I opened a 2008 Haiwan 958 Lao Tong Zhi tuo. This 100g tuo is compressed tightly and I needed my tea pick to break up this tuo. This tuo comes in a bag (5 tuos) but some teashops may sell single tuos as well.
There are a couple of things that I do not like about tuos. Breaking the tuo can be a pretty dangerous exercise. I had a mini accident 2 months ago, when my tea pick slipped off the tuo and pricked me. Fortunately, it was not serious but shudder to think that a potential and serious accident may occur in breaking up a tuo. To my readers.......be careful and take your time when you 'operate' on your tuo. I also realized that breaking up a tuo gave rise to much tea dust. These tea fannings might clogged up your teapot during a brewing session and might upset the brew strength of your tea. With your tea filter within your teapot clogged up, the pour-out is slowed down considerably and your cup of tea may end up much stronger than you had wanted. I believe these tea dust make the tea slightly bitter.......maybe its my imagination.
I did not have any high expectations when I brewed this 4 year old tuo. It had a mild woodsmoke scent, mild floral notes and a hint of sweet finish. I felt slightly sweaty when I drank 2-3 infusions quickly. However, there was a mild astringent feel in this tea, where my tongue seemed to tingled a bit after drinking this tea. This astringency is normally more pronounced in newer raw (sheng) pu and the tea will lose this characteristic and become more mellow with storage over time. I am sure this Haiwan tuo will be even more impressive in a couple of years. A nice and inexpensive tea. In my opinion.....drinkable now but may even be better with a couple more years of storage. I finished this tuo in less than 2 weeks.
One reader had emailed me commenting that he himself, and the people he knew, that drink pu erh, tend to buy cakes and brinks than tuos. He seemed to imply that cakes and bricks have a higher collectibility value and of a better quality than tuos. Yes, its visually more eye catching to display cakes and bricks in teashops or in a tea collector's showcase. Easier to store too. But tuos, small and big, are part of pu erh culture. The tuo, I suppose, gives that added dimension to the pu erh drinker and collector that is not found in other teas.