My second Hai Lang Hao. I really enjoyed their 2015 Bulang brick, so I was excited to try this one. I’m no expert on ripe pu’er, but looking at the sample I received, the quality of the material looks good – small leaves with plenty of hairy golden buds. I used 11 grams in my 160ml Jianshui clay teapot and after rinsing the leaves once for ten seconds I let the moisture soak in for ten minutes before I began brewing. I did a total of nine infusions, for 9s, 9s, 12s, 15s, 20s, 30s, 45s, 75s and 2 min.
The first steep brewed a murky pale red. The taste was kind of there, but both the flavors and texture were still light. Normally one rinse is enough for me with shu pu’er, but for this tea I would recommend two quick rinses while it’s still young at least. This steep was still more of a wash than a proper brew. The second steep produced a much darker red. The flavor was much bolder as well. However, the texture was still rather light for a shu pu’er. The taste is hard to describe. Maybe you could call it a sort of weird mineraly taste. The finish was reminiscent of the finish of not so great coffee. It wasn’t exactly bitter, but neither was it quite clenching either.
The next steeping finally offered some more body. The taste wasn’t bitter, but more like sour, drying coffee, while the finish had a roasted note to it. The fourth steep was again a bit thinner, maybe a bit cleaner, but otherwise there wasn’t too much change. The flavors started to now shift more towards raw chocolate without any sweetness. A bit of sweetness did finally emerge in the fifth infusion. The flavor still had a dry quality to it (dry, not drying), which had been prevalent in the tea up to this point.
The sixth steep was softer both in taste and texture. It had a gorgeous velvety mouthfeel and incredibly creamy taste with a mineral tinge to it. I was really surprised by this infusion. That mouthfeel, man, and that finish, so nice. The tea was drying, gripping in a good way, making you want to drink more. There was also a slightly refreshing, palate cleansing quality to it. Damn. The steep that followed shared some of these qualities. It had the creaminess, but now combined with a bright, zesty flavor of red berries. These berries persisted in the aftertaste. These two infusions were really good.
I was taken back to being less impressed by the eighth infusion. The taste was now more mineraly, with only hints of the prior creaminess remaining. The taste did however become fuller as you kept drinking the tea and it left small deposits on your tongue, enhancing the flavor. Due to time, the ninth steep was the last one I did. It did feel it was appropriate to stop there, though. While I was still getting the mineraly, creamy taste, the flavors seemed to be starting to become thinner and continuing would have probably been just stretching out the tea.
After the session, I felt really lethargic and a couple hours later incredibly tired. Shu pu’ers do tend to be more calming and grounding than energizing in my experience, but this was probably the most lethargic any tea has ever made me. I literally didn’t want to do anything and once the tiredness hit me it felt like I needed to be in bed that instant. Tea is of course going to affect people differently, but the person I was drinking with experienced the same thing, so I would advice some caution when drinking this tea. Maybe have the first session with it at home where it’s not a huge issue if you don’t feel like doing anything for the rest of the evening.
So what are my thoughts on this tea? I must admit my expectations were high because of how good the Bulang brick was and I ended up liking it more than this one. Apart from the two really good infusions, this tea wasn’t quite my cup of tea. It is still quite young and might improve a lot over time, so I don’t want to be too judgmental. While I think the 2015 Bulang represents good value for money, this Lao Man’e at more than 60% higher price doesn’t quite justify its price tag right now. I’d place this tea in the ‘potential’ category. While the Bulang brick is good to drink now, this one needs more time to mature. I’d say try it in a year or two, if it’s still available.
Edit: I had a second session with this tea and have included my thoughts below in one of the comments.