I started delving into mysteries of heicha about a year ago and I must say it is a very pleasant journey. For a long time, liu an, liu bao, fu bricks and all that good stuff, were not commonly seen on the internet. Now, the situation gradually improves and more and more good tea can be bought.
Today, I'd like to write about two Kang Zhuans (bricks made for Tibet) I tasted recently. The first one is a cheap one, from 1993 ($32 per 0.5 kg), while the 1985 costs more ($165 per 0.5 kg). Anyway, both are dirt cheap, compared to puerh from that times.
I must forewarn you that I did not prepare these teas in the traditional way (if nothing else, the herds of yaks are very few in Prague), but good old fashioned gongfu style. Also, I am not really that well acquainted with countless different heichas so add another pinch of salt to the one that is taken by you when you're reading my ordinary posts.
The leaves are, well, scruffy. But most heicha bricks are not composed of the sexiest material, without harming the very quality of resulting liquor.
The wet leaves do smell remarkably nice. Probably not too complex, nor exciting, but very nice. The aroma is warm, sweet and aged (sort of like a dry stored sheng - not superdry, howewer, far from that). As steepings proceed, light camphoriness appears.
The taste is mostly fine aged sweetness too. An important thing is that it is a "tasty sweetness", not only a general sweetness without any own taste. The taste reminds me of the aroma I smelled when we were cutting some aged wood (not rotten or anything; a good dry old wood). I'd say that "aged wood" describes the taste fairly well. I'll say once more that it is by no means feeling musty or rotten. Similarly to the aroma, pleasant taste of aged camphor makes appearance after a couple of steepings. Even though the tea is some twenty years old, the taste is still vibrant and energetic. Although it is not really complex (as containing many intermingled tastes), it is very rich and full in mouth, with good hui gan.
The taste lasts for a reasonably long time and as it goes away, it is accompanied by a light, pleasant tingling. There is not a significant aftertaste right after that, but there is a light long-term aftertaste - not dissimilar to unrefined brown sugar. In other words, nice.
Astringency is just a touch above zero, rather unnoticeable. The same goes for bitterness.
Honza who sent me the tea suggested to use less leaves than in puerh - which worked well, when I prolonged steeping times. Without that, the tea was good, but less interesting. The prolonged steeping times lead to somewhat lower stamina though.
The tea is not rich, not poor in energy - it has some, but it is not a tea which would just make me stare into emptiness for many minutes.
The more I drink this brick, the more I like it. I'm learning how to prepare it better and I'm growing surprised how similar this can be to a good aged puerh. True, it is less complex than good cakes of early 90s, it also has lower stamina, but heck, it's whole lot cheaper too.
While after the first two tastings, I thought that this brick is "merely" good, now I'd say that it is a BB (brutal bargain) and is probably the cheapest way of getting to know aged tea. It has aged character, and it is the character of good, dry storage. While heicha climbs up in price too, it is still nowhere as expensive as puerh. I hope that this lasts for a couple of years until I can make a good archive of older heicha.
Will the large increase in price be linearly reflected in quality? It is unlikely (and it is not so indeed), but only a very naive person would expect that.
The leaves look similar to the 93 leaves.
The aroma is stronger and more "energetic" than in the 93 brick, more herbal too. Also probably more nutty and creamy. Some notes found in dry stored pu are detectable, but luckily in minuscule amount.
The taste is definitely "more about taste" than in the 93 brick. It is more energetic, stronger, creamier, etc. Although it is clearly of higher class than the 93 brick, I slightly miss the warm simplicity of the former. However, the 85 brick retains a lot of warmth, it is stilll sweet, tasting of aged wood, nuts(later steepings taste strongly of chestnuts) and some herbs and minerality. There is some good cooling and stronger vibrations than in the 93 brick. Also, the aftertaste (almost milky) is longer.
Astringency is medium, it sure seems stronger to me than in the 93 brick. It is a bit disturbing, actually.
Stamina is a lot better than the stamina of 93, which is a bit surprising, as the leaves look rather similar.
So - this is clearly a higher class product than the 1993, but the price jump is quite big. Where I'm sure that I'll be getting some of that 93 brick, I'm not so sure with the 85 one.
Anyway, both teas are certainly worthy and I recommend trying them both if you like aged pu. Both are warm, comforting to stomach and aged indeed. I just should note that when I prepared the tea as I prepare puerh, it was not at its best, a bit too simple. Some experimenting leads to much better results.