Hmmm, I should add...
I literally could care less, in a sense, if people don't like tea I like. That means more for me at a more affordable price, if finances ever get better, and I personally like this very much and would drink it regularly if I could get away with it.
I care in the sense that I want people to be aware and think of this as a potential choice. What's important is to understand that truly good puerh is getting hoarded and hard for us to get in the West. Two years ago, Nada could go out and get tea, and of the five teas, Man Mai, Man Sai, Bang Wei, Ban Pen, and Bulang, three out of the five had real qi--Man Mai, Bang Wei, and Bulang. Man Sai and Ban Pen still had some nice qualities anyways. They didn't cost that much money either at $40 a bing and $67 for the Bulang. The next year was mixed. Even better cakes, the Douyizhai and Man Nuo, but they were sold at $75 and $65, respectively. We could only buy one small cake of GFZ. The Bulang was weaker. However the prices were higher. The price is even higher today, but from my perspective, only the $200 GFZ and $150 Bangwei would have been worth buying. The Baotang does have good qi, but it's awkward in taste right now, and costs $77.
These changes are reflective of what's going on in the broader market. None of the 2010/2011 XZH I've had are remotely in the class of tea made in 2009 and before. It seems like it's all of a sudden hard to buy a decent Bulang, and east of the Lancang River, if you could buy it at all, the prices are astronomical for high end Youle, Yibang, and the better Yiwu areas. In 2010, you could buy a 2008 ChenShenHao Lao Ban Zhang for $92. It's now almost $500, and more importantly, *new* CSH LBZ costs more or less the same! And outside Banna? Well, at least much of the better stuff actually reaches the market, but it doesn't mean it's cheap!
Now, look at the prices for older tea from 2004 and before. Also look at their natures. First, it's gotten quite abit harder to acquire '90s and earlier teas, with the chief challenge being finding tea that has been stored well. Even in East Asia, people are resigned to chasing tea from the early 2ks. The vast majority of this tea have very little qi, if any, whatsoever. I've had well respected tea, like the Xiaguan Hong Yun replica tea from '03 or '04 (from sampletea) that are just good tasting, smelling tea, with no oomph to speak of in taste or tea character. At least it was made well, so it should be a decent old tea in a decade or two.
How do I judge this?
1) Does this have qi, according to how it affects *my* body?
2) Does it hold the attention. By this, I mean how engaging it is in terms of activity in the mouth and throat? How much does the flavor or aroma command my attention? Is the session interesting?
3) What sort of body/texture does it have? Is it thick and smooth? Is it not, in an interesting and not repulsive way?
Any ole tea can taste good. Smell good. However, that's besides the point, almost, in terms of puerh. Merchants make the bulk of their real money selling good tasting, but inferior teas to people who don't know better. Lots and lots of hongcha-pu.
I put with the youth and wierd acridness (when it shows up) of the
Tai Lian International, because it has a material amount of body qi. Lots of things happen in the aroma and taste, and they linger. Lots of huigans and cooling. There are extremely memorable cups out of the blue, like one a few sessions ago, where it had a indescribable taste close to a floral maple syrup and indescribable aroma to match--it can truly surprise.
I also think it can age, at least as well as the 2001 Yuanyexiang, if not better...
This isn't to say that the Tai Lian is for you. It might not work out the way for you the way it does for me. However, what I do want people to understand, or come closer to understand what a truly involved selection process for a tea is like. It's not the sum of its parts! And in this day and age, YOU WILL NOT FIND PERFECT TEA, even to the extent of what you could find a couple of years ago. Anything that could be really good and without serious flaws, like Kunming storage (and Kunming isn't as bad as many other places, like Beijing), is hoarded like nobody's secret business.