I used to avoid buying "labeled" autumnal sheng productions with gusto. Autumn flush or gu hua is picked any time after the summer rains in September and extend as late as early November. I crudely thought gu hua cha was for suckers that didn't know any better. Why bother with weaker leaves that lack the vigor and pique of their spring counterparts? A tea tree puts forth it's plumpest qifull(I just made up that word right now but when I looked it up it's some wireless charging product name) leaves in spring. By the end of the season, the tea tree becomes quite depleted especially if it's been over harvested as is common since the puerh boom of 2006. The tea tree prepares for winter rest by retracting nutrients from the leaves back into the tree and as a tea drinker, you want those nutrients in your cup.
However weaker leaves make for less bitter palatable sheng that's easy on the body and that is where I am. I've read that many spring labeled beengs are actually blended with autumn leaves to tone down the bitterness so most likely I've probably got plenty of autumn leaves in my collection. I've often suspected that most of my gu shu labeled as spring flush is mostly gu hua and that's why they taste so smooth. Late autumn leaves can contain more lignins giving that mellower woodier base but even autumn leaves can be young buds that sprout after the rains. Gu hua can in general brew a thinner body and hence is not ideal for aging but is easier to consume newborn. You can really cram your teapot with gu hua leaves and brew for longer.
In the multi-tiered world of puerh leaf quality, gu hua is second to spring flush as generally reflected in the price. However they are considered better than summer leaves which contains the highest amount of bitterness and astringency due to the intensity of the summer sun producing more polyphenols. You rarely ever see a sheng proudly billed as summer flush. If a tea is not forth coming about the season it was picked, it's probably a blend of summer and autumn. Is it as straight forward as a spring first flush gushu being the highest quality? I could definitely see a summer plantation Bulang being the triple whammy of mouth puckering bitterness, but perhaps a little blend of autumn leaves may not be a bad thing.
I forward the reader to http://www.kyarazen.com/secrets-tea-seasons-aging/ for further reading. the article has some interesting nuggets about theanine being produced in the roots and it is the sun which forces the leaf to convert theanine into the bitter and astringent polyphenols and catechins as a defense mechanism. Hence the first spring flush has the highest levels of theanine present.
These Mengku Gu Hua samples which arrived yesterday came sealed in 10g packets. No one was home yesterday so the postman left a delivery notice and my husband dutifully went to the post office without being asked so I could come home to a tea package waiting for me. That's a man who loves his tea-loving wife.
This tea was aged in Guangzhou and the dank stale basement taste is in full force- imagine such flavors being sealed up to intensify. So a predictably weak tea paired with a strong storage taste is not a winning combo. I need to air this out for months if not years. I'm not sure I want to downgrade myself to drinking full-on basement gu hua cha no matter how desperate I am. Ironically, the only other Mengku in my collection is an autumnal LBZ that I bought long ago just to have some subdued LBZ I can drink. I need weaker tea but there's probably better ways to getting there than this Mengku Gu Hua.
There is a lot of gu hua out there and tea vendors have to sell all kind of leaf. For red hot regions like LBZ and Yiwu, producers can sometimes only get their hands on autumn and summer maocha. All I can say is don't pay top dollar or spring prices for gu hua cakes. But gu hua can be a more affordable approachable entry into a crazy over inflated area.
Despite all this autumn tea bashing, I did encounter one very special gu hua - Tea Urchin's Mr. Gao's Yi Bang (2011?) that had a unique thick savory brackish broth and I would try more of their autumn selections. So processing can count for much. But I would not gamble to age pure autumn cakes.