123 Tasting Notes

I loved the Hai Lang Hao Yi Shan Mo ripe pu’er enough to purchase a whole brick of it, so I was very curious to try out what a traditional raw pu’er offering from this village would be like. The ten gram sample I received was all broken up leaves with even some twigs mixed in. After my last ten gram sample from Yunnan Sourcing turned out to be closer to twelve grams, I probably really should have weighed this one, but let’s pretend it was ten grams. I dumped it all in my preheated 140ml gaiwan and what I could smell was almost like mocha. Really interesting. I gave the leaves a brief five second rinse and sipped what little the leaves hadn’t absorbed while I let the moisture soak in even deeper for five minutes or so. What I tasted was cream and plum. Fairly strong too. Plum is a new one for me.

I did eleven steeps. The timing for these was interesting: 5s, 5s, 5s, 5s, 5s, 5s, 5s, 7s, 10s, 15s and 20s. Yes, flash steeps until steep seven! Pretty much what you’d expect from a dancong brewed Chaozhou style. The first infusion tasted pretty much identical to the wash, expect slightly more diluted because of the larger volume of water. The body was fairly medium. The cha qi on the other hand was HEAVY. I felt the tea so strongly in my body, it forced me to slow down.

The second and third steep brewed up REALLY, REALLY strong, but the flavors themselves were less discernible now. There were some echoes of the earlier taste along with some greenness. I found the tea really overpowering, both in strength and its effects. Steep four produced a slightly bigger, creamier body. The taste was still somewhat plummy while I also got some astringency and sweetness.

The increase in body was lost in the fifth infusion while the profile started to become cleaner. The strength and effects of the tea were still as strong as ever. The next two steeps introduced an increasing amount of bitterness and steep seven was also when the strength finally started to drop for the first time.

Starting with the eighth infusion the flavors also began simplifying. Some of the tea’s underlying basic taste could still be found in the background while there was some bitterness and astringency present as well. The tea was still going strong in the ninth steep, but it was less intense now and easier to drink as a result. The taste was fruity, not just plummy like before. The fruits were still present in the next steep, but now in a drier form and together with the lack of sweetness the two were making the tea less enjoyable. The last steep still had strength, but the flavors were starting to taper off, so I thought this a good place to end the session. The increasing dryness also wasn’t doing the tea any favors.

This was the most intense tea I’ve ever drunk. I am a fan of strong tea (loved Hai Lang’s Lao Man’e sheng), but even for me this tea was simply too overpowering. If there’s ever been a tea I felt needed time to mellow out, it’s this one. This tea did not get me tea drunk, the effects were from the neck down, but the burden it placed on the body was immense. I started the session around noon and finished a couple hours later. Even when going to bed that night, I could still feel the effects of the tea. Underestimate Yi Shan Mo at your own peril.

Clearly this is top-notch material, but as stated, for me the tea is simply too intense. While the plum notes are interesting, another thing I would hold against the tea is that it doesn’t really vary very much in terms of flavor. Perhaps it’s due to the stage it’s right now in its development, but the base taste of cream and plums is present in some form through most of the steeps, making the tea feel a bit monotonous. Obviously a great candidate for aging, but fortunately another expensive tea I don’t feel compelled to invest in.

Flavors: Astringent, Bitter, Cream, Drying, Fruity, Plum

Boiling 0 min, 15 sec 10 g 5 OZ / 140 ML

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When you see a Lincang tea that’s forty cents per gram and then realize it’s an autumn harvest, that’s sure to pique your interest. At barely past six months, this tea is still very young, but Yunnan Sourcing is having a sale on raw pu’er right now, which is code for people to start breaking out their samples. In the past I haven’t bothered weighing Yunnan Sourcing’s ten gram sample packs as I’ve always just tossed it all in, but for this session I only had access to a 130ml gaiwan, so unsure if ten grams was too much, I decided to at least weigh the sample. I’m glad I did, because my scale showed 11.8g. Mind that I’ve never calibrated the scale, but I doubt it’s off by more than a few tenths of a gram at most. I do like strong tea, but for young raw pu’er I think twelve grams would have been overdoing it even for me. Instead I weighed nine grams and set the rest of the sample aside.

I received a small piece of the cake, with the rest of the sample consisting of large, intact leaves. Just looking at the sample the leaf integrity looked good. I did my customary 5s rinse followed by a five minute rest while I sipped the wash to get a feel for the tea. The rinse was light, fruity and sweet with no signs of unpleasantness whatsoever. I could already feel some heat and a light throbbing in my head. I proceeded to do twelve infusions, the timing for these being 5s, 5s, 7s, 10s, 15s, 20s, 30s, 45s, 75s, 2 min., 3 min. and 5 min.

Di Jie started off soft and smooth. The mouthfeel was about as friendly as a tea can get. It made you slow down and savor it. The flavors were still light, fruity and sweet. They were however very present and long-lasting. The second infusion continued brewing up soft, light and pleasant. There was perhaps the tiniest whisper of an underlying harsher character.

In the third steep the tea got brighter and somewhat sharper in flavor. It caused the sides of your tongue to tingle. There was a non-harsh harshness to it that was fused with sweetness. Even though the tea was stronger and bolder than in the previous two steeps which was evident from the color as well, this was more of an active than a flavorful brew. I found the broth somewhat warming and both my breathing and heartbeat became faster.

The body started to get lighter in the fourth steep, but at the same time the tea became really easy to drink texture-wise. While light in nature, the flavors were very present and forward. The tea was bright, almost bordering on metallic. It was sweet, somewhat mineral, but also a bit drying, leaving your tongue sandpapery. This was the tea at its youngest. After finishing my cup, I could feel some tightness/throbbing/pounding in my chest.

The texture continued getting even lighter in the next steep. The slight fruitiness was back and the tea became increasingly sweet over time. At this point there was no harshness to be found in the tea. After pouring the sixth steep, I found the leaves smelling very fruity. While the tea had gained some body, it seemed to have lost some flavor at the same time. There were no well defined flavors in this steep, but it was an interesting blanket of notes nonetheless. There was something comforting about the soup while it was also a bit drying as well.

The tea got super mineral in the seventh steep – bad kind of mineral. This was also the first time I detected a small amount of bitterness. The bitterness increased in the next infusion while the tea gained some sweetness as well. The tea was aromatic in the mouth and there was a lot more body now. Steep nine was extra bitter, but the bitterness quickly turned into sweetness. In the past these three steeps would have been around the point where I would have normally ended the session, but over the course of the past few months I’ve learned a lot more about both the bitterness and sweetness in pu’er and thus I carried on.

Steep ten was massive in terms of body thanks to the extended brewing time. The sweetness had now overtaken the bitterness. The next infusion was even sweeter, with only small amounts of bitterness and astringency. The final steep was still quite sweet, but I was starting to taste some nastiness in it as well and decided this was a good place to call it.

For such a young tea, the Di Jie performed well. You may want to give it another six or twelve months to properly judge it, but already it delivers very well in relation to the price, with the potential to far exceed it. The quality is very high and not something you’d easily get in a spring tea without paying big money. However this is not necessarily a tea you’d want to session more than once or twice before tucking it away to age. To me it comes across as something you’d likely be looking to age rather than drink young.

Compared to the very similarly priced YS 2017 Mu Shu Cha I reviewed previously, I think the Di Jie offers higher quality at only slightly higher price, but for the purposes of drinking it young, I would pick the Mu Shu Cha over the Di Jie. For aging purposes it’s anyone’s guess how these two will develop and ultimately down to personal preference which one one would prefer.

While I thought it was very high quality, the Di Jie didn’t necessarily make me fall in love with it. Were it pressed into smaller cakes, I’d likely pick up a bing, but I think 400g is far too much tea for me. I’d rather save the space in my pumidor for a cake that feels even more special and resonates with me more. Nevertheless this tea definitely comes recommended.

Flavors: Bitter, Fruity, Mineral, Sweet

Boiling 0 min, 15 sec 9 g 4 OZ / 130 ML

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I ordered a 10g sample of this. What I received were all individual leaves, no intact pieces of the cake. The foil the sample came in smelled amazing. I used all ten grams in a 140ml gaiwan. A brief 5s rinse, followed by a five minute rest while I sipped the wash. It was sharp, pungent – very strong. Oily, with maybe sort of a rare clay type of taste. I proceeded to do twelve steepings, the timing for these being 6s, 6s, 8s, 10s, 15s, 20s, 30s, 45s, 75s, 2 min., 3 min. and 5 min.

The first brew was full, creamy, oily and active in the mouth. I could feel it all the way at the back of my mouth and in my throat. It was strong, perhaps slightly astringent in taste. There was something familiar about it, perhaps some sort of citric taste, but I’m not quite sure. Since I was leafing slightly harder than I normally would and because it was all in loose form, I was dreading the tea would get incredibly strong in the second brew, but to my pleasant surprise it was not overpowering at all. Instead it was very smooth and steady. There was a pleasant astringency and the tea was somewhat cooling in the body.

The third steep was full and oily. There was more bitterness and some astringency. To me it felt like I could taste hints of something very similar to toffee. The next infusion was mainly bitter and astringent, maybe a bit fruity. The tea continued being very full and active in the mouth.

Steep five gave even more bitterness. In the finish I could also taste some green, leafy toffee notes. The tea became increasingly sweet over time, but nothing overly sweet. If you can believe it, the sixth steep was even more bitter. However, the bitterness was only there for the first sip and then it was gone. In its stead I got sweetness that continued building and building over time. To me the sweetness was that of toffee/browned sugar. The tea was very satisfying, with a sort of elastic texture to it.

Steep seven brewed strong, sweet and syrupy. After this the tea began simplifying. It continued brewing up strong and sweet, with astringency in steeps eight and nine, but after this it dropped off and was replaced by a slight burning sensation at the back of my mouth, which is something in get with some shengs (especially Jingmai teas) but not all. The strength and color started dropping off a little in the last steep, but this could have been remedied with a longer brewing time. The leaves would have probably had at least one or two extended steepings in them, but I opted to call it there.

This tea was excellent. Albeit not cheap, I think it performs beyond its price point. Compared to the Tea Urching 2017 Lao Ban Zhang I just reviewed, I much prefer this tea. That is not to say it is necessarily better, ten years down the line the two would probably develop in very different directions, but for drinking them young, I would pick the Mu Shu Cha any day of the week. I also prefer this tea to some of Yunnan Sourcing’s other offerings I’ve tried from around this area like the 2016 Bing Dao Lao Zhai or the 2017 Nuo Wu, which I drank recently but didn’t find worth reviewing. Again, this is purely from a standpoint of drinking them young.

Given how potent this tea is and how my sample was really chopped up with virtually no intact leaves, I expected it to brew much stronger and even more bitter, but instead it performed very evenly and never became harsh under conditions where lower teas would have punished you severely. You have to be a fan of bitter and astringent teas, but if you are, this is a tea that’s perfectly enjoyable right now. Given the quality, it would no doubt age very gracefully as well, but if you can’t find something to enjoy in the tea in its current young state, I very much doubt it would suddenly transform into something you would unless we are literally talking about decades. If you know you can’t stomach Lincang teas, then stay away.

Compared to the two Yunnan Sourcing Yiwu teas – Man Lin and Guo You Lin – which I reviewed recently and enjoyed immensely, I’d peg this tea not on par with the Guo You Lin and maybe a nudge below the Man Lin, although it resembles the Guo You Lin much more. I can’t comment on leaf integrity and such, but what I noted was that the leaves were untypically free of burnt and more oxidized leaves (I literally spotted zero). For me this is a rare sight, even in ridiculously expensive teas. I would consider it a sign of quality.

I got no noticeable cha qi during the session, but for the rest of the day I felt very awake, aware and energized, and I would attribute these things to the tea. My body also felt very cleansed. If you have time for a sheng in the morning, this tea might be great for helping you get through your day. It is also slightly cooling, so it might be great for the summer.

One last thing of note about the tea is that I found it more aromatic than a lot of other young raws. The leaves, gaiwan lid, liquor, empty cups and cha hai all carry different scents that change over the session. Even if not necessarily the most essential thing, it’s a nice plus.

Flavors: Astringent, Bitter, Clay, Fruity, Sweet, Toffee

Boiling 0 min, 15 sec 10 g 5 OZ / 140 ML

Only one word necessary to describe this for me. CREAMY. Caked it after my sample.

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My 50th review! What better way to commemorate this occasion than by drinking some Lao Ban Zhang? My sample consisted of one large intact chunk off of the cake along with a much smaller piece about the size of a large coin and then plenty of loose leaves at the bottom to round off the weight. I ended up using the smaller piece and nearly all of the loose bits to arrive at nine grams for my 130ml gaiwan, not wanting to bother with breaking apart the large chunk. The leaves have a very interesting blueish gray tinge to them when dry. The wet leaves at the end of the session were chiefly intact and the leaves themselves very rugged. The leaf quality is good.

I did my customary five second rinse, sipping the wash while I gave the leaves five minutes to soak up the moisture. Because of the small amount of water and the mostly loose form of the leaves, the rinse was really strong with plenty of body, but I don’t really have anything to say about the taste at this stage. I proceeded to do ten steeps, the timing for these being 5s, 6s, 7s, 10s, 15s, 20s, 30s, 45s, 75s and 2 min.

The tea started off soft and really oily with a big body. In terms of taste it was light and sweet. While there was slightly more color to the second steep, the tea continued brewing up somewhat cloudy. There wasn’t all that much flavor yet, although a green, astringent edge was starting to introduce itself into the tea.

The texture became quite smooth in the third steep. The flavors continued being very light. There was now clear astringency to the tea which was also accompanied by some bitterness. The fourth steeping actually presented the tea at its cloudiest, although the soup did mostly clear up for the subsequent infusions. By this point the tea had lost most of its body while there was still some oiliness left. It exhibited a clean watery taste with some astringency. A mild, brief huigan could also be observed.

There was finally some more bitterness and astringency in the fifth steep, which transformed into very minor sweetness. The infusion that followed had a soft, smooth, creamy body. The taste was mainly bitter now. This was probably my favorite steep.

The next infusion was a half split between sweet and bitter. I also got an interesting roasted note in this one, along with some cardboard dryness. Steep eight is when LBZ officially entered easy-to-drink mode. The tea was soft and sweet with a satisfying mouthfeel. Interestingly while I did not taste any bitterness upon drinking and swallowing, there was a pleasant bitterness to the aftertaste that I enjoyed. Overall this eighth brew was probably my second favorite. Really nice and something virtually anyone could drink.

The bitterness rejoined the sweetness in the ninth steep in a very pleasing mixture. This along with the prior infusion showcased the tea at its best. The sweetness lingered in a very satisfying way and this was only enhanced by the subtlest of bitterness. Steep ten closed the session. At this point I could clearly notice the tea starting to lose steam and the bitterness had turned from desirable to undesirable, which seemed like a good sign to end the session there.

So how did the King fare? While often pretty good, no Lao Ban Zhang I’ve tried in the past has really been able to hold up to the ridiculous hype and the inflated prices. This tea was no exception. For me the tea didn’t have nearly enough bitterness nor was the sweetness pronounced enough to make up for that. While fairly unremarkable in the early steeps, interestingly the tea was at its best in the late steeps, which I don’t really recall happening with other teas. I expected this tea to brew a lot stronger than it did, especially given the loose form it was in, but instead the strength was very average. Also, whereas the Hai Lang Hao LBZ ripe hit me with a ton of qi, this one did not.

None of this is to say that this is a bad tea. It is still very young, so it may need some more time to start to shine. It could be that these teas are typically preferred to be aged, but I don’t really know what the general consensus is. There are some quality markers that I was able to discern, but overall I’d say that at least for how the tea is right now the price is probably around four times too high. Hardly any tea could live up to the price tag and let’s just say I’ve yet to taste a tea that could.

I have enough tea to revisit this tea again six months from now and again six months after that. I’m curious to see if I’ll notice any development over that span of time. For my tastes it would seem that if I want bitter tea, the neighboring Lao Man’e would serve me better.

Finally on an unrelated note to this tea, I compiled some statistics about the reviews I’ve posted and thought I’d share a couple of quick observations. First off, the split between raw and ripe pu’er is about 2:1, which is where I want it to be. About one third of my reviews are positive recommendations and the distribution is fairly similar for raw and ripe. Again, this is about where I would like it to be. While I didn’t need to look at the statistics to become aware of this, my hit rate with the Yunnan Sourcing brand raw pu’ers is quite good so far, across all price points. Conversely, I’ve yet to encounter a Yunnan Sourcing ripe pu’er pressing that I was particularly impressed with. While the sample size is still too small to say anything definitive, the Crimson Lotus Tea ripe offerings seem to align well with my tastes. Lastly, Hai Lang Hao’s high-end offerings seem generally very good, raw or ripe.

To another fifty reviews!

Flavors: Astringent, Bitter, Roasted, Sweet

Boiling 0 min, 15 sec 9 g 4 OZ / 130 ML

I look forward to them. Yours are so much in detail. I wish I had your writing eloquence.

TJ Elite

Thanks. Taking notes ensures I’m paying attention to the tea and trying to put things into words forces me to actually try to identify the different flavors and such. I feel if I wasn’t doing this, my appreciation of pu’er would be much behind where it is now. My notes can of course also be a useful reference for the future. In that sense, I write mainly for myself, but if others find them useful or even just entertaining or enlightening, then all the better.


All of the above. Keep on writing. It will be nice to compare a few years down the road too.

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Time for another Yiwu. Much like the Man Lin I reviewed a week ago, I actually have a cake of this, but it’s aging at the bottom of my pumidor and so I went ahead and ordered a ten gram sample just for this session. The sample I received was pretty much just straight mao cha. The tin foil it came in was covered entirely in tiny hairs off of the leaves.

I brewed the entire sample in a 140ml gaiwan. After a brief sub-five second rinse, I tasted the wash while I let the moisture soak in for five minutes or so. The rinse was shockingly strong and astringent for just the briefest of washes. The tea was also very oily. The rinsed leaves had the smell of a seafood buffet. For the rest of the session this transformed into the scent of soured milk.

I followed the rinse with a total of ten steeps, the timing for these being 5s, 5s, 5s, 7s, 10s, 15s, 20s, 30s, 45s and 75s. The tea opened strong. The body was full and creamy and the taste also a bit creamy, but there was also an interesting sort of roasted note or something of that description. The steep that followed greeted you with a strong initial burst of astringency which however faded in a matter of seconds. The broth continued brewing up strong and oily.

I stuck to a flash brew for the third steep, which turned out to be the right call, because the strength was barely a notch lighter. It displayed the same fleeting astringency from before and coated your mouth and throat with its oiliness. In its wake, the tea left a sensation of softness in your mouth, accompanied by gentle sweetness. I could feel the tea in my throat and at its entrance there was a slight tingling sensation that made you want to keep drinking more.

The tea pushed on strong and oily in the fourth steep. There was now a perhaps more mineral taste that turned to sweetness. In addition there was a wonderful bitterness that titillated your palate in just the right way. The tea could be felt in your throat and chest, reaching all the way down to the end of the esophagus.

Steep five presented a really wonderful mixture of bitterness and astringency which rewarded you with some sweetness. The next infusion continued being really full and oily in the mouth. The tea was thick. Really, really thick. The taste was bright and astringent. In the aftertaste there was very clear vanilla note. I could feel the tea around my jaw and the saliva in my cheeks tasted really sweet.

The seventh steeping was soft and oily and wonderfully sweet. I’m not talking of this steep specifically, but this is the kind of tea you could just keep drinking forever. I could still feel the tea in my jaw. At this point a small heatwave washed over me, which is just par for the course. The steep that followed is where the tea finally started thinning out and simplifying for the first time. The strength was still good and the taste a mixture of sweetness and astringency which both went away within a few seconds.

Infusion nine is where the flavors began to fade while the astringency started creeping up. There were still some hints of oiliness left and the body was decent. Steep ten is the last one I did. The body was thinner and the taste a mixture of sweetness, astringency and bitterness. The tea wasn’t bad, but I wanted to end a good session on a high note so I decided to call it there just to be safe. It’s possible the tea had more left to give, but I didn’t wanna risk it.

In my notes for the 2016 Man Lin, I explained my rocky history with Yiwu teas. After the Man Lin turned out so great, I was sure my luck’d run out and didn’t dare to hold too high expectation for this one. I’m glad I was wrong, because this was flat out one of the best teas I’ve had, perhaps the best. While the first couple initial brews were interesting, at that point it was hard to gauge where the tea was going, but once it got going, it just kept getting better and better and I was sold. Whereas the Man Lin is an excellent tea in its own right and very yummy and approachable, the Guo You Lin is more demanding and challenging. I doubt people new to pu’er would be able to appreciate it to its fullest. While the Man Lin is very tasty, Guo You Lin is more of a complete experience that involves your body and other senses.

All that being said, I drank this tea together with my mother who, although not a tea connoisseur, has been drinking tea with me about once a week for over a year now, and she like me loved the tea and said she could drink this every day. She in particular loved the throat feel and the bitterness and astringency in this tea. You most certainly don’t have to be some sort of master to appreciate this tea, but you should definitely work your way up to teas of this caliber.

The astringency in this tea is interesting. I am familiar with bitterness that quickly transforms into something else, but astringency that does that is a new one for me. The astringency and bitterness in this tea are very enjoyable and never abrasive or persistent. They are also integral to the overall experience. Appreciation of these two things would be recommended before trying to tackle this tea. If you can enjoy teas like Mang Fei, you are golden.

Is this tea worth the price? At $0.52/g this tea is not only worth it but a bargain. In my experience, spring teas of roughly this vintage that offer this level of quality can easily cost close to twice as much. I’m not saying you can’t find really good spring teas around this price point, but if you are trying to match this tea, you are more likely to end up paying more.

So any cons? None that I can think of… I’m not sure if I got any qi, but with a tea this strong and this much body sensation, I’m not really looking for an additional layer of input. This tea is perfectly ready to be drunk and enjoyed now, but the aging potential is also intriguing. I can’t recommend this tea any more highly and the artwork is fantastic.

Flavors: Astringent, Bitter, Creamy, Mineral, Roasted, Sweet, Vanilla

Boiling 0 min, 15 sec 10 g 5 OZ / 140 ML

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I don’t know if I’ve just been unlucky and tried the wrong teas, but my track record with Yiwu teas so far has not been very good. I know a lot of people really like them and on paper they sound like something that might be up my alley, but after trying a handful of them so far, my hit rate has been rather poor. Granted, what is commonly referred to as the “greater Yiwu region” is a rather large area which encompasses not only the Yiwu mountain range but the six famous tea mountains and more. One would expect to find plenty of variation within such a large region even if many of the teas might share some similar base characteristics. The small sample size of teas I’ve had doesn’t even begin to cover all the various mountains, villages and price ranges.

With all that out of the way, let’s get to this tea. Like the YS 2016 Bing Dao Lao Zhai that I reviewed recently, I actually have a cake of this, but much like the Bing Dao, it’s at the bottom of my pumidor supporting a couple of stacks. As a smaller, more premium cake that I bought mainly to age and didn’t want to break into just for this session, I went ahead and ordered a 10g sample just for this session. This saves me a lot of hassle and leaves me with more tea. I used all ten grams in a 140ml gaiwan that is the largest one available to me. Smelling the small foil packet the sample came in, you get a wonderful sweet fruity scent that reminds me of pineapple. My sample was a single large piece from the cake along with some smaller loose bits to round out the weight. I decided to not break it up at all by hand, because in my experience Yunnan Sourcing pressing have typically been very loose and come apart on their own after the first couple of infusions, sometimes even just the rinse.

I gave the tea a brief five second rinse and it had about five minutes to soak up the moisture while I tasted the wash. Even these first drops that had graced the leaves carried a wow factor to them. The tea was soft, sweet and oily. The mouthfeel was wonderful and for just the rinse, the briefest of rinses, there was already a surprising amount of flavor. I followed the rinse with twelve more infusions, the timing for these being 6s, 6s, 6s, 6s, 8s, 10s, 15s, 20s, 30s, 45s, 2 min. and 4 min.

The first proper infusion was thick, creamy and sweet with plenty of flavor. I could already tell this was going to be an excellent tea. The second steeping was brighter and strong, really strong. I struggle to find the right word to describe the flavor. I think fruity is decent enough, but I’m not sure if it’s quite right. The mouthfeel remained wonderful and the flavor changed considerably once the tea cooled down. This holds true for most steeps in this session and the tea revealed very different facets of it when it was hot, warm and cool, always tasting great.

At this point I noticed that the large chunk I’d tossed in was still intact and decided to give it some encouragement. Following the different layers, I tried to separate it into a couple of much thinner pieces that should have a much easier time coming undone on their own, and while doing this I discovered that the chunk was still completely dry at the very center. I don’t know if this bing is just more compressed than some other Yunnan Sourcing productions, at least their 400g pressings, or if I received a more compressed part toward the center, but I think I actually lucked out, because I fear this tea would have been overwhelmingly strong had I received a less compressed bit or tried to pry it apart earlier. Thanks to how things turned out, my steepings ended up brewing out much more evenly.

Although I was dreading a much harder kick to the face after sorting out the compression issue, thankfully those fears were unfounded and the tea still retained its soft character in the third steep, albeit there was definitely some more edge, some more young raw pu’er backbone to it now. The tea was still quite wonderful, I would actually call it delicious. The raw pu’er edge was only amplified in the next steep, but there was none of the nastiness you can sometimes get in young sheng. The tea continued brewing strong. While there was less body now, the mouthfeel was still quite nice.

Steep five brewed sweet, really sweet. The sweetness was accompanied by a mineral nature and followed by some dry astringency in the finish. The tea was still brewing strong in the sixth steep. It was oily and aromatic with some minor astringency in the finish. Steep seven is the first time I extended the brewing time by full five seconds and the resulting soup was almost too strong. There was much more edge to the tea now, but still no nastiness, although there was now some fleeting bitterness. The tea was very clean, very bright. The texture was getting lighter, but we were entering a stage where the tea is quite easy to drink and similar to juice in a way.

Steep eight was delicious. Super strong. There was a pleasant bitterness to it that disappeared after a few seconds. A small wave of heat washed over me while drinking this steep. The tea continued simplifying and getting thinner in the ninth infusion, but in return it became REALLY easy to drink. It gained a refreshing, slightly mood lifting quality and brewed with really pleasant sweetness and strength that was still incredibly strong. I was really enjoying the tea.

The tenth infusion is where the tea began losing sweetness. The mouthfeel was still decent, but there was hardly that much taste. This was a sign for me to finally start pushing the tea much harder and the eleventh steep was in fact stronger again. The tea soup was nice and refreshing and there was a fleeting bitterness to it that was becoming more prominent. I really appreciated the fact that the bitterness wasn’t persistent as you would have expected with a lot of other teas. The bitterness was even more pronounced in the final infusion, but still nothing abrasive. I thought this was a good place to call it, however. The strength was still very good, and I happily drank all of the tea, but although there may have been more to see, I didn’t want to risk ending a good session with a steep that left a bad taste in my mouth.

Overall this tea was excellent. Really wonderful. This is exactly what I’ve expected from Yiwu teas based on people’s descriptions, but not really what I’ve experienced so far apart from maybe one or two exceptions. Although during the session the Man Lin didn’t seem to exhibit much noticeable qi, later during the day a couple hours later I suddenly noticed I was actually in a very good mood, feeling good and more aware and awake than I normally am. That could just be a coincidence and unrelated to the tea, but it would be a very rare coincidence and as such I’m attributing my state to the tea. I was actually really glad this tea wasn’t one of the teas that feels like you got your face pummeled by a sledgehammer, because the tea itself was already so strong in terms of taste that a potent cha qi that would have made you woozy and put you under the table would have been just too overwhelming. This tea was incredibly yummy with no bad steeps and I really appreciate the very subtle cha qi that makes it a real feel-good tea at least for me.

After a series of lukewarm encounters with Yiwu teas, I found myself wondering why’d I pick up a cake of this blind, but now after having tasted the tea I couldn’t be happier that I did. I actually wasn’t quite in time to pick it up before the price went up for the first time, but I got mine before it recently went up again. I paid $133 which puts it at $0.53/g. At the time of writing this, you pay exactly ten cents more per gram if you pick up a bing. Is the tea worth it? In my opinion, absolutely. This is a genuinely high-end tea, one that you can drink now and fully enjoy, or age and end up with what I have no doubt will be a bomb of a tea. It’s not the highest of the high-end, but in typical Yunnan Sourcing fashion, the quality of the tea is very indicative of the price, if not better. If you want to experience genuine high-quality Yiwu, but the price of a tea like this is simply not something you can justify, I highly recommend you to sample some autumn harvest teas. I know some people are not fans of autumn teas, but what little experience I have with them so far, I haven’t really been able to tell a huge difference between them and spring teas and the price is often half of the spring counterparts if not less.

If you are looking for something truly yummy, even if it’s just a sample, I definitely recommend giving this tea a go!

Flavors: Bitter, Creamy, Mineral, Sweet

Boiling 0 min, 15 sec 10 g 5 OZ / 140 ML

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Outside some Menghai productions, I haven’t really explored big factory ripe productions. From what I gather the 7581 seems to be a pretty well known recipe, but all that really matters to me in the name is the 8 as I’ve generally observed that I tend to have a preference for ripes with a larger average leaf grade. The sample that I received has a surprisingly strong sweet rice aroma especially for such an aged tea. The appearance of the dry leaf is very dark and although the compression was probably reasonably high back in the day, time has gradually transformed the material into dry and brittle.

I used 12.1g in my 160ml Jianshui clay teapot and also drank the tea from Jianshui clay. I was foolish and neglected to break the one large chunk I tossed in into smaller pieces and ended up doing so after the first rinse which I followed with another. I did a total of seven steeps, the timing for these being 12s, 12s, 18s, 28s, 45s, 75s and 2 min.

The first infusion was still fairly light in terms of color, but the liquor was already really clear. The taste and texture were similarly still light, but the tea was very clean and there was a certain refreshing quality about it. The mouthfeel was also nice. There was some very minor sweetness and overall the tea was very reminiscent of berry juice. There was also a certain creaminess about it. This profile reminded me a lot of the general Menghai area ripe pu’er profile.

The second infusion brewed a slightly different shade, but not really much darker than the first steep. This applies to the session as a whole as the tea never really brewed much darker than this, which isn’t dark at all. The liquor was super clear. While the texture had gotten even lighter than before, I was actually getting some bitterness now. The flavor profile was generally darker than before, but no particular flavors besides bitter really popped out at me. At this point I was already noticing some cooling going on in my airways. The tea became extra bitter once it cooled down.

Steep number three wasn’t thick, but it had a sort of slimy texture, if you know what I mean. The taste was that of dry wood. The tea was quite drying in fact, especially at the back of the mouth. The cooling was only amped up, which in turn really emphasized the dryness. The bitterness was still there, but in a very minor role. At this point I happened to get a whiff of the empty cha hai and the aroma was absolutely wonderful. Definitely pay attention to the aroma of this tea.

By steep four the color seemed to already be fading, but despite appearances the body had now improved. On the flavor front you got the slightest hint of sweetness which then turned into much stronger bitterness which then also went away. My favorite steep was steep number five. At first I had difficulty trying to come up with a way to describe it, but then I happened to smell the tea in the cup and it kind of reminded me of medicine. After tasting the tea again, I arrived at the conclusion that describing the taste as medicinal might actually be apt. I have heard others describe some teas as medicinal, but before this I’ve never tasted anything I’d personally label as such. I really, really liked this steep.

The sixth steeping brewed strong and bitter with more of the prior dry wood taste. At this point I felt some slight burning sensation in my throat, but I don’t know if that’s solely the tea or if my throat is becoming a bit sore. Steep seven was the last one I did. By this point the color was very light and the flavor reflected this. The tea had become very basic with some sweet and woody notes to it. The leaves could have probably carried on with extended steeping times, but I decided to call it there as I expected the steepings to only deteriorate from this point onward.

For such a budget tea, I quite enjoyed this tea. 10¢/g is typically the bare minimum I pay for ripe pu’er, but I must say I’ve never really been particularly impressed by any tea at this price point. While this tea might lack the richness and body of some younger similarly priced teas, what you are getting is a very clean tea that offers amazing value for the money. I don’t think I’ve ever really found any of the aged ripes I’ve tried in the past worth it, as the age has typically come at a substantial premium, but in this case you get an ultra clean tea that costs the same as a freshly pressed shu. Granted, some modern boutique pressings that cost about the same may have the potential to surpass this tea years down the line, but for my personal taste for immediate consumption I prefer this tea to most affordable ripes I’ve tried. That being said, ultimately I’d categorize Red Star as a daily drinker and while this is a tea that’s fun for me to session once or twice, it is not something I’d be looking to purchase. I’m not really a person who drinks the same tea more than once every few months or so, so daily drinkers aren’t really something I’m looking for. That being said, shu pu’er as a category is probably closest to a daily drinker for me as it’s generally the most casual type of tea for me.

I honestly didn’t expect much from this tea as I’m generally really picky about ripe pu’er and tend to prefer only the really premium productions and teas from certain areas. While Red Star does have its shortcomings, I found it to be excellent value at just under 10¢/g and something I can recommend to someone looking for a clean, affordable daily drinker that you can also pay attention to if you so choose.

Flavors: Berries, Bitter, Drying, Medicinal, Wood

Boiling 0 min, 15 sec 12 g 5 OZ / 160 ML

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I believe this is my first Bing Dao tea. I’ve tried teas from around this area like the YS 2017 Nuo Wu, but nothing from Bing Dao itself. I actually have a full cake of this, have had since before the price ever went up. It is however sitting at the bottom of my pumidor in a tricky spot, so since I wanted to try it out while it was still young and review it while I was at it, I went ahead and ordered a ten gram sample of it just for this session. I usually like to give teas a couple months in my pumidor after arriving as I’ve noticed a correlation with a higher likelihood of having a rewarding session, but hopefully the two and a half weeks in this case is adequate.

I steeped the entire 10g sample in a 140ml gaiwan using water just off the boil. I did a short 5s rinse and tasted the wash while I let the leaves soak up the moisture for five minutes or so. The taste was still light and green at this stage, but the aftertaste was quite long-lasting. I proceeded to do a total of twelve infusions, the timing for these being 6s, 6s, 8s, 10s, 15s, 20s, 30s, 45s, 75s, 2 min., 3 min. and 5 min.

The first infusion was still relatively light both in terms of taste and body. The cha qi was already quite potent however. I don’t know if I’d call it very mild astringency or just a slightly prickly sensation, but in addition to that the tea had a slightly numbing effect on the tongue. I’m not sure if I’d quite go there myself, but I could see people calling the taste remotely fruity. Just after a couple of small cups, my head was already throbbing. I could feel the tea especially behind my ears and at the back of my head.

As is to be expected, the second infusion was stronger, but surprisingly also smoother. The broth was also a lot thicker, kind of fruity, with slight astringency in the finish. The steep that followed was similar. Strong, astringent, but without the hints of fruitiness. The qi was now moving to my upper back and chest. The fruitiness returned in the fourth infusion. The taste didn’t remind me of any specific fruits but tropical fruits in general. However once the tea cooled down I felt like I was tasting peach. At this point my airways began to feel clear and there was a slight cooling effect. The qi continued to be potent. I began to feel very relaxed, but at the same time like I could go do high-level sports.

Steep number five was very clean and fresh. I could also feel a slight burning sensation at the very back of my tongue and some astringency of course. This was followed by a brew that was a mixture of fruity, green, creamy and astringent which was an interesting combination. The seventh steep is where the Bing Dao tasted most like your typical young sheng. It was young, green, astringent, perhaps even a tad bitter. The taste was clean and the body decent. This seldom happens to me with raw pu’er and typically with only some really high-end dan congs, but I actually kind of liked the astringency in this steep.

The next two steeps were quite similar, clean and astringent, but the first was still kinda yummy for whatever reason and the second one quite savory. Steep ten was a bit of a surprise with some citrus to the taste now, maybe even hints of sweetness. The astringency was very strong now in the finish. In contrast the astringency was largely absent from the eleventh steep which brewed clean, juicy and oily with a pleasant taste to it. Steep twelve was the last one I did. At this point the tea was still going strong in terms of strength. The flavors had simplified and the astringency was back, but at no point was this tea really about the taste so it was hard to notice a huge difference. The tea could have likely gone on for multiple infusions, but I decided I’d seen most of what it had to offer.

Looking at the leaves at the end of the session, I saw hardly any broken leaves, burnt bits or even slightly more oxidized leaves with red edges. This is not something I see too often even with some really expensive teas, and it tells me about the level of confidence the people who processed the tea have in the quality of their material and the dedication they decided to put in.

This was a nice session. The thing I should note about this tea is that even though it was astringent to varying degrees in nearly every steep, it never became overbearing or distracting and while it wasn’t necessarily a good kind of astringency which is very rare to begin with, it was never really bad either. The qi is very noticeable, but never too aggressive and can actually make you feel quite good. The strength and longevity are good, but where the tea failed to impress me was the body. It’s not poor by any means, but not particularly noteworthy either. In terms of taste I don’t think there is that much going on right now, but how this tea sounds when described and when drunk are two different things. The tea is more enjoyable than it may sound, but at the same time it is not really a beginner-friendly tea and like with many other high-end pu’ers you are paying for many things besides the flavor.

Would I recommend this tea? That is a tough question. If you are looking to educate yourself and learn what a tea that you can trust to be Bing Dao as long as you trust Scott tastes like, I would recommend trying a sample. I myself invested in this tea for the long term. Saying if it will be worth it ten years down the line would be difficult. If you like strong tea with cha qi and find the astringency in this tea acceptable or perhaps even enjoyable, this is a tea that could be drunk now. I don’t think it would necessarily be worth its price tag though.

I had a good time with this tea. I didn’t necessarily love it, but I certainly wasn’t disappointed with it. I paid $170 for my cake. The price has gone up considerably since then. I found the quality to match what I paid for, but even at the current price if you really like the tea it’s probably worth it, especially five or ten years down the line. I’m sorry I can’t be more help than that, but if you’re looking to buy a tea as expensive as this, you ultimately need to trust your own judgment.

Flavors: Astringent, Citrus, Fruity

Boiling 0 min, 15 sec 10 g 5 OZ / 140 ML

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After reviewing Hai Lang Hao’s Yi Shan Mo ripe pu’er from Yiwu, which is often dubbed the queen of pu’er, here comes the king. My sample was ten grams so I used ten grams. For brewing I used my trusty 160ml Jianshui clay teapot, although I didn’t always fill it quite full so the leaf-to-water ratio is probably closer to 1g/15ml or so. I gave the leaves a brief rinse for under ten seconds and let them have five minutes to soften up while I did other preparations. I did a total of eleven steeps, the timing for these being 10s, 8s, 10s, 13s, 20s, 30s, 45s, 75s, 2 min., 4 min. and 10 min.

This tea opened up really strong. I don’t know if it’s as strong as the 1996 CNNP Green Mark Te Ji I reviewed, but it’s definitely one of the strongest ripes I’ve had. The body was already quite good and the taste that of unsweetened baking chocolate. The aftertaste was strong even just after a few sips. It felt like I could already feel the tea affecting me a little bit, although I can’t be entirely sure.

The second steep brewed a really dark mahogany and you could just tell how thick the tea was by looking at the last drops slowly dripping from the teapot. The taste and texture were that of sugar-free chocolate pudding. The tea was so thick, it felt like you could use a spoon to scoop it up. Both the taste and aftertaste were strong and there was a gentle pleasant bitterness to the tea.

The third steep was thick, slick and oily. This time the flavors were more subtle, but eventually I arrived at the conclusion that the taste was mainly woody. At this point I was already starting to feel the cumulative qi. For the fourth infusion I extended the time just a hair and the tea was strong again. I’d made it slightly bitter, but the other flavors were a bit hard to discern. I’d say they were mainly woody again. The qi was hitting me hard though and I almost decided to go lie down because of how intense this tea is.

I brewed the next infusion just a tad longer than I’d intended, but the tea wasn’t too strong at all. Seems I should have gone even just a bit longer, because there was less body now and the flavors came off as rather simple, being mainly simple woody notes. I managed to get the strength back where I wanted in the next steep and the texture improved a little too being slightly syrupy. The flavors had now shifted slightly toward darker woody tones. The tea was very easy to drink, nice, but not super rich nor thin. The cha qi was still falling hard on me, making me feel like I might drop my cup if I was not careful.

Steep seven brewed incredibly sweet, like somebody had put a full cube of sugar in my cup. The taste was sugary and woody. Really nice. At this point it did start to feel like the qi was letting up. The strength continued to be good in the next steep. The body was decent as well. The flavors however were rather simple. The tea was fairly sweet, but not as sweet as before.

Steep nine was still solid in terms of strength. It started off woody and maybe a bit mineraly. It was very fresh and slightly cooling. As I kept drinking it, I started tasting menthol more and more. This was really interesting as I’ve tasted mint a couple times in pu’er, but never menthol. I ended up really liking this steep. While I found the next infusion less cooling in the mouth, I could taste menthol even stronger now. The sweetness was pretty much gone from the tea, making it taste like a sugar-free breath mint. The mouthfeel was still quite nice and overall this steep was enjoyable, pleasant, perhaps even rewarding for such a late steep.

The eleventh steep was the last one I did. There wasn’t all that much taste left even after a ten minute infusion. There was kind of a bad berry taste to the soup, maybe a bit acid. Maybe you could have done one more ultra long infusion with these leaves, but I deemed them pretty much done.

Unsurprisingly, this tea was good. Was it the best ripe I’ve had? Actually, no. I liked the Yi Shan Mo better. And one or two other teas as well. But this tea was good, wish all ripes were this level of quality. Is it worth the ridiculous price? I don’t think so. Not even close. I think the Yi Shan Mo at 38.5¢/g is totally worth the price and I like it better than the Lao Ban Zhang which costs four times as much, so do the math. As most people probably can’t afford this tea, myself included, I think the better question is is this tea worth buying a sample of? I’d say so. I would recommend trying out other genuinely high quality ripes first to see if you even find them worth it in your book, but if you’re genuinely interested and don’t find the cost of even a mere 10g sample too difficult to justify, go for it.

This tea brews strong, it brews thick, and the cha qi is really potent. It has probably the strongest chocolate notes I’ve tasted in any tea. I still can’t get past that. The longevity is great too, for a ripe and for a tea that brews this strong. I’m glad this tea was good, but I’m even more glad I liked the Yi Shan Mo better, because I want that tea and can’t afford this one. What’s clear is that Hai Lang produces some great teas.

Flavors: Bitter, Chocolate, Menthol, Sugar, Sweet, Wood

Boiling 0 min, 15 sec 10 g 5 OZ / 160 ML

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I noticed recently that Yunnan Sourcing’s “Green Miracle” had sold out, so I decided to pick this one up while it was still available, just to see how the two compare. I used 12.1g in my 160ml Jianshui clay teapot and drank the tea from Jianshui clay as well. After a 10s rinse and a 5 min. rest I proceeded to do a total of eight steeps, the timing for these being 12s, 12s, 15s, 20s, 30s, 50s, 90s and 2.5 min.

The color of the first infusion was still light. The texture reflected this and was fairly light as well. The tea wasn’t quite bitter nor chocolatey, but bittersweet might be an apt description. Despite the color, the strength was stronger than your average shu. The second steep didn’t actually brew much darker. The texture was very light, which you could tell already by just looking at the liquor. The taste was a bit stronger, consisting of darker tones and being at the edge of bitterness. Bittersweet might still be applicable here. The lasting flavor left in your mouth was however clearly that of coffee.

The third steep finally brewed a bit darker, although hardly very dark for a shu pu’er, more like a hong cha. The tea was strong, but light, if that makes any sense. The initial burst of dark, bitter coffee flavors was fairly strong, but the texture was disappointingly light and the flavors faded quickly, leaving behind this sort of void. It just left you with this sense of there being a lack of substance. There was however at least a persistent lingering aftertaste. I also noted that the tea became very bitter once it cooled down.

Slightly extended brewing time finally produced a slightly better body in the fourth steep, although the texture was till light+. The taste was bitter, maybe even a tad sour (but not in a bad way), now leaning more toward woody notes. This was a decent brew. The body didn’t hold up in the next steeping. The flavor had dropped as well. This with me extending the brewing time by 50% from the previous steep. The taste was perhaps slightly sweet and mineraly with some light woody tones. Very disappointing.

The sixth steep I apparently managed to push adequately as the strength was back to a decent level. The taste was mineral, with some darker woody notes as well. The tea had a certain freshness to it, being almost cooling. There were some nice lingering woody tones as well. This was a decent steep. Steep seven was light in texture, but had a nice mouthfeel. I’m not quite sure how to describe it, but it was tasty. It was refreshingly woody with a bit of mouth cooling going on. A nice infusion.

Steep number eight was the last one I did. It was light, simple. Drinkable, but the tea could have very well been on the verge of either giving up entirely or becoming nasty. There was some of your typical base sweetness, but I deemed the tea done in my eyes.

This tea was decent. I’m fairly picky when it comes to shu pu’er, so I wasn’t expecting too much. I found the tea to brew stronger than your average ripe, while the body was generally quite lacking. If you like your ripes thick, I’m not quite sure how to achieve that with this tea without making it excessively strong in the process. If you are wondering how Immortal Monkey compares to Green Miracle, I haven’t had that tea recently enough to make a good comparison, but I recall Green Miracle being perhaps a bit more dynamic in terms of flavor, although the flavor profiles are comparable. At least right now Immortal Monkey seems to lean more towards bittersweet and woody, while Green Miracle according to my memory was less bitter and perhaps more chocolatey and mineraly. These teas are still young, however, so they will continue to change over time. I don’t think I really have a preference for either tea right now. They are similar but different in their own right.

To boil things down, Immortal Monkey seems like a decent tea to drink now, with the potential to become a better tea in the future. Those leaning toward a bittersweet woody profile when it comes to shu may find this to their liking. Those seeking a replacement for Green Miracle should not be too disappointed either. While the tea is not distinctly sweet, the lack of sweetness does not come off as a negative like it can with some other teas.

Flavors: Bitter, Coffee, Dark Bittersweet, Mineral, Sour, Sweet, Wood

Boiling 0 min, 15 sec 12 g 5 OZ / 160 ML

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I’ve been drinking loose leaf tea since around 2014 if I remember correctly, but the summer of 2016 is when I really became passionate about tea and I started brewing gong fu style at the start of 2017. While oolongs were my first love, I drink mostly pu’er these days. I do drink other types of tea with varying degrees of regularity as well, so I don’t discriminate.

I only review pu’er and don’t designate scores to any of the teas to encourage people to actually read the reviews and not just look at the scores. I tend to be thorough, so my reviews can run quite long, but I do try to always gather my thoughts at the end. These tasting notes are as much a record for myself for future reference as they are a review of the tea, so the format is something that’s geared to satisfy both.

You can follow my adventures on Instagram as tujukki.



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