rumour during my visit to Kunming earlier this year, where a couple of tea dealers there had mentioned this practice to me, even though I had not encountered any pu erh tea cake/ brick that were compromised in terms of quality until now.
The taste of the tea was pleasant and smooth. It has a nice light floral aroma. My local tea friend, whom I gave a sample of this tea, commented "this tea remind me of red dates....nice and fully acceptable". Over in this part of the world, when we refer to red dates, this meant the dried version of the chinese red date. These red dates are usually added to soups or tonics to sweeten the taste and as well as to give a floral aroma. My tea friend had concluded that the taste of this ripe tea brick was pleasant. I agreed with his findings.
Do I recommend this tea? Price-wise ok and taste ok as well. I would say that for about us$17 for a 10 yr old nice tasting ripe brick, I would recommend a purchase. I have to admit that I cannot assess this tea properly as I do not have much exposure to ripe pu erh tea that is about 10 years old. I have a couple of these bricks left and I have no regrets having them in my collection.