Xia Guan is probably the most renowned tuo manufacturer. They make so many types of tuos. Just in their basic routine Sheng tuo products, there are (graded based on leaf materials used, from highest grade to lowest grade):
Te Ji 特级 (Superior Grade)
Jia Ji 甲级 (Grade One or Grade A) - "Jia" is like letter "A" in the alphabet, meaning number 1.
Yi Ji 乙级 (Grade Two) - "Yi" is like letter "B", meaning number 2. But in recent years this product is also labeled as 一级 (still "Yi Ji" in pinyin)，which literally means Grade 1, but compared with Jia Ji, it's in fact Grade Two. The product name in English can be very confusing. Therefore, if you see a Xia Guan product labeled as Grade One, it's necessary to figure out if it's 甲 or 乙。
Bing Ji (Grade Three) - "Bing" is like letter "C", meaning number 3. But in recent years, this product is also labeled as 大众 (meaning Folk Grade). This product is mostly sold to Northwestern China and is not as commonly seen as products of other grades.
Besides above grades, there are tuos of Superior Grade and Grade One for Taiwan market, and there are tuos of other lines with fancier names.
Xia Guan Factory gives little information about comparison of these tuos in terms of their tastes and how they age. There are many different opinions among tea drinkers. But there is no dominant conclusion. Some believe the higher the grade, the better the tea ages. Some believe Grade Two ages better than Grade One. I don't have much idea about this, and haven't had much hands-on exploration. But here is one study I recently done, with a Jia Ji Tuo and a Yi Ji Tuo, both from 2004, stored under similar conditions.
Jia Ji (left) & Yi Ji (right) 5g in 90g gaiwan
All following photos have Jia Ji on the left and Yi Ji on the right.
First infusion - Some people say, Yi Ji ages faster than Jia Ji. In this brewing, Yi Ji does show darker liquor color. Taste of Yi Ji is less smoky, more woody and has a woody type of sweet. But Jia Ji has more prominent smoky aroma (by this time not very aggressive and quite pleasant to me) and overall stronger taste. I feel I like Jia Ji better.
Second infusion -
Third infusion -
Fifth infusion - in later infusions, the color difference between tea liquor of the two is not obvious on the photos, but there is indeed a color difference.
Spent leaves -
Personally I like Jia Ji better for its more prominent aroma and stronger taste. But it's just my personal preference. Yi Ji does taste more aged, sweeter and mellower. I don't have very big preference in "aroma of age", and to me tastes of other aspects are more important. But I can imagine many people may prefer the taste of Yi Ji, and if the tea ages for more years, probably Yi Ji taste a stage ahead of Jia Ji in terms of sweetness and "aroma of age". But before that happens and before it's really tasted, everything I guess now is only a hypothesis.
I don't really like tasting two teas side by side all by myself. It's too busy and yield too much tea at one time for me to finish. Besides, it's hard to keep tasting going while allowing enough time to experience the aftertaste of each tea. Besides, the aftertastes of different teas can mingle and "contaminate" each other, even if I rinse my mouth after each sip (which I couldn't manage to do throughout the entire time). But comparison of the two tuos satisfied my curiosity very well :-D
Next time, let's have a comparison of Jia Ji and Te Ji :D
4 weeks ago