The point of using recipes to blend pu'erh is to create a product that is similar throughout different production runs, right? This is usually the case, as recipes like 7542 and 8582 are celebrated for their reliability throughout the years. However, CNNP's 7581 recipe is known for its inconsistency. That doesn't stop it from being one of the most famous and popular shu pu'erh teas out there (although it's purportedly a blend of shu/sheng). But why is the 7581 such a popular recipe if it's so inconsistent? The answer is simple, it's delicious when done right.
The 1997 7581 from Yunnan Sourcing (provided by James, thanks!) and the 1998 7581 from pu-erh.sk (provided by YE, thanks!) are two great examples of aged 7581. The former retails for $92 while the latter retails for about $112.
First up is Yunnan Sourcing's 1997 7581 sent to me by James of TeaDB, who provides a good portion of the tea I review on this blog. This has been stored in Kunming for its entire lifespan, which is usually not a great thing, however the super-dry Kunming storage seems to have helped this tea quite a bit. This tea is NOT complex, in fact it's quite monotone in flavor. This tea tastes like one thing, and that one thing is camphor. Smooth camphor is really the only way to describe this tea. The flavor doesn't evolve throughout the steeps and dies off after a few infusions, however I still love this tea for that smooth delicious camphor. Worth $92? I don't really think so, however it might be a good idea to snatch one up anyways. The only place that price is going is up, way up. 7581s are selling like hot cakes (hot bricks) right now and good deals are going to become scarcer as collectors buy them up.
Next up is pu-erh.sk's 1998 7581 which was very generously sent in by YE, my generous friend from the Netherlands. This 7581 was kept in Taiwanese natural storage (on the wetter end of the spectrum) for most of its life until pu-erh.sk bought them up. This can't be too different, it's only a year apart, right? Nope. The first difference I noticed is that it smelled more fermented, which might be due to the wetter Taiwanese storage vs. the drier Kunming storage. Early steeps of this one tasted like vanilla and dark fruit with an herbal aftertaste, while later steeps have an additional cocoa note. I can taste a tiny bit of camphor, although it's very subdued. This is definitely more of a traditional shu than the YS 7581.
In case my notes didn't make it clear, let me say this. These teas are very different. And they're both delicious. At this point all I can do is resent those Taiwanese and Chinese tea collectors for snatching up my 7581 and try to join in on the buying frenzy myself.