I believe that many people saw the $490 price tag at Yunnan Sourcing where the set of six cakes from Gu Puer tea company is available and thought "that's a lot money for puerh". However, if one considers that the price means some $82 per cake, the price may not be all that bad if the teas are good. I have spent more time only with this Banzhang so far, but if the rest is of similar quality, I'd say the price is sound. Of course, the problem with such sets is that if you like two of six cakes, the price suddenly becomes a lot less sound.
Obviously, the value of the cakes is not only their immediate quality, but also they show how certain areas may age when alone (or inter-area blends, of course). Although I think that these "single area" 2001 teas will be far from today's even more single-area teas, they may be a good guide to aging nevertheless.
The leaves are of most agreeable light brown color, yet without traces of wetness - this did not age in a too dry environment, it seems.
The wet leaves sport a light woody smokiness, a bit of animality, some clay with a bit of BZ fruit. However, the mixture of fruit and clay/stone, where the fruit tends to dominate in younger BZ, is dominated by the clay/stone here. After a few steepings, the smokiness tends to join the wood, resulting in a cedar aroma with its innately smoky woody aroma.
This is how I like 2001 tea looking. Just for a reference, this tea went through drier storage than the 2001 Jinchanghao from EoT, there is no trace of shicang in this Banzhang. I wonder where this tea has aged as I'd try to look for more tea from there.
Cedarwood is quite strongly present in the taste, which I do not enjoy terrifically, but it is not bad really. Another notable component is the "stone fruit" commonly found in Banzhang, however, it is much more stone than fruit. There is not that much fruitiness left really, it probably aged away and left its place to subtler clay tones. However, any earthiness starts rather light in this tea.
The sweetness and thickness are good and in-line with the rest, it's not like with some teas where you get nothing but big fat sweetness.
When I used short-ish steepings, I got no bitterness, nor astringency, however, using longer steepings, quite powerful bitterness appeared and it tends to go away reasonably quickly.
This tea is multi-faceted - with short steepings, it is mostly woody, with some clay and only starts to feel a bit aged. With longer steepings, the tea becomes a lot darker overall (not only in color, but mostly in character) and develops some serious aged tones and that aged nuttiness, which I enjoy a lot. But it comes at the cost of weaker "Banzhangness".
It has a good aftertaste, paired with mid-strong, long tingling which makes the whole drinking experience better. Although the cooling does get a bit weaker as steepings go on, even in the 10th steeping, it is fairly reasonable.
The tea is an interesting mixture of strength and relative short-livedness. The taste and overall feeling is quite strong, but after five steepings, the taste gets less complex and interesting and after I finish 9th steeping (i.e., 1 litre of water), I do not feel the urge to add more. Not that a litre would be bad, but teas of this age often give more. I once tried to make shorter steepings to make more of them, but I do not think that it lead to a better session, on the contrary.
In general, I liked the tea for the good mouthfeel and the partial Banzhangness (which was very fun to observe and compare to the vector of 2010, 2007 and 2005 Banzhangs I have tasted), while I could live without the cedar woodiness&smoke, but it's nothing I could not deal with. Also, I liked the aging of this tea, I think that teas of this age&aging give good insight into how young puerh transforms into young-aged puerh.
Although the tea is good in many aspects, it is not particularly "friendly" or "kindly embracing" - it is like cats I'd say - strong, fun to be with, but it has its mind and it won't slavishly listen to you and warm you up whenever you want.
The leaves are strong (thick, do not break upon rubbing), they look like a mixture of older and younger trees.