123 Tasting Notes
Crimson Lotus might just be my favorite Western vendor when it comes to shu pu’er. Most of their ripes that I’ve tried I’ve really liked. The flip side of this is that I haven’t really been into the majority of their sheng offerings. Interestingly, most vendors do exhibit a certain “house taste” when it comes to their own pu’er pressings, even if they weren’t involved in the production of the tea and it’s not a blend. All of this is to say that when Crimson Lotus releases a new shu pu’er, I consider it a fairly safe blind purchase.
And that is exactly what I did with this tea. Even though I did take my time, I did finally order both a cake and a sample of this tea (so I don’t have to break into the cake immediately). The artwork is great (even if not exactly original) and the mention of some Lao Man’e being mixed in enough to make my ears perk up.
After letting the tea rest a few weeks, I had my first session with my cousin who is also a fan of tea, but much more casual compared to me the passionate teahead. Shu pu’er is his favorite and he has highly enjoyed some of CLT’s other ripes, so we were both pretty hyped for this tea.
We used a 140ml gaiwan with around 12g of leaf. The tea brews dark, bold and bitter. I don’t know how much Lao Man’e is in this and how similar the other teas are, but that profile seems to very much dominate the taste. It’s a good kind of bitterness though and doesn’t persist. Bitter dark chocolate is essentially the flavor profile I get from this and it doesn’t change all that much over the course of the session. Some steeps might have a hint of the characteristic grapefruit I get in good Lao Man’e, but I could be just imagining it knowing there’s some Lao Man’e in here.
Overall, the taste is nice – as long as you like ripes with some bite to them – but ultimately not dynamic enough to remain interesting. What makes up for that, however, is the mouthfeel. This tea brews up thick and in its prime steeps feels like pouring molten chocolate down your throat, coating everything in its wake. Not as good as Hai Lang Hao’s best ripes, but still very good. If you value texture and mouthfeel, this is your kind of ripe.
Another highlight of the first session was the cha qi. Me and my cousin are both more sensitive to cha qi than the average drinker, I wager, my cousin even more sensitive than me. This tea got us really wasted, swinging wildly from giggly to stoned over the course of the session and many things in between. It could very well have been just amplifying the emotions we were experiencing at that moment. Whatever the case, the cha qi together with the incredible texture made the session very memorable for us.
After returning home, I drank the rest of the sample (8.5g) in my 100ml Jianshui teapot just to check if the tea was in fact as good as the first session led to believe. In terms of flavor, the tea was very similar. I got a lot less chocolate and more of a typical shu profile (with the fast bitterness of course), but otherwise it tasted very much like the same tea. The texture on the other hand was interestingly not as great brewed in Jianshui. Maybe it was just a fluke, but I did get essentially the same experience, simply in somewhat weaker form.
As a side note, I’m thinking of discontinuing to use my Jianshui pot for future ripe reviews, because my Yixing zini pot performs much better. In cases where I don’t have quite enough leaf for a satisfying session in that teapot, I’ll use a gaiwan instead. The 100ml Jianshui is great for casual sessions where I do four brews in a row, stacking two in my cha hai and two in one of my bigger cups, but when evaluating teas I’d like to try to bring out the very best of them that I can.
Then we get to the elusive cha qi. I’m not sure if I got much in my second session. Maybe some but nothing major. Could simply be that the psychoactive effects weren’t as evident when not trying to hold up a conversation. I may add an edit to this review if I remember in regards to how my future sessions go in terms of cha qi.
Overall, I’m very happy with my purchase of this tea. Based on my first session with it I’d rank it among my favorite ripes to date. The second session while still good didn’t deliver quite on the same level, but hopefully that was just a fluke. The bitterness might be a deal-breaker for some, although this is not a tea I’d recommend buying because of its taste. To get the most out of it, I think one must absolutely value mouthfeel and texture. The cha qi – if you get it – is also a potential big bonus.
To compare The Way with Yunnan Sourcing’s 2019 Lao Man’e, I think The Way is overall higher quality. The longevity is much better and so is the texture. For me the YS wins in terms of taste. The first two or three infusions still bring a literal smile to my face every time I drink it. It’s that good. Shame the flavor goes from great to good and from good to average over the course of a session, whereas The Way holds up much steadier across the infusions and gives you more brews. I’ll need to experiment with leafing the YS harder to see if I can improve the longevity. I may also need to experiment with blending the two together. I would love the taste of the YS together with the mouthfeel and potential cha qi of The Way.
In closing, I highly recommend The Way. It is definitely worth a sample if it sounds like your type of tea. I’d consider the price quite reasonable relative to the quality. Mine is going to be saved for special occasions. While I’m short on space, I may even consider getting a second cake…
Oh, and to shamelessly plug my cousin who is a composer, you can find his music if you search for Markus Junnikkala. He mainly does orchestral music, but has also released dark ambient, electronic, etc.
Flavors: Bitter, Dark Chocolate, Grapefruit
I’m a fan of the Big Snow Mountain in Mengku, so I ended up picking up a cake of this blind. The price was reasonable and I’m close to finishing another 357g bing in my short-to-medium term shu box, so there was an opening. My experiences with Daxueshan have generally been very positive, so I had high expectations for this one.
Since I own a bing, I didn’t want to review this based on just one session, so I did two to get a better feel for it. For my first session I used 13g of leaf freshly broken off the cake, while setting aside 10.5g to wait for my next session three weeks later. My teapot of choice for the first session was my trusty 160ml Yixing zini while for the second I used a 100ml Jianshui. The resulting sessions were quite different. While the difference in leaf-to-water ratio is obviously a big factor, as can be the choice of clay, I’ve found that at least with sheng pu’er breaking off the leaves you are about to drink a couple of days in advance can make a shockingly big difference in the tea (although I haven’t done a more scientific A/B).
My first session was a bit of a mixed bag. While I enjoyed the tea, I also found it to have some underlying unpleasant qualities to it. I find a lot of Yunnan Sourcing ripes to exhibit this when they are young, but my experience with the cakes I’ve owned is that it tends to go away after a couple of years, so hopefully it’s just the youth of the tea speaking.
Even the black teas I’ve had from Daxueshan have exhibited rather potent cha qi, so I was expecting this tea to be more active than your average shu. And in the first brew it did show signs of that. The tea felt warming and I could sense some form of reaction in my body. But after that nothing. On the other hand my notes mark that the tea had good body and a nice, smooth texture.
In terms of taste, there’s a fleeting bitterness present in the first half of the session. later replaced by a growing sweetness in the finish. I dry woodiness is the main character I get from this, along with otherwise a fairly standard spectrum of shu flavors. Overall somewhat boring in terms of taste, though.
In my first session I experienced the tea starting to taper off around the seventh infusion and while I stopped at nine I could have probably squeezed in at least one more, but in all likelihood it probably wouldn’t have been great.
I don’t know if it’s the heavier leaf-to-water ratio or what, but my second session was more positive. The tea was notably stronger (as one would expect), but interestingly I found the body and texture somewhat lacking until I got to the later infusions where the brewing times were longer. There the body was still somewhat unsatisfying but the texture became very pleasing. Either this stems from the difference in clay or it’s just a product of the inconsistencies of tea.
Perhaps thanks to leafing harder, the effects of the tea were also more noticeable this time around. Nothing crazy, but I could still feel some slight throbbing in my upper back and a general warming sensation a few brews in. While I could still detect some slight underlying unpleasantness in the tea, the more abrasive nature of the first session was mostly gone.
In addition to stronger brews, leafing the tea heavier also improved its longevity by quite a bit and I was able to easily get eleven brews out of it with at least one more being a possibility. The late brews are actually probably where the tea peaked for me because of the improved texture. While still a fairly standard shu affair in terms of taste, the second session did have more character overall.
Overall I think this is a nice tea with potential to hopefully grow. Had I sampled it beforehand, I probably wouldn’t have caked it, but I don’t regret grabbing it as it’s going to serve its purpose. I think the price is fair for what you get. No standout features right now, but hopefully it’ll start to shine a few years down the road. I seemed to prefer it leafed quite hard, but feel free to experiment for yourself.
Flavors: Bitter, Dark Chocolate, Drying, Roasted, Sweet, Wood
Bingdao area ripes aren’t something you see on the market every day, so obviously I had to try it. I actually picked up a cake of this blind for aging and a sample for having a couple sessions with it now to get a feel for it and its potential trajectory. For this review I used the same teaware and tea-to-water ratio as I use for most of my ripe reviews for consistency. These consisted of 13g of tea in a 160ml Yixing zini teapot along with a cha hai and teacup both made from Jianshui clay.
5 Villages brews up really dark yet the wet leaves aren’t pitch black but brown, so the fermentation isn’t on the heavy side. Ripes can sometimes offer some of the richest aromas at least to my nose, but this one seems rather straightforward and typical for a shu with its mainly cherry-like aroma. Hopefully the aroma will develop with age.
Taking my first sip of the tea, my first impression of it is it being both very typical for a ripe yet fairly unique at the same time. The flavor profile is familiar yet the tea adds a small twist to it with its own unique character, which is not necessarily easy to pin down immediately. I’m tasting earthy tones and some typical berry sweetness. There’s a touch of bitterness, but it fades quickly and does not persist. The tea is certainly drinkable, but there’s a slightly unpleasant edge to it stemming from this being a young lighter fermentation ripe. Most Yunnan Sourcing ripes tend to have this, but it should diminish within a few years.
The second infusion is among the best. It is sweet, very sweet. I’m getting much more of a cherry/cola taste now, cola being a descriptor I’ve seen others using for ripes, but this being the first time I’ve found it apt myself. The soup is now full-bodied and the mouthfeel pleasing. The aftertaste is stronger and longer than with most shus and interestingly more sour than bitter or sweet. There’s also some cooling going on in my mouth.
The rest of the infusions end up varying in terms of body, from a tad light to about what you’d expect from a ripe, although the strength of the tea holds much more consistent. While the upfront flavors are fairly standard, the aftertaste is what makes this tea at least somewhat unique. It has hints of fruit with a bit of tartness and a touch of sour. The fruits could be something like sour cherries, although at times I also get something more citrusy and closer to something like grapefruit. I even pick up on somewhat of a green, leafy character.
My favorite steepings end up being two, four and seven. The tea grows more balanced as the infusions progress, before eventually simplifying to a fairly standard shu affair toward the tail end of the session. The tea holds up surprisingly well, though, and ends up having one of the best longevities I’ve encountered in a ripe.
Ultimately, an interesting tea to session, but still not necessarily the most engaging. And again, in terms of enjoyment, it’s a nice tea, but not exactly an instant favorite of mine. But the quality is good. Not something that screams high-end to me, but it’s up there in the upper midrange or perhaps entry level high-end. If I think back to ripes that did strike me as high-end, I think the luxurious, velvety, active and engaging mouthfeel is what sets those teas apart from this.
5 Villages has an interesting flavor profile, though. Hopefully with age the fruits will become more defined and pronounced. This is also one of the most cooling teas I’ve had. While that doesn’t really earn it any extra points, it’s still always something interesting to note.
So, is it a good tea? Yes. Is it worth the price? For most people probably not. Is it worth sampling? If you’ve already sampled other high-end teas like the ones offered by Hai Lang Hao. I don’t think the Bingdao name alone is reason enough to jump at this tea over other alternatives on the market. From Yunnan Sourcing’s own more premium ripe pressings I’d personally recommend sampling the 2019 Lao Man’e and 2019 Ba Wang alongside or over this one. I don’t think I reviewed it, but I recall the 2020 Bronze Label Peerless also being quite good.
So how do I feel about purchasing a cake of this blind? Any regrets? No, no regrets. Most Yunnan Sourcing brand shus I generally don’t like that much when they are young. Based on their cakes that I’ve happened to have in my own storage for a few years now, though, they do generally tend to improve noticeably with age. The lighter fermentation lends itself better to the medium and long term. This tea’s actually already pretty good as it is. I bought it for its aging potential, which does seem to be there. The novelty factor did obviously also play a big part for me, and no matter how it turns out, I’m simply curious to see how the tea ages.
Flavors: Autumn Leaf Pile, Cherry, Cola, Earth, Fruity, Sour, Sweet, Tart
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
“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
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
This is the lone sheng pu’er sample among the massive pile of ripe samples in my recent Yunnan Sourcing order. I’ve never seen Jie Liang talked about anywhere else, but Scott mentions it in his descriptions for the Lao Man’e teas on his site. He describes it as being very similar to Lao Man’e, though even more intensely bitter. Since Lao Man’e is my absolute favorite tea, I naturally simply had to try this tea out.
For this session I used my standard setup of 7g in my 100ml Yixing jiangponi gaiwan. I used a single intact piece, which meant the tea would start off a bit more slowly, helping control the potential intensity. The rinse and the first couple infusions were quite thick and incredibly sweet. There was virtually no bitterness, but I could sense an underlying potency waiting to be unleashed.
Once the chunk had properly come apart, the expected intensity did indeed arrive. The tea was intensely bitter, but you could tell it had mellowed out quite considerably since its youth. For a seasoned Lao Man’e drinker such as myself the bitterness was perfectly palatable, but for those more faint of heart the tea could certainly still be too overwhelming. The bitterness is very persistent lasting for a long time, but unlike most bitterness of such kind I didn’t find it unenjoyable at any point during the session. The bitterness is accompanied by an almost equally intense sweetness and an underlying fruitiness completes the tea. The fruitiness is reminiscent of the grapefruit note I get in Lao Man’e yet not quite the same.
The tea has excellent longevity and I would highly recommend sticking with it till the end as the 2 min. infusion was actually my favorite of the session. In the late extended brews the bitterness and intensity start to die down, which reveals the more subtle and nuanced aspects of the tea. In addition to the aforementioned fruitiness, I noted a different kind of character which helped set the tea further apart from its cousin Lao Man’e (at least the young teas from there). The lack of association makes it difficult to describe, but it was a nice quality nevertheless.
I ordered this sample purely as a curiosity. Since I own two different vintages of Lao Man’e gushu, I never expected to even end up considering purchasing a cake of this tea. At first I wasn’t sure what to think of the Jie Liang. While it does still have quite a bit of intensity left in it, I do prefer teas that have plenty of kick to them, so for my tastes the tea has mellowed perhaps a bit too much even. Early on the similarities with Lao Man’e are also so plentiful that one must ask is there any point in having both. But over time the tea does reveal its own unique character distinct from Lao Man’e, making it worth existing and experiencing.
What sealed the deal for me was the cha qi. During the session I experienced very little qi, but then half an hour after I’d already stopped it suddenly caught up with me. I suddenly had a massive headache, my face felt like it was melting and I was all wobbly. It’s been a while since a tea has made me so tea drunk. While not necessarily purely enjoyable, the qi was very fitting for a tea like this and most certainly elevated at least my experience with the Jie Liang. While the headache and muscle pains faded, I was left energized for the rest of the day.
So now I want a cake of this tea. The price is certainly quite high, but very reasonable given the quality and age. A young Lao Man’e will set you back about as much, and we’re not even talking about gushu. I would consider this tea to be really early in its semi-aged stage, but it has a good head start and will hopefully develop into something even more interesting in another five to ten years. Personally I still prefer Lao Man’e, but I’m now a fan of Jie Liang as well.
Edit: I just realized my gaiwan is actually 120ml, not 100ml. I had it right initially, but seems I’ve been confused about that for many weeks now. It’s not a huge deal, but I’ve been slightly under-leafing my teas per my own standards. Good thing I caught that.
Flavors: Bitter, Fruity, Sweet
I’ve only tried a handful of teas from Mengsong, so I’m still formulating an idea of what the characteristics of teas from that area are. If I had to try to describe what I’ve noted about them so far though, I’d say it’s that they seem to be quite aromatic and carry a very unique fragrance in the mouth.
Like with the other Yunnan Sourcing 2019 premium ripes I’ve been reviewing recently, I used half of my sample, so 13.2g in this case, along with the same teaware consisting of my trusty 160ml Yxing zini teapot as well as a teacup and cha hai both made from Jianshui clay. I gave the tea a good, fifteen second rinse, which I drank. It had good body. The taste was sweet, with a somewhat sour and drying finish (in a good way). The sweetness made me think of really juicy, more watery than sweet cherries. A stone fruit of some sort for sure. An underlying mineral character was also present. The aroma of the wet leaves was really nice. Sweet and plummy.
The first proper infusion had a slick texture to it. While the taste wasn’t weak, it was surprisingly restrained. There wasn’t much upfront flavor to speak of, while the finish consisted aside from some minerality solely of bassy notes. The same sour, somewhat drying character was still there. I could feel some fragrance slowly beginning to build up though. So far a very mature, quite elusive tea.
Thankfully the flavor opened up over the next three infusions, growing stronger and fuller with each steep. The liquor had a very solid and stable body across the infusions. The texture, while not stellar, was also well above average and displayed great consistency over the session. It was very smooth, gaining a really buttery quality in the fourth infusion, which is where the tea peaked both in terms of strength and texture, not dropping too quickly after that.
As far as the progression of flavors, the sourness first developed into a more recognizable taste of sour cherries, which was also joined by a touch of bitterness and astringency in the finish. After this the tea made a big shift and turned dominantly earthy. The aforementioned buttery fourth steep had an interesting saltiness to it. I recall some people using “soy sauce” to describe some ripes. While it’s probably not quite right, I think it’s an accurate enough descriptor for the lack of a better word. In the finish I picked up on perhaps a whisper of some dark, fermented fruits, possibly some woodiness as well.
After the fourth steep which acted as a nice halfway point, while the tea retained its earthy, fermented quality and the mineral character running throughout this session, the Mengsong began getting a bit fresher, with perhaps just a touch of some berry sweetness creeping in. In the final brews, the source of the freshness and slight cooling revealed itself to be camphor.
So what are my thoughts on this tea? I think the material is good. It’s been fermented well. This is a good tea. But it isn’t a tea for me. While I got some enjoyment out of it, had some fun with it and found it somewhat interesting, the flavor profile wasn’t really for me. While I do love certain types of sourness such as the kinds you find in rye bread and yogurt, the sourness in this one didn’t appeal to me. It was interesting though as I haven’t run across it too often in ripe pu’er. I think for me the lack of any notable sweetness is what ultimately kills this tea for me, as has been the case with other ripes as well. While I don’t like my teas too sweet, I usually like to see at least some.
Taking a look at the strengths of the tea, while not quite good enough to be selling points for me, the body and texture are well above average and hold stable throughout most of the session. The tea holds up surprisingly well even in the later infusions. While not the most fragrant shu at this point in time, there is definitely a faint fragrance that builds up in the mouth and this is something that will hopefully improve over time. Personally I found this tea somewhat more demanding than your average shu, demanding more attention especially in the early steeps. I feel the wet piling has preserved a lot of the original character of the tea and fans of Mengsong teas will likely be able to appreciate it the most.
Flavors: Camphor, Cherry, Drying, Earth, Mineral, Sour, Soy Sauce, Sweet, Wood
I’ve been wanting to try this tea since it came out, but it’s always been one of the ones to get dropped out of my shopping cart mainly due to the price of even a single session. While Hai Lang’s Lao Ban Zhang ripe was a really good tea, there’s just no way it’s worth its price tag. This one I hoped would offer a similar experience at nearly half the price.
Since I only ordered a 10g sample, I was expecting to have to try to fill my pot to slightly less than full to keep my leaf-to-water ratio comparable to the recent ripe reviews I’ve done, but when I weighed my sample I was amazed to discover I’d been sent 13.1g – precisely the amount I’ve used for two of the last three teas. This made things a lot easier for me. The teaware used was the same as in my other recent ripe reviews: 160ml Yixing zini teapot and a cha hai and teacup both made from Jianshui clay.
I gave the tea a longer close to 20s rinse, which I drank. It was strong. Brief bitterness which quickly transformed into sweetness – trademark of the Ban Zhang area. The sweetness was more specifically a berry sweetness. I could also pick up on some earthy chocolate notes in the finish. Some mouth cooling was also present.
Moving to the first proper brew, I was now greeted by an even more powerful bitterness, a really nice middle of the tongue kuwei. For a flash steep, the body was really good. The taste was very dark chocolaty, not too sweet. The finish wasn’t drying but slightly salivating. After just a few sips I could already feel my head pounding and my eyes began to water. The texture was thick and velvety, simply divine. The mouthfeel was full and expansive. My tongue was beginning to throb and grow numb. The taste is very mature. I’m picking up hints of something alcoholic in the finish.
The bitterness only ramped up in the second infusion. I was assaulted by intense coffee bitterness, which however faded rather quickly. The mouthfeel was perfect. Smooth, the soup gliding down effortlessly. The surfaces in my mouth were left feeling very active after swallowing. As I continue drinking, the initial coffee switches back over to the dark chocolate. As I bring my cup to my nose, the liquor in it smells of vanilla syrup. The bitterness is more persistent now than before and the qi somewhat energizing yet also calming and slightly bliss inducing.
Needless to say I was very impressed.
Unfortunately the highlight of the tea – the mouthfeel – began to diminish from this point on, never being able to recover even with extended steeps. Thankfully the strength held up much better and tapered off much more gracefully. The progression of flavors didn’t prove particularly dynamic, however. The dark chocolate was first replaced by roasted coffee and dark wood. After that Jun Ai became more of a standard shu affair, offering sweet, earthy and mineraly tones. I only did a total of nine infusions, the last three being fairly simple and dull in terms of texture.
So overall Jun Ai left me feeling mixed. It started off incredibly strong, but quickly lost its most attractive qualities. The material is obviously very high quality, but the choice of using only very fine grade leaves seems to result in what I’ve noticed in many other similar teas: the tea brews up strong right from the start, but also brews out rather quickly.
In terms of taste the tea is certainly very nice and enjoyable but nothing particularly special. Similar flavor profiles are not hard to find in other ripes. Similar to many of the other high-end Hai Lang Hao shus, those who appreciate and value mouthfeel and the way a tea feels and makes you feel will certainly find a lot to like here, at least in the early infusions. I was truly excited about those first few brews, but it’s such a shame the fun was over so soon. Not that the tea suddenly turns bad after that, just that it seemed to become just a shadow of its former self.
So I definitely like this tea. I might even say I like it quite a bit. But I don’t love it. It’s been a long time since I had the Lao Ban Zhang ripe, but I feel like I probably enjoyed this one more. The LBZ was too overwhelming for me in terms of its qi; in this one I only experienced some initially, but after that is was a much smoother ride. Whichever you prefer, the two certainly are comparable.
Given all that I’ve said about the Jun Ai, when you factor in the price, it’s not an easy tea to recommend unfortunately. Even at 50¢/g it would be a big maybe. This is undoubtedly one of the highest quality ripes in existence, but that doesn’t mean that the price of Ban Zhang area teas is directly proportional to their quality. Still, this is a tea that could certainly be worth a sample though, for a really special session.
Before beginning to write this review, I’d already concluded that a brick of this wasn’t even a thought worth entertaining. As I’ve been typing this, however, a crazy part of me has began to think “maybe.” I’m not currently putting much money into my other hobbies, so I could certainly afford it if I wanted to. If I were to buy it, it would be in part just to have something luxurious to pull out once or twice a year for years to come, as well as to see how material of this caliber would age in the long term.
A question I found asking myself was, “Would I feel regret drinking this tea if it didn’t change or improve at all over time?” And the answer was “no.” Sure it would be a ridiculously expensive tea to session, somewhat overpriced certainly, but ultimately we are talking about the cost of a movie ticket or two annually. I can’t even dine at a fine restaurant for that price. And if the tea did improve – or simply change – well, that’s what the tea journey is all about.
So did I just convince myself to buy this tea? I don’t know. We’ll have to see. I certainly can’t recommend anyone else to do the same and claim it would be a rational thing to do, but we humans as much as we want to convince ourselves that we are beings based on reason and logic, ultimately after all the painstaking logical thinking we tend to follow our heart and make the choice we want to make, not necessarily the one we concluded we should make.
Edit: So yeah… I may have just ordered a brick.
Flavors: Alcohol, Berries, Bitter, Coffee, Dark Chocolate, Dark Wood, Earth, Mineral, Roasted, Sweet
Of the dozen or so ripe samples I ordered recently from Yunnan Sourcing, this is one of the ones I was most excited to try. For a fair comparison, I used the same teaware as in my last two reviews: 160ml Yixing zini teapot accompanied by teacup and cha hai made from Jianshui clay. The amount of leaf was also near identical – half of my sample, in this case 13.1g.
For boutique ripes like this one I’ve recently abandoned flash rinses in favor of doing a longer 10–20s one and drinking it instead of discarding. This one was strong and flavorful for a ripe, immediately piquing my interest. It was sweet and bitter, with some berries present in the aftertaste, which was strong and stable. In the wet leaf aroma I could pick up currants, sour bread and some charcoal.
With the leaves primed, the first proper brew was strong indeed! Very bitter, in a good way. I could even taste the grapefruit note which alongside the notorious bitterness is one of the trademarks of Lao Man’e for me. Capital! As the infusions progress, the bitterness gradually fades a little, allowing the fruitiness to shine through and present a more balanced tea. While there’s more tartness than sweetness, there’s definitely some huigan to complement the bitterness, not too much though.
The body starts off good but not impressive. However, as you’d expect it does improve with extended brewing times. The texture is very smooth and the tea goes down easy. As the steeping times grow longer the soup becomes increasingly more oily. In the mid steeps I experienced some cooling sensation which is also where the tea was at its most refreshing.
As the infusions progress, the tea grows smoother and smoother, the seventh infusion actually being my favorite of the session, presenting the perfect balance between the bitterness and the zesty fruitiness while also being as smooth as can be. As the tea begins to lose steam, the texture starts becoming more chalky, resulting in at least the impression of it being slightly chocolaty as well. While the grapefruit doesn’t fade completely, the taste starts to become more earthy resembling a more typical shu. I may have picked up on some plums as well.
And there you have it. What a tea, what a tea! Those who have been following me for a while likely know that Lao Man’e is my favorite sheng pu’er production area and man did this tea deliver. It’s nearly everything I could hope for in a Lao Man’e ripe. I’m incredibly impressed at how this tea manages to retain most of the character of the young raws from this village while rounding off some of the harshest edge of the bitterness and offering you all that ripe pu’er goodness. The wet piling process has been truly immaculate.
This is without a doubt the fruitiest ripe pu’er I’ve ever had the pleasure of drinking and I have no idea how they accomplished that, especially given how incredibly dark this tea brews up. Great, pleasing bitterness is one of the most sought after qualities in a ripe pu’er for me and while this one isn’t perfect, I do enjoy the bitterness in this one a lot. I did manage to make the bitterness somewhat abrasive even by my standards by trying to push the tea a little bit harder in one of the middle steeps, so I would recommend paying attention while you brew.
The qi in this one is one that builds up over time. In typical Lao Man’e fashion it can make one feel a bit restless, but thankfully at least I didn’t find it to grow too potent over the course of the session even if it did start to get a bit heady toward the end. I was using a fairly large vessel for a single person, though, and a somewhat heavier ration than I typically would, so more sensible sessions will probably be fine.
For those who are curious about how this compares to the Hai Lang Hao ripe pu’er brick, I did review that one a couple years back and my thoughts on it back then were quite mixed. For a proper comparison I did order a sample of that tea as well and just finished drinking it right before beginning to write this review. I wasn’t a fan of it before and now I think I’m ready to say I don’t like that tea. The cha qi in it really doesn’t agree with me and for me the lack of sweetness or any other notable flavors besides the bitterness just kills that tea for me. That’s my short take on that, but obviously feel free to order samples of both teas if you are curious.
I’m going to hold off on making any purchase decisions until I’ve tasted my way through all the ripe samples I ordered, but I’m going to tell you right now that this tea immediately became my favorite ripe of all time. It’s that good. Unless there’s another really great tea among the samples I have, I’m likely going to be picking up at least two or three cakes of this one, if not more. While this is not a cheap tea, it’s priced really reasonably in my eyes relative to the quality.
If you’re not a fan of bitterness or single-origin teas, this one’s likely not for you. Otherwise I highly, highly recommend picking up a sample as this tea deserves to be experienced, even if you don’t end up loving it.
Flavors: Berries, Bitter, Chocolate, Earth, Grapefruit, Plum, Sweet, Tart