Xiaguan factory produces huge amounts of tea and I can not say that I would be always delighted by their production. I do not enjoy their (since 2004, at least) trademark smokiness and that means that most of their teas are out of the game for me. However, there are occasional pleasant things. The 2001 Jia Ji is rather nice (although priced unreasonably in my opinion) and I do enjoy occasional 2007 Happy tuo (which I believe to become rather famous in future). The 2003 Jia Ji I'm writing about is of even higher quality than these. I would go as far as to suggest that it is a very good tea.
Somewhat dry stored version was sold here by Longfeng, but it is not anymore. What I am drinking right now is the Canton-stored version bought from Chawangshop at a rather reasonable price of $17.90.
The photos first:
The small leaves are tightly compressed and as a result, the aroma of dry leaves is faint. I have a not-so-good habit of using too much leaves of densely compressed teas, thus after obtaining an "appropriate amount of leaves", I put a part of the leaves back to the box.
The aroma of wet leaves is so powerful that it occasionally rides on the edge between pleasant and not-so pleasant. I'm afraid that even given my best effort, I used a bit too much of the tea again. Actually, when I did one longer brew, the not-so-pleasant aspect of aroma was present in the taste - so I suggest keeping the steeping times shorter. Part of the reason may be that the leaves are more broken than what I am used to these days so the taste leaves them faster. This feature of "too much is unpleasant" may sound like a defect, but it is often a signal of good stamina - the Fu Cha Ju 2005 Jingmai was similar in this aspect. Both teas are quite awful when one brews them badly, but they are durable and very good when prepared correctly.
What is this tea like then? Reasonably complex and balanced is what comes to my mind first. It has so many tastes that I actually find it difficult to distinguish between them. Some observations: The tea is nicely sweet. In later brews, honey sweetness appears in the aroma, but less in the actual taste. It starts with a bit of camphor, tones of overripe fruit (and longan) and some spice. Also, slight very pleasant agedness appears. I greatly enjoy teas in this age - still having good things of youth, while obtaining good things of age. All components of the taste go well together, nothing sticks out too much. Some bitterness stays on the tongue for a longer time but it is not too bad. The mouthfeel is good - the cooling is not as intense as in Scott's recent production, for example, but on the other hand, it is quite remarkable considering it is a mid-age Xiaguan tea. And I can feel the tea in the throat for much longer than most other teas.
It does stay in the pot for much longer than other teas too. The opened leaves fill the pot from 2/3 (not that much for me, actually), now I am drinking some 15-16th brew, doing only 10s steepings and the tea is still dark yellow and intense.
Even though the tea was stored in Canton, it is in very good shape, definitely does not feel wet or anything. The tight compression maybe helped here.
I like it. It is all-around a nice and balanced tea and currently in good shape.
Further reading: Half-Dipper