Our final "new" pu-erh is even older--it's a loose pu-erh sold to us as "17-year-old Menghai Dayi Gong Ting Pu-erh." Like our unwrapped 2003 brick, this tea comes to us without formal packaging or pedigree, so we've got to take its provenance with a grain of salt and pay attention to our senses to determine its quality. "Gong Ting" refers to the erstwhile tradition of the best teas being gifted to the Chinese imperial court. Today, it's often used to describe loose cooked pu-erh of the smallest grade. One look at the leaves of this tea and it seems to be a fair appellation--they're tiny! The tea seems to be almost entirely composed of buds, too, which range from dark brown to golden in color. I can see this grade being included in a blended cake, but it's hard to imagine a cake made of leaves this small--it seems like it wouldn't manage to stay together!
As might be expected, the high number of tea buds included in this tea indicate above-average sweetness. When it comes to pu-erh, though, tons of buds also seem to inevitably bring high notes in aroma as well as the strength and occasional harshness that improves significantly with age. Luckily for us, this tea's already had its fair share of storage and the flavors are blending pretty well. Compared to our other new teas, the mouthfeel is surprisingly dry--I wouldn't say astringent, but it doesn't leave a thick or oily texture in the mouth after swallowing. There's also a considerable amount of strength to this tea--what would most likely come across as intense bitterness in a raw pu-erh is here a slight sharpness that develops into musty sweetness in the finish. It's pretty amazing to me that a tea can undergo ripened pu-erh processing as well as aging and retain as much of an edge as teas like this have. To me, these kinds of characteristics are indication that the tea will only continue to mellow with further aging. As it stands today, this is a great ripened pu-erh option if you're interested in a tea with a bit of a kick. It's not the supremely mellow experience of our 2003 brick, but it's also a better choice for gong fu, with quite a bit of development and stamina over multiple steepings, developing deeper flavors as the infusions wear on. I wouldn't rule out mixing a bit of this with the 2003 brick for a broad-ranging blend, either!