I recently made several purchases from a small Hong Kong seller on Ebay. He (she?) doesn't have a virtual store front like the more well-known Ebay vendors, but is listing plenty of puerh, almost all of it between $0.01 and maybe a couple dollars at most. The shipping costs (between $7.99 and $9.99 per cake) are really all you're paying for these teas. For as strange as this sounds I've been wanting to taste some particularly bad puerhs as a way to further my knowledge. Then again, who's to say a cheap puerh is necessarily bad? (or that a $219 cake is good?) Who knows.. I might find a gem among these penny-puerhs? Not much different from taking a gamble with a random tea listed on Taobao.
10-second rinse this time -- ahhh better. The grandma's closet smell was gone now and the fragrance was all soft but indistinct fruit. I thought I smelled some banana, which struck me as unusual. Feeling emboldened I went for a first infusion, starting off gentle with 7 seconds. The aroma continued with the theme of "indistinct fruit" (I know... not very helpful) and again I'm thinking I smell some banana in there. The color of the soup is promising, a clear and soft medium orange. Taste? Not much going on. My first impressions were a tingling sensation in my mouth, followed by a pronounced drying of the mouth. To be honest, I found myself wondering how much I was taking in in the way of pesticides.
I have to admit I was expecting a bad tea. Yes, it was the price I paid for it and where I bought it. Just like my high expectations for the YS $219 cake, I found myself wanting this tea to be bad. I watched my thoughts on this matter and found myself asking, if this humble little tuo were offered on, say, Essence of Tea's website for a much pricier sum, would I be finding more merit with it now? I wondered, but as the session wore on I knew this was no special tea. I quickly bumped up the infusion times in an effort to get more taste out of it. Wood flavors came forward but they were weak compared to other teas I've had. The strange tingling in my mouth continued and if I didn't have first-hand experience of true hui gan I might have wondered if that's what I was sensing. But I *do* know hui gan and this was something else. Something not entirely pleasant or reassuring.
By the third infusion the leaves had lost nearly all fruit-related aromas and what remained might best be described as 'plain old tea.' The taste was 'kind of watered down wood.' I don't know if this could be called a bad puerh. It certainly wasn't overly bitter or sour (I have yet to taste a puerh that has a sourness to it, though I read about it now and then). Aside from the mouth tingling, which decreased with each steeping, there wasn't anything particularly unpleasant about this tea. But neither was there anything that stood out to command my attention as a particularly fine aspect. If I were to rate all the teas I've experienced thus far, with 1 being the worst and 10 being the best, I'd probably give this one a 3. I've definitely had worse (the worst tea I ever had smelled and tasted as though it'd been grown, processed and stored at the bottom of a bus stop ash tray that hadn't been cleaned for far too long). I picked up quite a few of these penny-puerhs, though, so maybe I'll find something yummy. Or not. :)