2003 Xiaguan Shu Tuo
The appearance of this tea caused me to have reservations about its authenticity. At first glance, the tea appears fine:
But the interior leaves are all huangpian:
While many, many manufacturers hide ugly leaves under pretty leaves, this is not something Xiaguan has been known to do, not even for the Xiao Fa (French Export) Tuo, which this tea is. While some of the faces do not match the back of the cakes on blended cakes like the (T)86## series, I've never seen Xiaguan practice this level of deception. Xiaguan teas being faked all the time, I went to see if I could find this tea on Taobao, the Chinese version of eBay. I found only one 2003 Xiaguan tuo matching the wrapper--another Xiao Fa Tuo--but it has no picture of the leaves. Also, it sells for all of 36RMB, the equivalent of roughly $5 (*grumble*). In comparison:
Worse, it tastes and smells terrible. My first attempt yielded a chemical smelling wet leaf and a perfumey, thin liquor tasting of straw and no earthiness. It even made my stomach upset. I stopped after three infusions.
Today, I brewed the tea again using more leaf. The chemical smell was still there, but the tea was improved. Smoother in texture, it still tasted more like fucha: all dry grass and little earth. The qi was whack, upsetting my stomach and making me woozy. The 3rd, 4th, 5th infusions were the most pleasant, coupling earthiness and grass. After this, it regressed to harsher chemically hay flavors.
The "deception" and low quality leaf combined with poor flavor makes me wonder if this is really a Xiaguan tea. I'm no authority, but I've never seen Xiaguan do this and have never tasted Xiaguan shu pu'er that I disliked. A closeup of the brewed leaves below shows the leathery huangpian. I'd love to blame the huangpian alone, but I've had huangpian shu before without complaining as much.
Pros: no pond
Cons: artificial/chemical aroma and flavors, needs a heap of leaf to get good flavors, ends poorly
Cost: $16/250g. 35 gongfu sessions at approx. $0.45 per gongfu. $0.09 per cup. Low quality damages its value.
Verdict: Low quality leaf deceptively hidden. Poor flavor. Finicky brewing. Not very good. Going to try this again with just the face leaf and update this post later.