One does hear a lot how the big factory cakes are overpriced because of their investment value. In some cases, it true. Nevertheless, they still offer increased reliability and are often very good. 7542 is one of the recipes I like and so I wondered how 2001 and 2004 would be. The 2001 is a not-that-cheap tea (I guess it's something like $270), while the 2004 is priced quite allright ($75). One hears a lot how the quality of Menghai production went down from 2004 onward so I hoped I'd taste the "good 2001" and then see how down went the "bad 2004".
A good intention, maybe, but entirely thwarted (a lovely word, is it not?) by storage conditions of these teas.
This tea needs a while to get to get going. The first steepings are not that pleasant as the taste is a bit thin and a having that sharp acidity of too dry storage. It makes me feel like:
Lukily, the dry storage taste sort of goes away around 5th or so steeping and the tea is ok since that. Still, it is not as full as I'd like it. The taste in the first steepings stays at the bottom of the mouth only - tongue and a bit around - I do not feel my whole oral cavity coated in taste as I like it.
The actual taste is fine, woody with a bit of darker fruit, a bit of camphor and a bit of honey (which is most notable in the aroma of the wet cup). Once the dry storage sourness/acidity goes away, there is a bit of pleasant agedness, but it is only light.
Activity on the tongue is fine, but not spectacular and qi is light and "tired". The rather high bitterness and moderate astringency do not help to make this tea more accessible either. The long-term aftertaste is good though, that's what I like about 7542s the best I think and it is here.
In my opinion, this tea was really damaged (reversibly) by its dry storage. However a) Alan of Finepuer told me that such a storage is much sought after there (why?!), which leads to much higher price than of the 2004 version, b) this 2001 version is now stored in the same condition as the 2004 version and so, after few years, it might actually get pretty good.
Since the first steeping, it is obvious that things will be different and better here (for me, at least). This version of 7542 takes what was good in the 2001 version, builds on it and throws the bad features away. The storage was more normal (Alan of Finepuer says 60-80% of relative humidity which is what I consider to be a safe range for aging).
The aroma and taste are both stronger and without any hint of dry sourness. This version is obviously similar sort of material as the 2001 (not surprising, given that both are 7542s, I know), but is much fuller (whole mouth coated), sweeter, fruitier (the fruitiest 7542 I have yet met) - in the pleasant dark-fruity way, spicy (in a positive way) and the whole feeling is very good. It is complex in taste and aroma, it actually feels quite luxurious, yet strong. And the aftertaste works better than in the 2001 too.
The activity on the tongue is quite good, especially given that this is a factory production (actually, given that, the mouthfeel is excellent) and lasts over many steepings. Also, I was surprised by frankly lovely qi of this tea. When we first drank it with my friend Michal here, he said it made him shake - I felt similar - calmed down by the tea, yet shaking and "feeling myself" a lot.
Also, both bitterness and astringency are a lot lower than in the 2001.
Although the liquors are very similar in color, one can see that the 2004 version (to the left) has a bit greener leaves than the 2001 version (to the right):
After being left overnight, the 2004 smells dominantly fruity; the 2001 smells pleasantly of agedness. Had that agedness been present in the taste in a more pronounced way, things could have been much better with the 2001. This way, I clearly prefer the (almost 4 times cheaper) 2004 version.
My quest for "badness in 2004 7542" was in vain then as I could hardly feel anything bad in the tea. I guess I need to wait for worse batch coming from that year.