I received an order of Sichuan peppercorns from cmc company today and thought I would post for those that were curious. As an FYI for those who, like me, are not intuitive about such things, 2oz of peppercorns is roughly 2/3 cup.
Now the bad news for you serious Sichuan pepper hounds is that I have very little restaurant experience with these and no home experience so I will attempt to describe what I rcd to the best of my abilities and will answer any follow-up questions.
The visual: They don't appear as red as the ones in Land of Plenty, sort of a duller red with a touch of darkness on the wrinkles. Some (~5%) are an almost tan color. Most of them are burst and the seeds are floating around. The seeds are not as glossy as Fuchsia DUnlop describes but there is a bit of pepper dust in bag which may be coating them. There is a small amount of stem and a couple of leaves.
The Smell: Dunlop states that the smell of fresh SP will be overwhelming. Well these are not but they have a flowery peppery smell. I would say the intesnity of aroma is somewhat less than the whole peppercorns I have at home (a very different smell) but not by a lot.
Taste: Following the recomendation of Fuschia Dunlop I popped one in my mouth, chewed a couple of times, and removed. Taste is not extremely strong but there. Not as intense flavor wise as eating a peppercorn but definately reminds me of a recent meal at China Village. (the current hot chowhound sichuan restaurant in the SF Bay Area) Then the light cool numbing effect came on. With 3 or 4 chews I can feel the numbness for at least a minute. My book states that you only get this sensation with good quality peppercorns. I do not notice a huge difference in the paler ones.
Based on this I am guessing that I got the real deal but the aroma and perhaps the taste are a bit muted from age. I will be curious to hear from those more experienced if this experiment should have been more dramatic along the lines of: "if those were real quality Sichuan Peppercorns you would have felt like you licked a hot cast iron skillet and then had your dentist pump your tounge full of novacaine!"
And a question: Some of the recipes I am looking at add whole SPs to the oil in a stir fry- Do people pick around these while eating like with whole chiles?
I hope this helps,