Xiaguan tea factory is famous for their pu erh iron cakes and tuos. Many tea drinkers including myself enjoy Xiaguan puerh that has a smoky aroma in the tea. It is sad that many of their new offerings now do not have the smoky profile.
The Xiaguan iron cake.
There is no metal in the Xiaguan iron cake. The metal name refers to the high compression of the pu erh tea. The compression is really hard. You simply cannot break up the cake with your bare hands. Many use a letter opener or knife or an ice pick to break up the tea cake. I use an ordinary plier to break up the cake. You would have noticed a Xiaguan iron looked unique; smooth on one side with tiny sharp stumps on the other side of the cake. The machines used to pressed the cakes, I was told, were a Russian invention (maybe its an unfounded rumour but its adds to the mystic of an iron cake). Based on my experience, Xiaguan iron cakes taste best after you had broken up a cake and let it rest for a couple weeks before you start brewing this tea.
How do you brew pu erh iron cake? and high compressed pu erh cakes? You have broken up your iron cake to small chunks, but based on my experience, 1.5 to 2g chunks of tea may still be 'too big' for tea brewing. I use boiling water for my tea infusions but I did noticed that those bigger chunks tend to remain as a chunk after a few infusions. This is due to the very high compression of the iron cake; that the tea chunks did not open up after a few infusions. I have a couple of suggestions that will resolve this issue. You can use a thin wooden food skewer to pry open the chunks in between infusions. You can also break the chunks into even smaller pieces prior to starting your tea session. This will ensure you get to better enjoy the iron xiaguan tea.
There are a few variants of the iron cake. The popular 8653 and the less popular 8613 and 8633. These numbers are just recipe names of the tea. Even though the 3rd digit represented the tea leaf grade, many Xiaguan tea drinkers believed that the recipe numbers reflected more on the different tea blends of the cake, referring more to the mix of pu erh tea from different pu erh tea producing regions.
This 8633 iron cake is not smoky. If you like Chinese herbal soups, this tea is right up your alley. This tea has a nice herbal profile; like those Chinese herbs used for a soup. I found the tea nice when sipping it hot. A nice tea for a quiet evening.