Bitterleaf Teas

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Recent Tasting Notes

I’m a big fan of the 2019 vintage of this tea and the 2021 harvest does not disappoint. Having already reviewed the (now sold out) 2019 version, most of the things I wrote there should also apply to this tea, so I will keep this short and sweet and not repeat myself here.

Like its predecessor, the 2021 Full Frontal is a strong tea with plenty of bite and great longevity. The soup is thick with a pleasing texture. While obviously still floral, I actually found the ’21 less of a flower bomb than the ’19 and instead it displayed some interesting hints of a cocktail of various fruity notes alongside the florals.

While it starts off sweet and gentle, the bitterness ramps up as the infusions progress and grow longer. While I virtually always brew my raws with freshly boiled water, this is one of the teas where I like to do two infusions before reboiling. I find Full Frontal to respond well to ~95°C water and alternating between 99°C and 95°C gives a fun insight into the more biting and slightly gentler facets of the tea. If you’re afraid of this tea being too intense, you can experiment with using less leaf and slightly cooler water. I would expect it to still perform well.

I’d regard Full Frontal ’21 to be just as good as the ’19. If you missed out on the original or have already drunk it all, this tea comes highly recommended. I remember considering this tea to be a good value, but upon checking the price on the website, I needed to do a double take when I was the price per gram. 22¢/g is ridiculously good value for this tea! I’d expect it to sell for at least 30¢/g and even 40¢ wouldn’t be unreasonable at all. I’m tempted to pick up a cake myself, because I don’t have that much Jingmai and this tea ticks all the boxes for me.

Flavors: Bitter, Floral, Fruity, Sweet, Thick

Preparation
Boiling 0 min, 15 sec 7 g 3 OZ / 100 ML

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Grandpa Style!

I don’t think I’ve tried a lot of Bangwei sheng before, but I’m enjoying this one a lot – it’s reminding me of some of my other favourite & ‘go to’ regions, mostly for its sweet and floral character. Very “Jingmai meets the sweeter and more fruity part of Yiwu” IMO. Saturated orchid syrup notes that are just to die for. I believe I have one more dragonball left that I’ll brew gongfu – but I could definitely see thing being a tea worth caking…

Photo: https://www.instagram.com/p/CUusoBuA265/

Song Pairing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0iG45jI8GMA

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90

I bought this cake a while ago, having previously tried the 2019 vintage, but I only broke into it today. Overall, I think I like it even more than the 2019 version. The tea is very pungent and complex, I’d recommend shorter steeps for this one.

The aroma is nutty and forest-like. Throughout the session I detected scents of fruit tree flowers, plum, lavender, and juniper for example.

Rinse has a light to medium body and a velvety, numbing mouthfeel. It already has quite a lot of strength and width. It is sweet, mineral, and bitter with notes of dry forest soil, yellow sugar, licorice, and parsley root.

First proper infusion is pungent, acerb, and juicy. There is a hint of citrus zest and a strong aftertaste that brings a mix of sour, floral and bitter flavours.

Second steep bring in a grapefruit bitterness and substantial astringency. The body is medium to full. There is a light earthy peatiness present and the finish reminds me of stonefruits and citric acid.

The third, on the other hand, is floral and sweet with a decent umami too. The taste is a bit like that of shellfish. Subsequent infusion is the thickest yet and very mineral. There are notes of tobacco leaves and slivovitz.

By the seventh or eighth steep, the tea is not as astringent anymore. Moreover, its profile moves in the direction of woody, sweet and nutty flavours. There are notes such as radish, beef steak and hot hay here.

Flavors: Alcohol, Astringent, Bitter, Brown Sugar, Citrus Zest, Citrusy, Earth, Floral, Forest Floor, Fruit Tree Flowers, Grapefruit, Hot Hay, Lavender, Licorice, Marine, Meat, Mineral, Nutty, Parsley, Peach, Peat, Pepper, Plum, Sour, Stonefruit, Sweet, Thick, Tobacco, Umami, Wood

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

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I nearly bought a sample of this tea from BLT myself, so I’m glad I could try it anyway courtesy of Roswell Strange. It reminds me of the Jiu Tai Po tea from Yunnan Sourcing which I like a lot – mainly by virtue of its thick texture and bitter, grainy taste profile.

The aroma reminds me of hazelnuts and sunflowers. The taste is quite pungent. It is floral with mild fruitiness. The grainy aspect gives it an ale-like vibe. There is a long-lasting sweet, mineral aftertaste too. The liquor is full bodied with a lively syrupy and velvety mouthfeel.

Flavors: Bitter, Floral, Flowers, Fruity, Grain, Hazelnut, Mineral, Sweet

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Gongfu!

This was an early morning weekend session for me. I remember when the original 2015 version of this sheng came out; the name and description intrigued me but back then I was intimidated by pu’erh so I passed on trying it. Even if this isn’t the exact same thing, it still feels like a second chance to revisit a tea that I always wondered about – and its good!! Starts off pretty soft and sweet; more so than I would have expected. There’s a floral “flower nectar” vibe to the early steeps, and as it progresses the texture of the soup becomes a bit thicker and slightly astringent but the overall sweetness remains alongside a greener edge and a slight candied yuzu taste. When pushed it can get more bitter and pithy, but the huigan is more intense as a result!

Photos: https://www.instagram.com/p/CUQGIzLASsW/

Song Pairing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-NWngyxdaCY&ab_channel=RareAmericans

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79

Even though it is from Yunnan, this is a fairly sstandard Bai Mu Dan in its profile. The taste is savoury with a mild bitterness and flavours of vanilla and custard. The aftertaste is sweet and floral. There is also a lasting woody fragrance to it.

Flavors: Bitter, Custard, Floral, Sweet, Vanilla, Wood

Preparation
8 g 5 OZ / 150 ML

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90

Gongfu!

Woke up weirdly early today and realized I actually had enough time to start my day with a tea session, so I pulled out a shou since that’s something I’ve been craving since the weekend. This is definitely one of those teas that I regret not buying more of when I had the chance – it’s honestly one of the most aptly named ripe pu’erhs that I’ve come across. Just so incredibly smooth with notes of fudgey dark chocolate chip cookies mixed with the more characteristic sweetly earthy & woody notes of Menghai shou. Really, really cookie like.

Photos: https://www.instagram.com/p/CTPqAWGLmJL/

Song Pairing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KuvN39H2dRw&ab_channel=HippoCampus

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I got my second COVID shot today, so in honor of that I decided to Buckle Up. While apparently quite renowned in China, in the Western pu’er circles I feel like Xigui remains still somewhat obscure in the shadow of giants like Lao Ban Zhang and Bingdao. Even my own experience with tea from there remains fairly limited. I keep hearing talk of how it’s famous for its unique fragrance, but I’ve still yet to identify what that fragrance is. The characteristics that have seemed rather consistent from tea to tea are the very mineral-driven taste coupled with lightness and subtlety.

In its first infusion, Buckle Up offered just that. But that first impression betrays this tea, as from the second infusion onward it is a very different experience. The very sweet and mineral character is joined by a fruitiness that to me tastes distinctly like peach, complete with both the sweet, fruity character as well as the earthy, garden-like facet of it.

As the infusions progress, a pastry-like quality joins in along with some lemony notes. Together with a pleasant sourness characteristic of this tea, they produce something with an uncanny resemblance to a lemon-peach cheesecake. The body that keeps thickening as the steepings go on completes the picture.

Each infusion is different in terms of taste. There’s a lot of complexity and the session is rather dynamic. On the flip side, where Buckle Up shines in complexity, it perhaps loses out somewhat in terms of depth. But there’s a lot to like and overall this Xigui is rather refreshing and energizing. Bitterness and astringency start off low and continue to gradually build over the course of the session, but remain quite palatable even by the end. All in all Buckle Up is a very approachable tea.

While not even close to a budget tea, this one’s still somewhat more affordable than Xigui gushu, while still offering many of the qualities you’d expect from high-end old arbor. I quite like this tea; it’s rather unique. If someone served me this tea, I’d happily drink it. But at least for me it’s more of a tea that’s nice to sample and experience a couple of times, rather than something I’d cake. And that’s my recommendation for others as well: definitely buy a sample of this if you can and are interested; cake it if you really like it.

While different, this tea does remind me a lot of Naka. It’s probably the strong mineral vein running through both of these teas. I’m typically not a big fan of mineral-dominant teas, but these two areas seem to be the exception. Personally I do prefer Naka, though, and would probably rather grab a cake of OG Naka for essentially half the price(/double the tea). Both are great teas, though. I recommend grabbing a sample of both and doing some back-to-back or side-by-side comparisons.

Edit:
Having now had my second session with this tea and finishing my sample, my opinion of it has elevated. Because it was the bottom of the bag, my ratio was slightly heavier than normal at around 7.2g/100ml. The tea could handle it with ease and seemed to respond well in fact, producing rich and flavorful brews.

I find the flavor profile of Buckle Up very enjoyable and unique. The lemon cheesecake taste is so delicious! Together with great mouthfeel and calming qi, this tea’s a winner. While it may not be cheap, I’m now going to be ordering a cake in Bitterleaf’s upcoming anniversary sale.

Flavors: Cheesecake, Citrus, Earth, Mineral, Pastries, Peach, Pleasantly Sour, Plum, Sweet

Preparation
Boiling 0 min, 15 sec 8 g 4 OZ / 120 ML

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70

Grandpa style!

I didn’t read BLT’s tasting notes until after steeping, so I missed their note about this sheng getting bitter when pushed. Even still, the bitterness really didn’t get to a point in the cup of bothering me – though it was certainly noticeable! Instead, this was softly vegetal with some sweet notes of sugar snaps and orchids before taking on more of a leafy green flavour – think kale, arugula, collard greens. I’m not personally a huge fan of is tea in this particular steeping method, but it’s because of the vegetal notes and not the bitterness. I like BLT’s description of “a flower with teeth” and I do have one more dragonball to finish off, so gongfu with short steeps seems more promising!

Photo: https://www.instagram.com/p/CSsJL6-gVXK/

Song Pairing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CbFD7Ii5Hus&ab_channel=JORDANN

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Gongfu!

Sipping down one of my two dragonballs this afternoon – steeped up grandpa style. The 2020 production doesn’t stand out in my mind as having been particularly good or bad, but this year’s is really impressing me this afternoon! There’s certainly astringency while steeping, but pleasantly so. I also really like that astringency as an offset to what I’m finding to be an otherwise very sweet floral and fruity puer – with notes of lemon zest, lilacs, green apples, sweet & tangy nectarines and even at times an almost “lemon meringue” kind of sweet citrus flavour! The finish is bitter but clean – and I appreciate the counter balance, while not dwelling on that note for too prolonged a time period. I’m curious how brewing this might change the impact of those flavour notes, or if I’d get new ones entirely…

Photo: https://www.instagram.com/p/CSKLzHWgyea/

Song Pairing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YOJ2346dG1Y

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It took me a couple of years to warm up to Bitterleaf’s original 2018 Naka and by the time I started liking it it had appreciated so much in value that buying a bing wasn’t even a consideration. Now we finally have a follow-up and after some deliberation I decided to grab a cake of it blind (along with a sample). My very positive session with OG Naka only heightened my expectations for this tea. Now, with a couple of months under its belt, I could wait no longer.

From the first sip, this is one of those teas you just know to be good. And it puts a smile on your face. Or makes you say out loud to your drinking partner, “This tea is pretty f***ing good,” in my case. And like in the case of other teas of this caliber, trying to pin down what it is that makes it so amazing is quite elusive, and frankly you find yourself beyond caring.

Instead of trying to describe what it is that makes Eminence great, I’ll simply describe what it is like instead. …But since I don’t want to repeat myself, if you haven’t read my OG Naka review yet, I ask you to go do that, because pretty much everything I said about OG Naka applies to Eminence.

Then what’s different? Well, my expectation of Eminence being a much more subtle tea was totally mistaken. It somehow manages to be even more flavor-packed than OG Naka, which is saying something. Whereas I don’t recall OG Naka being particularly bitter, Eminence again surprises by being quite bitter indeed. Not in a bad way, I’d say, but not in a good way either. It could be a deal-breaker for some, though.

Of course the star is the yan yun, and it is absolutely massive! I didn’t think OG Naka could be so utterly beaten, but Eminence does just that. This goes hand in hand with the texture, which is where I felt OG Naka fell somewhat short. While also possessing a huge body, it is the texture that grabs my attention here. It is crunchy! It honestly (almost) feels like there are small crystals, small grains of salt, in the tea soup. After each cup my jaw feels a bit tired, like I’d just finished chewing something. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a soup so… physical.

But in terms of differences, that’s about it. The longevity is about the same. OG Naka might even have a slight edge. But then again Eminence brews up stronger, so they are pretty much even. Both carry a fragrance in the mouth, but I think Eminence more so. Honestly most things the big E takes just a step further.

But is the gushu worth more than twice the price of OG Naka? For me the answer is a resounding yes. But for you it might be more of a maybe. Eminence honestly shot directly up to one of my favorite teas. Granted, the first session is essentially the honeymoon period and things can change. But I don’t see that happening.

My recommendation is to try OG Naka first and move up to Eminence if you like it. Naka truly has a unique terroir worth experiencing. When you drink your tea, please remember to give thanks in your thoughts to the trees it came from, the people who produced it and people like Bitterleaf who make these teas available to us.

Flavors: Astringent, Bitter, Floral, Mineral, Sweet

Preparation
Boiling 0 min, 15 sec 9 g 5 OZ / 135 ML
Togo

I also got this cake blind, your note makes me hopeful that it wasn’t a stupid idea :D

Togo

I also really like your idea of giving gratitude to the land, the culture and the entities involved in bringing this fascinating experiences to our cups. I may include something of the sort in my tea ritual.

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Gongfu!

I met up with a tea friend from IG who lives here in Montreal yesterday – we’ve been trying to find a time to have tea together for close to two years now, but the pandemic has added an extra layer of complication to the equation. It was great finally catching up in person though after several years of zoom tea sessions and similar!

We brewed multiple sessions, and this was one of them. He’d never tried anything from Bitterleaf before so I brought over a random selection of cakes and samples to pick from to try. I’ve had this before in dragonball form as part of the Spring pu’erh sampler, but looking at it this was the beautiful greener leaf really stands out! Very soft and sweet throughout with pleasant vegetal notes of sugar snaps. Grounding, approachable, and with a pleasant body warmth!

This was actually the third session of the afternoon (I’m writing notes out of order) so I was BLITZED by this point – I totally lost track of steeps but it was a lot and we pushed this guy until it was completely dead.

Photos: https://www.instagram.com/p/CTuVsEIgfz4/

Song Pairing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gyGfzTFVDkE&ab_channel=MsWhite-Topic

mrmopar

In person meetups are always nice.

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Gongfu!

I’m back from vacation now, but still catching up on tasting notes from near the end of that break. This was one of the dragonballs from BLT’s Spring Sampler – but I did blink cake it as well since I do that with every “Year of the…” cake. I had this one with my friend TheOolongDrunk over a virtual tea hangout.

This was definitely one of those situations where conversation reigns supreme and tea becomes a bit like more of a backdrop – but I remember thinking how soft and smooth this seemed in the early session, before picking up into something with a bit more texture and a slightly more hearty “fruity” green taste. I enjoyed it and I think I got something like eight or so steeps, which isn’t anything to sneeze at either. Ultimately I didn’t mind being a bit less attentive because the body feeling was good as I sipped it and I have plenty still to get to revisit more actively in the future.

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Gongfu!

Started this session just before jumping on a Zoom call/virtual tea meet up with some IG tea friends yesterday. I picked this tea out because it steeps for a crazy long time – these little delicious nuggets just keep chugging along. Seriously, I lost track of how many steeps I got. It was a lot. I love the undertones of date cookies alongside warming soft earthiness! It was the perfect smooth and sippable shou to enjoy over conversation.

Photo: https://www.instagram.com/p/CQ3_tRcBOUx/

Song Pairing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=neNe66vSeZo&ab_channel=StellaBridie-Topic

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75

I got a couple of blind cakes from BLT this year, their yearly plantation Yi Wu being one of them. The tea is on the green side with a bit of a jade oolong profile.

The aroma is savoury with notes of fried greens and nettle. It has a astringent, light to medium bodied, liquor with floral bitterness and flavours of green vegetables and dry grass. Really, the tea is quite bitter and drying, reminiscent of unripe fruit.

The aftertaste, however, is long-lasting and fragrant with a nice tartness and a fruity sweetness that emerges after a while.

Flavors: Astringent, Bitter, Drying, Floral, Fruity, Green, Herbs, Mineral, Sweet, Tart

Preparation
205 °F / 96 °C 0 min, 15 sec 7 g 4 OZ / 110 ML

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84

I think both BLT’s description and TJ Elite’s review are spot on. It’s a lovely tea that is true to the Naka terroir. You are paying for the name of course, but the price is reasonable I’d say.

The dragon balls open fast and the rinse has a good depth with a bitter and mineral character (that is a recurring theme) and a hint of chard. Aroma in the gaiwan is sweet and flowery with notes of sugarcane, candy, and grass compost.

First couple of steeps have medium body and a moderate bitterness with sweet, grassy and floral profile. It is complemented by flavours of sunflower, green olives and a touch of apricot. Around fourth infusion, the liquor becomes quite numbing and the bitterness intensifies. It’s kind of like a mix of bitter greans growing in high altitude, rocky environment.

The aftertaste is very cooling with a mild sweetness, buttery texture, and a protracted sweet vegetal bite.

Song pairing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mFJSM3kvBQ4

Flavors: Apricot, Bitter, Candy, Compost, Floral, Flowers, Grass, Mineral, Olives, Plants, Sugarcane, Sweet, Vegetal, Wet Rocks

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

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73

Gongfu!

Breaking in new teaware with stacked infusions of this sheng dragonball! There’s definitely more bite to this tea than expected but it’s not too shabby! With the stacked steeps, this comes off as more bitter and vegetal w/ some grassier medicinal top notes and a bit of woodiness. However the mouthfeel is syrupy and coating, with astringency really only picking up in the pooled 5th to 7th steeps. The finish is pretty lingering and sweet, and reminds me of licorice root. It’s not something I’d be likely to seek out often, but I’m glad I tried it!

I’ve been preeetttyyy good about not buying too much tea this year compared to my normal, but teaware!? Well, let’s just say a lot of companies have really upped their games!!

Photos: https://www.instagram.com/p/CQhT5tnDb8y/

Song Pairing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UDHFYVorDpU

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Thelonious Monk is one of my all-time favorite jazz musicians, so I have a fondness for this tea’s choice of name. As a fan of Bulang as well, this blend of Hekai and Nanmo has at least on paper the ingredients for success.

Dropping the dragon ball in my preheated gaiwan, I’m greeted by an aroma that makes me think of lightly smoked fish. Not the most enticing aroma, but let’s not judge a book by its cover. The aroma of the wet leaves clears up a bit and interestingly continues to change throughout the session, presenting various facets of itself.

The rinse and first one or two infusions are rather disappointing in terms of body and the flavor is rather vague as well. But once the tea gets going, the body improves and you are greeted by the characteristic Bulang bitterness. There’s actually a lot that could be said about the flavor and bitterness especially in the early to mid steeps, but I feel like I lack the necessary association needed to properly describe them. I know people who can do it are out there.

What I can say is that the bitterness isn’t unpleasant and fades fairly quickly, at least most of it. If there’s sweetness, at least for me it was masked by the bitterness. The body reached maximum thickness around the mid point, which is where I also encountered some floral character. The latter half of the session is also where I started feeling increasingly hot and eventually even a bit unsteady. I don’t know if I’ve slowly built up a tolerance over the years or just been drinking the wrong teas, but it’s been rather rare for me to get tea drunk as of late, so this tea surprised me.

After a bit of a slow start, once the tea got going it ended up impressing me a lot more than I would have expected. I found it a really fun tea to session. The cha qi is lively, but not overbearing or aggressive like some Bulang teas can be. Perhaps not something you’d look for in a daily drinker, but nice for an occasional brew for when you are craving something a bit more energizing. If you are a fan of Bulang, Straight No Chaser is well worth trying. It’s ready to drink now, well-suited for aging and the quality matches the price.

So far I’ve been really surprised by Bitterleaf’s 2021 teas. Nearly all of the teas I’ve tried have been totally ready to drink this young, which has certainly not been my experience in previous years with most sheng. On top of that nearly all of them have been REALLY good. I know many of my reviews of Bitterleaf teas have been positive, but I’d like to note that there are a lot of their teas that I didn’t bother to review because I wasn’t that enthusiastic about them. I don’t think there have been any I truly disliked (which is fairly rare anyway), but many of their teas end up ranking as okay in my book. I mean, it’s like that for most vendors.

If we look at Bitterleaf’s raw pu’ers from 2020, unless I’m forgetting something, I believe the ones I’d personally recommend are Year of the Rat Yiwu, Drink Me and Little Mountain Bloom. Monsieur Lafleur also gets an honorable mention as a cheaper alternative to Bloom. Plum Beauty also carries an intriguing fragrance to it, but I honestly just aren’t that into Mengsong teas. All of the other teas are nice and I’m sure they have their fans, but I wouldn’t personally name them to someone asking me for recommendations.

But this year’s lineup… So far I’m really impressed. Maybe I started with all the good ones, but we’ll see. A bit of a tangent, but I wanted to bring it up somewhere since it was on my mind.

Flavors: Bitter, Floral

Preparation
Boiling 0 min, 15 sec 7 g 3 OZ / 100 ML

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“Naka for the people,” as Bitterleaf calls it. I drank – and reviewed – Bitterleaf’s original Naka back in 2018. (Has it truly been three years?) I was lukewarm on it at the time and honestly probably ill-equipped to properly appreciate it – despite what the me back then may have thought. I’d only been drinking pu’er for maybe a year and a half at that point, which when looking back now equates to getting your toes wet.

Since then I’ve revisited the 2018 Naka twice. Once maybe a year after my first session and a second time some months back when the tea was close to three years old. My second session was more favorable than the first and the third one I actually enjoyed quite a bit. By that last session the tea had developed a lovely orange blossom note to it, which was my first time encountering it in a tea. Orange blossom happens to be perhaps my favorite note in perfumery, so that experience stood out to me for a special reason.

Authentic Naka is a scarce and often a high price ticket tea, but OG Naka finally offers a “budget” option for pu’er lovers everywhere. But at only 40% of the price of this year’s Eminence old tree Naka, does OG Naka offer the true Naka experience at a much more affordable price, or is it simply a too watered down version to live up to its name?

Well, let’s find out.

In terms of flavor, the tea is simple but enjoyable. I didn’t get much bitterness at all and astringency only really entered the picture in the longer later steeps. While it didn’t come across as a sweet tea to me overall, OG Naka actually has a fair amount of sweetness running through it, more than your average sheng I’d say. The tea makes your own saliva taste sweet in your mouth. There’s also already some fragrance present in the soup. I found it hard to identify at this point, but I felt like I could detect some hints of the aforementioned orange blossom already present in the tea. Perhaps I was just wanting to find it.

But the big thing that must be talked about is the yan yun, or “rock rhyme” if you will. It is something that many have found ever-elusive, but it is present here in spades, much more so than I have experienced even in high-end Wuyi yanchas brewed Chaozhou style. Everyone struggles to describe it and has their own definition for it, but what I experienced with this tea is a strong mineral dryness, like you’d just licked a rock. This is different from astringency and a more typical drying sensation you may have experienced with other teas. It doesn’t leave you thirsty in the same way and I think this tea actually may have a slightly salivating effect, actually making your mouth more moist than normal. The overall experience is surprisingly refreshing and hydrating, great for the summer.

The body is good and maintains itself well throughout the session. The texture starts out kinda rough, not necessarily in a bad way though, but smoothes out eventually. Definitely doesn’t compare with the smoothes of ancient arbor teas. The tea is very flavorful and I was able to go all the way to 3 and 5 minute steeps in my last infusions with them still being very enjoyable, so the longevity is there.

Overall a great, great tea. It was both memorable and enjoyable. I’ve yet to try this year’s Eminence, but at least compared to my memory of the 2018 Naka, OG Naka came across as the more flavorful and robust tea, whereas the 2018 was a much more subtle and textural affair. Between those two, I would see this one as being the more easily approachable one and one many might actually prefer despite it being considerably cheaper.

This is a tea I highly recommend if you’ve never experienced Naka, because it’s very unique. Not a cheap tea at $3 per dragon ball, but it’s an experience well worth it if you really love pu’er. Is it cake worthy? That depends. If you’re already a fan of Naka, but don’t have any in your collection because of the typically high price, I doubt you’ll be disappointed in this if you’ve been eyeballing it already. I think the quality is good. You are maybe paying a bit of Naka extra, 30¢/g would be a bit more reasonable I think, but I think the uniqueness of Naka is worth it in this case. For most people I would recommend getting a sample first, though. Bitterleaf has said they only got a small amount of this however, so you better act fast if you’re interested.

Flavors: Astringent, Drying, Floral, Mineral, Orange Blossom, Sweet

Preparation
Boiling 0 min, 15 sec 7 g 3 OZ / 100 ML

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Grandpa Style!

Recently got my Spring Pu’erh order from Bitterleaf Teas and couldn’t resist dipping into it with some late afternoon Grandpa style in the office garden! As one would probably expect, given the name, this sheng is super floral – lots of fragrant fresh notes accompany the syrupy liquor and pleasant astringency; I cannot wait to see how this develops. Most of this new pu’erh haul will rest a little longer, but since I blind caked this spring pu’erh in addition to nabbing the sample I figured I’d crack into one of these dragon balls right away!

Photos: https://www.instagram.com/p/CQMoaXgAHtT/

Song Pairing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ur93d98jxjk&ab_channel=DavidDeanBurkhartDavidDeanBurkhart

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I’m a big fan of the 2020 vintage of Drink Me, I personally even prefer it to the more expensive Resistance from the same village, but unfortunately by the time I had my first session with it in fall 2020, the tea had already sold out. When I saw it was being featured again in the 2021 lineup, I didn’t hesitate to pull the trigger and order a cake blind. Even if it ended up not quite living up to the 2020 harvest, the original was such an exceptional value I saw no way I could go wrong with my purchase.

After two weeks in transit and letting the teas acclimatize in my pumidor for a week, here we are having my first taste of this tea. It’s quite early to be tasting a tea this young, but I wanted to get a review out early, so that others have a chance to jump on this tea if they so choose, while they still can.

I will start off by briefly describing my memory of the 2020 tea from when I last had it a few weeks ago and then proceed to discussing how the 2021 harvest compares to it. The 2020 Drink Me I recall being very thick with the consistency of that of plant based oil. Very floral with a gentle bitterness to it, although bitterness might not even be the best word to describe it. I even got some interesting milkiness in the early steeps. An excellent tea for the price.

Now jumping to the 2021 harvest, this year’s tea might actually have a stronger flavor to it than the previous year, although I don’t quite recall exactly how strong the 2020 spring was and don’t have any of it left to check. That being said, while I can’t quite put my finger on how I’d describe the fragrance of this tea, it struck me in its current state as much less floral than the 2020 harvest at one year of age. The tea is also noticeably more bitter than I recall its 2020 brethren being, but still gentle compared to many other Bulang teas. The bitterness does persist, though, which might be a deal-breaker for some. Longevity is good and I was able to still get a perfectly serviceable brew at 3 minutes and even the final 5 minute infusion was decent and not just plain sweet water. The thick and oily consistency has been carried over from last year. The effect of the tea is energizing, not too aggressive.

While the OG Drink Me was similar to the neighboring Hekai, it still had its own unique character. This year’s harvest I found much more similar to Hekai and a bit less distinct (in its current form). If you really love Hekai, that might be a good thing. If you are like me and are a bit lukewarm on Hekai, maybe you might enjoy the 2020 Drink Me a bit more. Most of those who enjoyed last year’s offering will probably like this year’s as well, but there might be some to whom the 2021 vintage doesn’t quite deliver what they loved about the 2020. With age the two teas will hopefully start to converge a bit more, while retaining some of their individual charm.

Overall still an excellent tea even before looking at the price tag and after doing so just a phenomenal value. If you are a fan of the original, Hekai teas, or just Bulang in general, I think this is a quite safe blind purchase if you haven’t ordered Bitterleaf’s 2021 dragon ball sampler yet. At 13.5¢/g the value is nuts. I think this tea is perfectly ready to drink right now, but will only get better in the next couple years as I witnessed with the original. Only the bitterness could be a turnoff for some, but those individuals probably shouldn’t be eyeballing a Bulang tea in the first place. I recall the original being friendlier in that regard, but unfortunately that ship has sailed. In any case, if you are at all interested, I would act fast just in case history repeats itself and this tea remains as popular as it turned out last year.

Flavors: Bitter, Floral, Sweet

Preparation
Boiling 0 min, 15 sec 7 g 3 OZ / 100 ML
Togo

Always great to read your thought on tea, I’m glad you decided to share them again :)

If I didn’t already get my yearly BLT order in, I would have added at least a sample of this one, even though I’m not a big fan of Hekai teas. Well, maybe next time then

TJ Elite

I can sometimes be a bit lazy about writing reviews, but those interested can follow me on Instagram. I share my tea of the day in my stories quite often, sometimes even daily. Sometimes with my thoughts on it, sometimes with just a song selection for the day. My IG handle should be mentioned at the end of my profile description.

More reviews will be coming in the coming months. I’ve ordered cakes of The Way by Crimson Lotus, as well as the Bingdao 5 Villages and Big Snow Mountain ripes by YS, so those will definitely be reviewed. The most interesting ones from Bitterleaf’s 2021 lineup probably as well, but I’ll probably give those at least a few months to mature a bit.

Togo

Nice! I think I have an account on IG, but honestly I would like to reduce my presence on (online) social media rather than expanding it, unless necessary.

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82

Gongfu!

Late morning tea session from this past Saturday. I missed snagging this dancong the first year BLT carried it so I jumped on the 2020 production, and it’s not disappointed me!! This is one of those teas you buy because of the name but that you are, of course, skeptical of – I mean, how much can it really taste like ice cream!? Turns out the answer is a lot!! The soft and buttery texture of the steeps give way to a creamy and slightly saline infusion with the sweetness and nuttiness to pretty convincingly match up with BLT’s “salted caramel ice cream” descriptor; albeit with a clean floral finish!

Since I was reading John Green’s recently released book/collection of essays, The Anthropocene Reviewed, I think it’s only fair to rate this in the spirit of the book. So, I give Double Scoop 4/5 stars.

Photos: https://www.instagram.com/p/CPv2WULAxTN/

Song Pairing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A5ecPKyc9xM&ab_channel=Moses-TopicMoses-Topic

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80

“An Ode to Tea” Alphabet Challenge – X

Catching up again! This is the closest thing to an “X” tea that I have, so here we are. Dancong hasn’t historically been a favorite of mine, but this one came in a Bitterleaf sampler that I ordered a few years back, and I’m willing to give it a chance!

Used 5 grams for about 120ml of 190°F water, and steeped 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, 30s or so.

I was surprised to find this not very floral at all. It actually reminded me of a Bai Hao, with sweet honey and syrupy dried fruit notes over a base of crisp autumn leaves. There was a bit of fig, apricot, and golden raisin all rolled into one. I also tasted brown sugar a couple of steeps in, and then it got more leafy and woody for the last few steeps. At one point there was a lovely spun sugar note at the end of the sip.

It was tasty! It lost a bit of complexity as the session went on, but this is also from 2017 so I’m sure it’s lost a lot of its subtleties at this point. I was just happy it wasn’t floral overload! :3

Flavors: Apricot, Autumn Leaf Pile, Brown Sugar, Cotton Candy, Dried Fruit, Fig, Honey, Raisins, Roasted, Smooth, Stonefruit, Sweet, Wood

Preparation
190 °F / 87 °C 5 g 4 OZ / 120 ML
gmathis

I think you should get bonus points for having an X on hand!

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P is for… Priceless 2020 Spring Bulang Raw Puer Charitea Cake!

Gongfu!

Finally tried this cake about a week ago! All sales of this cake went towards supporting an orphanage in Kunming! That alone would be enough to make buying this cake worthwhile – but, more than that, it’s just reaaalllyyy good! Most steeps are accented with a reliable and consistent sugarcane note, but amidst that coating sweet flavour is a great balance of syrupy red fruit notes and bitterness w/ a lovely returning sweetness after each sip. I tried a few infusions with some really aggressive steep times, and while this did really push the bitterness to the forefront of the brew it also had great payoff from an even greater huigan!

Photos: https://www.instagram.com/p/CNyKZeNgb3C/

Song Pairing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TNgaTNPnN3M&ab_channel=PlanetFreeds

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