Jadecicada on the Puerh Livejournal kindly sent me a sample of a "mystery" Xiaguan factory tuo cha. She wanted some users' thoughts on the tea, its age, etc. So, here are my thoughts, with many thanks to the cicada, whose six little legs did a great job posting the sample.
The tuo underwent some wet storage before making its way to California, where it was supposedly sourced. Visually, the thin strands of white fluff on the leaves detail the wet storage:
Despite its appearance on the leaf, the mold left no trace in the flavor of the tea and only a residue in the aroma. Sweet, smooth, woody, and with a long aftertaste in both early and late infusions, I was impressed. Wet enough to have aged the tea significantly, but dry enough to maintain a complex flavor profile and the floral elements of younger Xiaguan teas, the storage seemed on target: the tea was balanced. Better yet, it was easy to brew and a charm to drink.
I shared it with two others, and all of us began to sweat. One had never had aged sheng pu'er before, and drank his portion even faster than the two of us who knew what it was, and we hadn't told him a thing. His novice enthusiasm for the tea was a good sign of its quality.
All in all, you can't buy a better aged pu'er for $8 anywhere. A great find, and I hope the retailer stocks more, cuz I'd like to have the Cicada ship me a whole tuo...
My guesses: Early to mid-1990s sheng tuo, mildly wet stored.