90s Kunming 7581 Brick
The Kunming factory 7581 brick is one of the best known products in all of puerh tea, being essentially the first and main example of “shou” or “ripe” puerh tea, after the wodui (accelerated fermentation) process for puerh was developed by the Kunming factory. Despite its relatively modest origins, the 7581 has become a standard reference tea, with die-hard fans even among collectors of masterpiece cakes.
In fact, the original wodui process for the 7581, which continued until 1999 and includes the cake sold here, only involves about half the level of fermentation of typical modern ripe puerh. The fermented tea would be moderately heated for drying, pressed into bricks (with a characteristic press having a square grid of 20 holes, whose impression is visible in the photos) and then sent for traditional wet storage for a number of years. After this, the tea would be rested in dry storage, often for several years, and finally sold.
Starting in 2000, following a tumultuous decade in which Kunming went bankrupt and was kept alive by worker-controlled production, Kunming’s recipe for the 7581 changed, with fermentation brought closer to completion, heating to a higher temperature, and skipping the traditional storage and resting steps. Because of this, fans of the 7581 seek out well-stored pre-2000 productions. Bricks from the 70s and 80s fetch very high prices, so we were on the lookout for examples from the 90s which were still produced using the original method. This brick is such an example that has spent the last decade in Taiwan natural storage.
This particular tea tastes initially like a traditional storage sheng, but with the warming energy of a shou. In the later steeps, it loses more of its traditional storage character, leaving something much more akin to an aged shou.