397 Tasting Notes

Having been enamored by Hai Lang Hao’s Lao Man E shou, I was quick to grab a cake of a YS ripe production from this village. Today, I tried it for the first time and here’s my thoughts.

I think this tea is quite distinctive, but at the moment isn’t as enjoyable overall as I was hoping for. It has the lasting quinine bitterness I learned to expect from Lao Man E, but the main problem I have with it is that it doesn’t have that much going on beyond that nice bitterness in the taste department. Other than that, it still has quite a lot of fermentation/fishy taste, which is nevertheless expected to disappear in the coming years. It is also perfectly possible that with some aging, the tea will mature into a much more interesting taste profile, that much I find hard to predict now though.

Besides the taste, both the fragrance and texture of the tea are fairly interesting, but not mind-blowing. However, the aspect that really stood out to me is the cha qi. I found it to be extremely strong for a plantation tea. First of all, a throat-warming appears, but quickly I got an elevating sensation that’s more of a heady energy than body focused. After about three infusions, I got totally enveloped by the session and lost touch with reality, floating in Xandra Metcalfe’s sonic rendering of depression (see song pairing below). The qi that the tea showed in this session is unmatched even by most of raw pu-erh I have tried.

After describing my general impression, here’s a few particular notes. The dry leaf smell is mostly spicy, earthy, and sweet. After the rinse, I noticed noted of incense, wood, candle early on, followed by aromas of light compost, ash, trout, plum, and animal fur throughout the session.

The taste is bitter with flavours such as wood, charcoal, dark chocolate/cocoa beans, brazil nuts, and parsnip. Aftertaste is spicy and very long-lasting with a persistent bitterness. There is also a noticeable caramel note to it. As for the mouthfeel, I found the tea to be creamy and mouth-watering with a medium to full body.

All in all, I find it hard to rate the tea at the moment. I am not going to be rushing to drink it anytime soon, but I am very interested in its future progression, the tea definitely has potential.

Song pairing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e4WOexcmtvE

Flavors: Ash, Bitter, Caramel, Char, Cocoa, Compost, Creamy, Dark Chocolate, Earth, Fishy, Fur, Nuts, Parsley, Plums, Spicy, Thick, Wood

Preparation
205 °F / 96 °C 0 min, 15 sec 7 g 5 OZ / 150 ML

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90

I had my first session with this tea after I picked up a cake in one of my recent orders. It turned out to be more complex and subtle than I expected. On the other hand, it really is very thick and has a strong warming cha qi, as mentioned in the description. I definitely do not regret getting a whole cake blind.

Already the dry leaf smell is quite interesting and unique with notes such as sawdust, paper, meat, mint, juniper berries, and brown sugar. Strangely enough, wet leaves aroma reminds me of nuo mi xiang – the sticky rice fragrance herb sometimes added to shou – even though there is none here. On top of that I get scents of black currant, chicha morada, bamboo, and a light yeasty aroma.

The taste starts off woody and sweet with flavours of bread, nettle and plant stems. There is also a purple corn flavour which I noticed in the aroma already and which persists throughout the whole session. Soon enough, light bitterness appears, but I wouldn’t call this a bitter shou at all. Around steep 4, I also get a light chocolate note, but again, it is not as distinctive as you can find in other ripe pu’er teas. Rather, there is a very nice sour note developing towards the end of the session, which is quite unique. It is complemented by a medicinal character of the late steeps, which together make the session interesting all the way till the end.

In the aftertaste, some new flavours like honey, cranberry, cocoa, butter, and marjoram emerge. It gets slightly acidic late on as well. The texture is very thick, oily, and smooth from start to finish. It is very easy to drink despite being full bodied! At times, there is some interesting numbing mouthfeel, which makes the liquor seem to “disappear” in my mouth. The cha qi is mostly warming at first but slowly becomes very heady and stronger than you can find in most shou. I would describe the tea’s energy as of the creeping kind.

Flavors: Baked Bread, Bamboo, Berries, Black Currant, Brown Sugar, Butter, Cocoa, Cranberry, Dark Chocolate, Hazelnut, Herbs, Honey, Meat, Medicinal, Mint, Paper, Plant Stems, Plants, Rice, Sawdust, Sour, Sweet, Thick, Wood, Yeast

Preparation
205 °F / 96 °C 0 min, 15 sec 7 g 5 OZ / 150 ML

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94

One of a few 2019 pu’er cakes I bought is “Ai Lao Secret Garden”, one that I missed out on last year as far as spring version is concerned, but I really enjoyed the autumn one. I will do a side by side tasting of the 2018 autumn and 2019 spring in the near future. However, based on this session – my first with the 2019 harvest – I’d say that it is less fragrant than the 2018 autumn, but more flavourful, more bitter, and with a stronger cha qi; more or less as one would expect.

Dry leaves smell very sweet and floral, with aromas of bell pepper, fenugreek, and forest floor emerging during the session itself. There’s more in terms of fragrance for sure, but unfortunately I couldn’t give the tea my full attention.

The rinse has a crisp grassy and savoury taste. Already the first infusion is much more flavourful though. It is still quite grassy, but also has a molasses sweetness with a touch of bitterness and a tart finish. The aftertaste is cooling with a very light smoke note, as well as some pear and spring onion flavours.

Second steep is definitely more bitter and woody. There are also new notes of nuts and fenugreek seeds, followed by a long aftertaste reminiscent of sugar, bread crust and coriander. Some other flavours I noticed include courgette and grapefruit around fourth infusion and anchovies (both in the aroma and liquor) very late in the session.

The liquor body is medium, with a very smooth, creamy, and mouth-watering mouthfeel – even though maybe not the selling point at the moment, it is not lacking either. The tea is still very young though, I am looking forward to tracking its development over the coming months and years.

Flavors: Baked Bread, Bell Pepper, Bitter, Burnt Food, Coriander, Floral, Forest Floor, Grapefruit, Grass, Molasses, Nuts, Pear, Smoke, Spices, Sugar, Sweet, Tart, Vegetal, Zucchini

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

I had to assume Scott had a reason for showcasing this one from a place as unassuming as Ai Lao at this price point. I wasn’t let down either. I’m savoring the sample I have and am considered getting a cake of this truly unique tea.

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92

I recently got my first Jianshui teapot (which I am already in love with) and decided to have the first session in it with this tea. I think that having a dedicated (and beautiful) pot for Dan Cong oolongs will let me get more into them.

This Ba Xian is quite wonderful. The floral fragrance is magnificent, as is its extremely long aftertaste, and a silky soft and ‘misty’ mouthfeel.

Dry leaf aroma is quite medicinal, fruity, and sweet, while the wet leaf smell is more flowery I’d say. The taste has a plum sweetness, green bell pepper bitterness, and a vegetal note of dry grass, among many other flavours. It is a smooth drink with a nice honey finish. Aftertaste displays further notes like orange blossom, spices, wood, citrus zest, and celery stalk. Over time, it becomes increasingly floral and fragrant.

Flavors: Astringent, Biting, Bitter, Celery, Citrus Zest, Dry Grass, Floral, Flowers, Green Bell Peppers, Medicinal, Orange Blossom, Plums, Spices, Wood

Preparation
205 °F / 96 °C 0 min, 15 sec 7 g 3 OZ / 100 ML

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81

This tea has had a very interesting progression. I only had 25g of it that I finished today, but I think it aged in a very interesting way, so I may try to get a decent amount of a newer version for a little black tea aging experiment.

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87

I was not feeling the best today, so I took out this sample I got from derk thinking it could be a good tea to cheer me up and relax. I think that worked to some extent, the tea kept my attention for several hours and allowed my mind to abandon some toxic thoughts.

My main takeaway about the tea from this session is that it indeed has a strong cha qi, not really of the dreamy kind though. It did help dissolve my thoughts, but didn’t really enhance the creation of alternate reality to replace them. The other thing I will remember this tea for is how much it reminded me of Dan Cong oolongs, more than any other sheng I can remember. In particular, I got reminded of Dan Congs of the floral/vegetal/buttery kind. Personally, I didn’t find the bitterness overwhelming at all and the astringency was almost unnoticeable among other characteristics.

The tea has a piercing aroma of sauna, peat, coriander seeds, wood, incense and a hint of smoke initially. Later throughout the session, I also picked up distinct peach and pine scents. The taste starts off bitter, vegetal, and crisp with a significant walnut flavour. Around steep 4, it gets more tart and floral, displaying notes of citrus zest, parsley, light smoke and meat. Aftertaste is sweet and cooling with flavours such as peas and honey. It has a good huigan and longetivity, as one would expect in this price category.

The texture is very viscous and oily, but the liquor feels light in the mouth nonetheless. After swallowing, there is an interesting milky mouthfeel and a slightly cooling throatfeel. As I mentioned already, the cha qi is strong and grounding. Early on, the sensation involves a pressure in the head and I can feel blood pumping in my face. Then there is about half an hour that I have almost no recollection of. I did meditate a bit and then I might have been sleeping but maybe not, I really can’t remember. After I came back from the high, my whole body was incredibly warm and relaxed yet alert.

Flavors: Bitter, Butter, Citrus Zest, Coriander Seed, Floral, Honey, Meat, Parsley, Peach, Peas, Peat, Pine, Smoke, Tart, Vegetal, Walnut, Wood

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

Hope you’re feeling better, Togo.

Something about this tea rang a bell for me. I bought a cake after having only one session and sending the rest of the sample packet to you. It’s interesting you said this puerh reminds you of a dancong; it did nothing of the sort for me, though maybe another year on record has transformed it. I look forward to breaking the cake soon.

Togo

I imagine it has changed faster being broken up than inside the cake, but I would be interested to know your thoughts when you revisit it. It’s definitely one of the best aged shengs I have tried. I reckon it probably rang a different bell for me than it did for you, but I have been coming back in my thoughts to yesterdays session, so it definitely left a mark :)

It’s crazy you sent me half of the sample you had, I am very grateful :)
I recently got more samples of aged pu’er as I am trying to explore the space and educate myself, so this fit into that objective as well.

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62

I find this DHP much less interesting than the 4 year older one. None of its qualities really caught my attention, maybe with the exception of the bubbly texture.

It still has some charcoal aroma, complemented by notes of cucumber, old books, moth balls, and very light cannabis. Wet leaves, on the other hand, smell of metallic, roasted pear, and ash. It’s a sweet, but not very pungent aroma. The taste is muted and somewhat boring – mostly woody and sour.

Flavors: Ash, Cannabis, Char, Cucumber, Metallic, Pear, Sour, Sweet, Wood

Preparation
205 °F / 96 °C 0 min, 30 sec 6 g 4 OZ / 120 ML

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90

Today I am tasting one of the very first tea cakes I bought. I am quite happy that it doesn’t seem to lose pungency in terms of its fragrance. It is, however, entering a sort of transition period in its development. The flavours are not as bright, although still quite vegetal. There is definitely a strong pine note in the finish and a distinctive lactose sweetness that I can’t quite recall from sessions a year ago. Overall, it is a very flavourful tea with good bitterness, sour grass note and a marine and yeasty character. It is also super smooth with an extremely soft and oily mouthfeel.

Flavors: Yeast

Preparation
205 °F / 96 °C 0 min, 15 sec 7 g 3 OZ / 100 ML

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84

This is a very interesting green tea, which is quite different from the others I have had. I wasn’t sure how to brew it, but in the end I used 4g for this session in a 100 ml gaiwan with a fairly constant 80°C water. The infusion times were 60s/20s/30s/60s. It turned out well, but given the character of the tea, I think it can perform quite differently with other parameters.

Dry leaves smell of watermelon and popcorn, and in the preheated gaiwan also vegetables and spinach. Once wet, I get aromas of stewed carrots, beef broth, and gardenia flowers.

The first infusion is extremely smooth and full bodied with no astringency and only light bitterness. It tastes of sunflower seeds and broth with a slightly grassy finish. After swallowing, the tea is cooling in the throat and displays crisp sweetness with flavours of nuts and green apple.

Second steep has more astringency and lighter body. Higher notes are more present with a crisp profile and citrusy flavour. Aftertaste again has some sour green apple note, but is also reminiscent of copper, sand, and spices. Third steep is somewhat less interesting in this particular session, but it has a sweeter long-lasting aftertaste with a new melon flavour.

Finally, fourth infusion is again fairly distinct. It has a strong melon seed flavour and notable dryness, but overall is more savoury once again.

One final thing to note is that the tea has a strong cha qi for a green tea. It is relaxing and warming and makes me sweat.

Flavors: Broth, Carrot, Citrus, Drying, Flowers, Gardenias, Grass, Green Apple, Meat, Melon, Popcorn, Sweet, Umami, Vegetables

Preparation
175 °F / 79 °C 1 min, 0 sec 4 g 3 OZ / 100 ML

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96

I got a sample of this tea earlier this year and after one session went and bought the cake straight away. It’s a pungent and clean tasting tea with a unique aroma, bitter and floral taste, and a lightly fruity aftertaste with a strong huigan. The price is relatively good at the moment as well, so I had no reason to hesitate. Interestingly, the leaves have a relatively dark olive green colour, darker than any young sheng from standard varietals that I can recall.

Starting with the dry leaf aroma, I can smell nuts, apricot and spinach most of all, but also some kind of flowery scent. The aroma of wet leaves is strong, complex and hard to identify. It is a little bit oolong like (think Taiwanese high mountain oolong without a lot of the florals). Some all-over-the-place fleeting notes I get include coffee, tangerine, stewed vegetables, and popcorn.

The rinse already gives a good impression of the tea’s taste profile. It is a mix of bitter, floral and sweet; very viscous and yet it feels light in the mouth. Later on the tea gets incredibly fragrant, but not as perfumy as some other Yi Wu shengs I’ve tried. Apart from that, it tastes grassy and woody, with a decent umami and notes of roasted nuts, white grapes, swiss chard, and burnt food. Deep bitterness persists throughout the whole session, but the tea never gets overly astringent.

Ding Jia Zhai is an all-round great tea, but its aftertaste is one of the highlights for sure. It has some spiciness and a kind of sticky sweetness to it. On top of that, a few fruity flavours emerge that are absent when drinking the tea, most notably tones of orange, grapefruit, pawpaw, and chamomile. The huigan is remarkable even relative to other (supposedly) gu shu teas. The flavours of this tea stay with you and slowly evolve for a long time.

Mouthfeel wise, I found the tea maybe a bit less interesting, but still very enjoyable. The texture is smooth and oily and the body is medium. As for the cha qi, this tea has a nice subtly creeping, calming energy that’s not rushy. It is not one that would send you to the stratosphere I reckon, but I like it. I think this would be a good tea for social occasions.

Song pairing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9wxZ1DV9xO4

edit: I ended the session at 17 steeps today, but the tea seemed like it had a bit more to give, being still quite flavourful and thick even at these late stages.

Flavors: Apricot, Bitter, Burnt Food, Butter, Citrus, Coffee, Floral, Fruity, Grapefruit, Grass, Nuts, Orange, Popcorn, Roasted nuts, Smooth, Spinach, Sweet, Tropical, Umami, Vegetables, White Grapes, Wood

Preparation
205 °F / 96 °C 0 min, 15 sec 8 g 3 OZ / 90 ML
Natethesnake

If you like bitter yesheng the slumbering dragon is interesting and he has 17,18&19 harvests available. If you haven’t tried these it’s definitely interesting to do a vertical tasting of these as the bitterness fades quickly. It’s very expensive for yesheng but worth sampling

Togo

Thanks for the recommendation :)
I do have a sample of the 2017 harvest, but I wasn’t very impressed with it and actually haven’t found it very bitter at all.

I seem to prefer the Ye Sheng black teas to shengs, but I just got some aged Ye Sheng samples so I am curious to try those out :)

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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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