Those who know me know that I love Lao Man’e. It is my favorite pu’er producing area. I own a bing of Hai Lang Hao’s absolutely stupid priced 2016 Lao Man’e, that’s how much I love this stuff. This year Crimson Lotus released both the sweet and bitter varietals as mao cha alongside blending the two into a limited number of cakes. Blending the two has always made sense to me: the sweet varietal lacks the kick that I look for in a proper Lao Man’e while also often having only average longevity, whereas the bitter varietal can often end up being a bit too one dimensional. Together the two complement one another nicely.
I ended up ordering one of each of their single sessions and blending the two together for this session in a 60:40 ratio of sweet versus bitter, totaling eight grams in a 100ml gaiwan. This was a casual session I did not expect to be reviewing, so did not take notes. I did an unknown number of steeps over the course of two to three hours, using up approx. 1.5 to 2 liters of water in the process. For the first countless steeps I kept the steeping times to a flash, until finally starting to lengthen them in my standard manner, ultimately stopping at the 3 minute mark.
For me the tea is a bit too green still. The rinsed leaves have a distinct asparagus smell to them, which comes across in the cup too. Some very green teas like green teas and jade wulongs have the bitter asparagus note and I’m personally not a fan. I’m not a fan of greener teas in general. The first few infusions are rather strange in general. All of Crimson Lotus’s mao cha that I’ve tried recently have suffered from this. I don’t know if it’s a storage thing or maybe a mao cha thing. I’ve never been a huge fan of mao cha; I’ve always felt pressed raws taste way, way better. Regardless, the weird funk does clear up after a few brews and the expected bitterness ramps up as well.
There’s definitely sweetness, but it only comes to the forefront after the bitterness has had its time in the limelight in the early to early mid brews. I found this tea somewhat atypical of Lao Man’e, which I suppose is a good thing as the teas can taste a bit too similar to one another. It could have to do with the young age or the tea being loose, but regardless it’s a welcome change even if I did miss some of the more classic attributes, which might develop later. For me the highlights of this tea were the extremely consistent robust body and the enjoyable, energizing cha qi. I’m used to Lao Man’e teas being rather aggressive generally, so the more pleasant energy was definitely welcomed. For a young tea there is already a good amount of fragrance going on and aerating the tea in my mouth I could tell in an instant that this is a great tea.
The quality is honestly top notch, and as someone having tasted many, many teas in the $1/g region, this is one of the few that is actually worth it, or let’s say it’s one of the teas most worth its price point. For those seeking to figure out how to discern true old tree material, I think this is one of the best and clearest examples I have come across. I have no doubts about this material being old arbor and the leaves look stunning both in dry form and brewed.
Before the session I was absolutely not in the market for buying a second cake of Lao Man’e, and despite that by the end of the session I’d placed an order for the blended cake. I highly, highly recommend sampling this tea, both for a Lao Man’e novice as well as a veteran. Despite being unsure how I felt about the tea at first, it eventually won me over and it is an impeccable tea. If you want to recreate the blending experiment I did but are not fully on board with the full-on bitterness of Lao Man’e, you can increase the ratio even further, something like 2:1 could work nicely. I’m tempted to blend the rest of the mao cha I have with the Honeymoon sheng I reviewed previously and see how that works out. Might be a waste of expensive tea, but you never know before you try.
Flavors: Asparagus, Bitter, Citrus, Sweet