503 Tasting Notes

95

Bitter End Xtra is undoubtedly a high end tea. It gives almost neverending sessions and with passing years, it should brew even longer and display more complexity. Today I got 21 steeps (that would be almost 300ml/g), but it is clear that one could push it even further.

The dry leaf aroma is fairly standard as far as young sheng goes – it is sweet and metallic with a strong dry grass character. After the rinse, I get the impression of a forest with a sort of cooling sensation. Over the course of the session, the aromas then become quite complex and elusive until they settle into a mix of fruits and flowers towards the end.

As expected, the tea is bitter, although not in any particularly negative way. The bitterness is far from overpowering. As TJ Elite mentions, it is not abrasive. I would say that there are two kinds present.

In the first quarter of the session, there is a fast grapefruit-like bitterness that subsides quickly. Other flavours include licorice root, straw, apricot pits, and beech wood, with some black pepper and grapefruit notes in the aftertaste. The liquor is very active in the mouth and there is no astringency whatsoever. The cha qi creeps up fairly slowly and at this point it is mostly energizing.

Later in the second quarter, there is a very long-lasting woody bitterness that can linger on for more than an hour after drinking. The texture is buttery and reaches peak viscosity. I also get a notable apple flavour around these steeps. They carry the strongest mind-numbing sensations accompanying the drinking. The effect of the tea seems much more meditative than before.

In the second half, bitter flavours recede, allowing other aspect to come to the fore. The third quarter of my today’s session was actually the most flavourful! Fruity and floral flavours dominate with notes such as banana and yellow beans. Mouthfeel is more on the oily side, although not as full-bodied anymore.

Around steep 16 is when some astringency finally appears. From then on, the flavours gradually weaken and the overall character becomes increasingly floral with no bitterness left.

Flavors: Apricot, banana, Bitter, Black Pepper, Dry Grass, Floral, Flowers, Fruity, Grapefruit, Green Beans, Licorice, Metallic, Oak wood, Straw, Thick

Preparation
205 °F / 96 °C 0 min, 15 sec 7 g 3 OZ / 90 ML

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89

This is an interesting ZSXZ, which reminds me quite a bit of Mi Lan Xiang black teas, just a touch less floral. It is still a bit too floral to drink in place of classic black teas, but it deserves recognition for being unique and delicious at the same time. It has a good longevity, I got 200ml/g fairly easily out of it. Generally, I prefer to use slightly higher temperatures around 94°C.

The aromas also remind me of wild lapsang or wild Taiwanese blacks. When dry, I can smell mostly flowers and stonefruits, further complemented by notes of cactus and pine wood in a preheated gaiwan. On the other hand, wet leaves possess aromas of malt, maple syrup, baked bread and the ammonia scent that we know and love.

First infusions starts the session with a very sweet taste of red apple and hints of florals. Later on, the taste profile gets quite mineral with a nice woody bitterness and notes of carrot and other root vegetables. I’d say the texture is medium thick for the most part and the mouthfeel silky, bubbly with a little bit of lightness to it. Among the flavours lingering on post hoc, I picked up on honey and burnt food ones as the most prominent.

Flavors: Baked Bread, Bitter, Burnt Food, Cactus Flowers, Carrot, Eucalyptus, Floral, Flowers, Honey, Malt, Maple Syrup, Mineral, Pine, Red Apple, Stonefruits, Sweet, Wood

Preparation
200 °F / 93 °C 0 min, 30 sec 5 g 4 OZ / 130 ML

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87

This tea sure is very beautiful and of unique shape. It lasts a long time – 300ml/g of liquor is the minimum one should expect here – and the flavours are very dynamic throughout the session. That said, it is quite expensive, so in order to appreciate it correspondingly, you need to have some affinity to the backbone of the tea which is bitter, astringent and vegetal/floral above all else.

Because of its uniqueness, steeping the tea is definitely a fun challenge, especially the first few times. The following progression of infusions is what I found to work well with my 20ml/g of water to leaf ratio in the gaiwan:
120s, 80°C – 60s, 80°C – 35s, 80°C – 45s, 80°C – 60s, 90°C – 120s, 90°C – 180s, 90°C – 5min, 100°C – 12min, 100°C

There is not much of a dry leaf aroma, but throughout the session I pick up grassy fragrances, aromas of candy and butter cookies, and later also wood and bread like scents.

The first infusion starts off with a crisp flavour with notes of green apple, peanut butter, juniper and bacon. It is sour, bitter and astringent with a sort of medicinal touch to it. The mouthfeel is velvety and thick. Overall, I would say the taste here is very clean, and this remains to be the case throughout the session. Depending on how I brew it, the subsequent steeps can get very strong with a pleasant but punchy bitterness.

In this particular session, the second infusion is more savoury with a milky aftertaste, third one is sweeter, and the fourth one displays an interesting apricot note. The following steep has a marine character with a seaweed flavour in the forefront, a butternut squash finish, and a very nice huigan. Sixth infusion then brings about a thick, floral sweetness and a lemon balm fragrance. In the seventh, the bitterness and astringency fade a bit, giving way to grassy and peppery flavours. The body is still very good though and smoother than anything beyond the first steep.

I am not going to go into the details of the aftertaste, but overall it is strong and long-lasting with a numbing and very cooling sensation permeating the mouth.

Flavors: Apricot, Astringent, Baked Bread, Berry, Bitter, Butter, Butternut Squash, Candy, Cookie, Floral, Grass, Green Apple, Herbs, Lemon, Marine, Meat, Milk, Pastries, Peanut, Pepper, Seaweed, Smoke, Sour, Sweet, Thick, Vegetal, Wood

Preparation
175 °F / 79 °C 2 min, 0 sec 5 g 7 OZ / 200 ML

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87

One of the last samples from a tea swap with derk. I am not sure why it got unnoticed for so long, but I dug it up at a good time, as I’ve been drinking various Lao Man E samples recently.

Compared to huangpian from the same village sold by Bitterleaf Teas, this one seems quite a bit more oxidized. It is one year older of course, but that can hardly account for such a stark difference. It is quite smooth overall, both in texture and taste, and has distinctively more herbaceous profile than other Lao Man E teas I’ve had. Of course, the trademark bitterness – creeping, long-lasting, and lacking abrasiveness – is there, but I find it less reminiscent of grapefruit skin here.

At this stage of my sample, the tea had no discernible aromas, I am unsure if that is indicative of the tea in general though. The taste is a bit fruity at first, but quickly becomes very herbal. Later infusions are more mineral and somewhat yeasty as well. The body is medium to full and there is a cooling mouthfeel. I found the cha qi to be a bit sedating and defocusing, which makes the tea less suitable for casual brewing than it otherwise would have been.

Flavors: Bitter, Fruity, Herbaceous, Herbs, Mineral, Smooth, Sweet, Thyme, Yeast

Preparation
Boiling 0 min, 15 sec 6 g 3 OZ / 100 ML

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83

As Scott mentions, this tea is strong, in its cha qi and bitterness, yet possesses a subtle complexity of flavours. Of course, that is nothing unusual for young sheng from ancient trees. Similarly, one often finds these kind of teas to be less uniform in picking. There is a decent amount of large leaves and stalks here, which gives the tea a bit more of a huang pian like taste profile. However, frankly, I find it hard to focus on any of the specifics when drinking it. The center of the stage is exclusively reserved for the stoning and defocusing energy that takes over as soon as I get to the second infusion. After 3 days of working almost non-stop and being quite tense as a result, this is something I desperately needed.

In any case, here are some specifics I observed from the couple of sessions I’ve had with the tea. When dry, I can smell hints of gooseberry, walnut bread, and Oregon grape; after the rinse scent akin to cabbage, gnocchi, and coriander emerge. Interestingly, the empty cup aroma is not so much honey-like as is so common in young sheng. Instead, there are notes of chewing gum, brown sugar, cloves, and cinnamon.

The taste is vegetal and bitter throughout the session with the bitterness being almost reminiscent of Ye Sheng varietal at times. Various flavours of herbs (basil, curry leaves) and nuts show up here and there, with a mushroom note often present in the finish. Late infusions also have a nice guava-like sour edge to them.

The aftertaste is metallic and a bit like a citrusy Dan Cong oolong. There is a black pepper spiciness, long lasting floral fragrance, and a strong huigan as well. As for the mouthfeel, it seems to be of a milky kind, thick, and very smooth. The cooling sensation is fairly noticeable too.

Flavors: Baked Bread, Berry, Bitter, Black Pepper, Brown Sugar, Cinnamon, Citrusy, Cloves, Coriander, Floral, Guava, Herbaceous, Herbs, Metallic, Mushrooms, Nutty, Spicy, Vegetables, Vegetal, Walnut

Preparation
205 °F / 96 °C 0 min, 15 sec 6 g 3 OZ / 90 ML
derk

Have you had many Bangdong area sheng?

Togo

I can only remember one other one. Have you?

derk

Only 2, both distinctive yet they didn’t seem to share any characteristics. Something about your description of this one and my experiences with the other two is giving me an itch to hunt for a variety of sheng from Bangdong. Do you recall the other one you’ve tried?

Togo

I can’t remember any more than what this note describes: https://steepster.com/Togo/posts/378617

That was actually quite early in my pu’er exploration, it’s very hard to calibrate such old tastings with respect to the changing context/experience for me.

derk

Understood about the calibration :)

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92

More than 1 year after I got this tea, it has a noticeably darker liquor, and it’s as good and flavourful as before. The main change is the fact that it seems to have much more complex aromas now for some reason. The dry leaf scent is more peaty, and wet leaves smell of popcorn, parsley, toasted rice, curry leaves, and orange blossom among other more generic vegetal notes. There is the thick creamy texture as I remember it, and a pungent, expansive aftertaste with a lasting huigan. One flavour that I may not have mentioned earlier, is a sunflower seed note in the aftertaste.

Flavors: Bitter, Creamy, Flowers, Grain, Honey, Orange Blossom, Parsley, Peat, Plants, Popcorn, Thick, Toasted Rice, Umami, Vegetal

Preparation
205 °F / 96 °C 0 min, 15 sec 6 g 3 OZ / 100 ML

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86

[Spring 2019 harvest]

This is a very elegant black tea with a lot of complexity, especially in its aromas. The first infusion tends to not be very interesting, but once it picks up steam, it’s very easy to enjoy the tea.

Before the rinse, I can smell aromas of cherry, caramel, and roasted grains. On the other hand, a range of scents present themselves afterwards – including molasses, berries, rum, chicken broth, chestnuts, and various spices.

The taste is sweet with flavours such as those of roasted onion, cocoa, tree bark, malt, lemon zest, and licorice. In the aftertaste, I also detect vanilla and some rose-like floral notes. The body is medium, but the texture is smooth and viscous, which definitely helps the experience.

Flavors: Alcohol, Anise, Bark, Berries, Broth, Caramel, Cherry, Chestnut, Chicken Soup, Cinnamon, Cloves, Cocoa, Floral, Grain, Lemon Zest, Licorice, Malt, Molasses, Roasted, Roasted Barley, Rose, Rum, Spices, Sweet, Vanilla, Vegetables, Wood

Preparation
200 °F / 93 °C 0 min, 30 sec 5 g 5 OZ / 150 ML

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92
drank Lao Man E 2014 Spring by Tea Urchin
503 tasting notes

One of the last teas from the swap with derk became my choice for an evening session as I wait for my yogurt to ferment, after an active day of repotting plants and cycling. Thanks for the sample my friend! Lao Man E is becoming one of my favourite pu’er production areas, and having a variety of examples of that style is great. Moreover, this tea is still available for sale at a very reasonable price! :)

It has got quite a dark orange colored liquor, I’d say this is pretty clearly in the semi-aged category now.

Interestingly, the aspect of this tea that impressed me the least is the aftertaste. There is definitely some huigan, but it’s nothing spectacular. Plus I found the aftertaste to be generally a bit muted and lacking complexity. The other negative, as far as drinking the tea now is concerned, is the fact that it gets astringent already around steep 5, and by the tenth infusion the astringency is pretty damn strong. One would expect that this will improve with aging and as a result, the longevity should get better too.

Now, with that being said, this was a very enjoyable session nonetheless. The aromas are unexpectedly pungent and complex, which I find to be quite rare in teas around 6 years of age. Taste is not overly complex, but it’s definitely a profile I like a lot. Liquor texture is interesting too and quite unusual – being buttery yet foamy, and super light yet full-bodied. And of course, the cha qi is amazing. The energy this tea is creeping, disorienting and extremely calming, without being aggressive or rushy. I haven’t had a proper gong fu session with the W2T’s Pin, but this tea made me dance for real, derk (see music pairing).

As for the particular tasting notes, I could smell cookies, grass compost, and a light, clean smoke from the wet leaves; and some flowery scents in the empty cha hai. Early infusions possess a light bitterness, but it’s not abrasive at all. In fact, I would say these are much more sweet than bitter, which changes a bit later on, but without throwing off the balance too much. There are flavours of courgette, citrus fruits, toast, and brown sugar. Around steep 6, more sourness akin to yogurt develops, alongside grapefruit bitterness that’s increasingly present. In the eighth infusion, I got a distinctive tangerine note too. Throughout the session, light medicinal notes keep appearing, which may or may not be a sign of aging being decently fast. The aftertaste also has a sort of apple flavour going on.

Music pairing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gMAyGBnVktE

Flavors: Apple, Astringent, Biting, Bitter, Brown Sugar, Brown Toast, Citrus, Citrus Fruits, Compost, Cookie, Cut grass, Floral, Grapefruit, Medicinal, Smoke, Sour, Sweet, Toast, Yogurt, Zucchini

Preparation
205 °F / 96 °C 0 min, 15 sec 6 g 3 OZ / 100 ML
derk

Glad you enjoyed this one and that it made you dance :)

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93

Jiu Tai Po has all the marks of a pu’er I would like to add to my collection. It has a unique flavour profile, pungent taste, long aftertaste with a strong huigan, full body, and a grounding cha qi. If I were to describe the tea with two words I’d say it is, above all, thick and grainy.

The dry leaves have a sweet floral aroma that reminds me of hot and humid summer days, in the preheated pot there’s also a citrus and parsley like scent. Wet leaves, on the other hand, display a very strong grainy aroma.

The rinse presents a crisp, malty, and vegetal liquor with a sweet apple note to it. It’s quite different from the subsequent infusions though. Soon enough, a pungent mix of bitter and sweet vegetal flavours takes the center stage. The profile is grainy with notes of sunflower and very much like wheat beer, just much more bitter. Aftertaste bring more of floral orchid-like notes, some lemon tart sweetness that keeps a sour bite, and a spicy vegetable broth umami.

Texture-wise, the liquor is extremely thick and creamy, at once numbing and cooling in the mouth. The cha qi seems to be more of the heady kind rather than inducing pronounced bodily sensations.

In short, this one gets one of the easiest ‘recommend’ badge from me :)

Flavors: Alcohol, Bitter, Broth, Citrus, Floral, Grain, Grass Seed, Lemon, Orchid, Parsley, Pleasantly Sour, Spicy, Sweet, Thick, Umami, Vegetal, Wheat

Preparation
205 °F / 96 °C 0 min, 15 sec 6 g 3 OZ / 90 ML

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84

[Spring 2019 harvest]

I am big fan of black teas made from the ye sheng varietal, and this one won’t change that. I slightly prefer the light roast version, but both are good.

The aroma of dry leaves presents no surprises – it is sweet and leathery with a roasted meat note in the background. Wet leaf scent also has the expected notes of tobacco and oak wood, but is more floral and earthy than I would have thought.

Taste is pretty savoury and bitter, with a tart backbone and an earthy finish, which reminds me a bit of an aged loose leaf shou. There are flavours of burnt food, fireplace, and curry leaves. Liquor texture is fairly thick and bubbly, but also somewhat coarse and astringent. The highlight of the session is the long-lasting aftertaste which starts off with a sort of umami character, but eventually molasses sweetness arrives to take hold.

[Spring 2012 harvest]

Along with the 2019 version, I also bought one from 2012 as a chance to do an interesting aged black tea comparison. The main takeaway is that the aged tea is slightly sweeter, quite a bit smoother, and less pungent than the fresh one. It also has a softer, more coating texture.

The aromas are generally a bit more muted and subtle here, but possess an intriguing complexity. Before the rinse I can smell notes of strawberries and forest, while afterwards it is a more woody scent.

The taste is also more woody than the 2019 version, and has some notes of black pepper, cranberry, cinnamon, and eucalyptus that I did not detect in the other one. There is a noticeable throat-cooling sensation that really distinguishes the aftertaste of the two.

All in all, I don’t have a favourite among the two, but the aged one is a very elegant tea. It is reminiscent of aged whites and tian jian.

Flavors: Astringent, Bitter, Black Pepper, Burnt Food, Cinnamon, Cranberry, Earth, Eucalyptus, Fireplace, Forest Floor, Leather, Meat, Molasses, Oak wood, Plants, Roasted, Strawberry, Sweet, Tart, Tobacco, Umami, Wet Earth, Wood

Preparation
200 °F / 93 °C 0 min, 15 sec
ashmanra

Love this note and the comparison!

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Bio

Currently, I am a PhD student at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Ontario. Apart from teas and mathematics, I enjoy sports and traveling, as well as music of all kinds.

I have been a fan of green tea for a while and only recently (in 2017) started exploring other kinds of tea in greater depth. I rarely drink blends or white tea and avoid artificially scented teas. Other than that I try to keep it varied. The one thing that I am currently missing in my collection are teas from India, in particular some Darjeelings.

My rating description:
100 _ Unforgettable tea, an experience that changes your life.
90 – 100 _ Excellent tea.
80 – 90 _ Very enjoyable, I will buy again.
70 – 80 _ I enjoyed it, but I most likely won’t be buying it again.
60 – 70 _ Decent.
50 – 60 _ Average, forgettable.
40 – 50 _ I didn’t really like the tea, but it is drinkable.
0 – 40 _ I would prefer to avoid the tea.

Location

Waterloo, ON, Canada

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