123 Tasting Notes

The original 2015 Green Miracle was one of the first ripes I ever bought, drank and reviewed. I still have maybe half a cake left. While not bad, it has never really impressed me. The strength and longevity are below average and the very mineral, somewhat chocolaty flavor profile is rather bland and forgettable. While things have improved across the board with age, nothing about the tea has ever really changed in any significant way. Now we finally have a follow-up and I was curious to see if this tea would be more of the same or similar in name only.

I finished my sample in two sessions using my Ben Shan Duan Ni Yixing clay teapot both times. Already the aroma of the wet leaves alone sets this tea apart from most ripes. I’d describe it as “greener”, more leafy. In my second session in particular I felt like it reminded me of berries, maybe a berry jam.

The uniqueness is equally apparent in the first sip. The tea is much higher noted than your typical shu. Quite sweet. In my notes for the first session I talk of umami/soy sauce, my second berries with some underlying chocolate bitterness. Interestingly, my notes for the first session continue to describe the tea as savory, later on becoming more mineral and roasted, maybe a bit chocolaty. My notes for the second session continue talking about milk chocolate and mineral sweetness.

Neither paints a picture of a very dynamic tea, it becoming quite bland and quite a typical ripe affair in the last third of the session. I also only got eight brews out of Green Miracle both times, with the last eighth set-it-and-forget-it brew barely qualifying as worthwhile. My notes for the seventh infusion of the first session do speak of licorice/anise, though, which is somewhat interesting at least. My notes don’t really talk about mouthfeel and body that much. I’d say the tea’s probably okay in that department, but not particularly noteworthy.

I feel like I might’ve just painted a picture of a somewhat bland tea, but overall I feel Green Miracle 2020 manages to differentiate itself as a somewhat unique ripe among its myriad peers and it’s likely a tea that most shu fans would enjoy. It did intrigue me with its initial steeps, but quickly devolved into mediocrity. Those seeking deep, dark flavors and thick, oily body might want to seek elsewhere, but for other ripe lovers I would definitely recommend a sample.

The original Green Miracle DNA is certainly there in the 2020 iteration. I don’t know if these are actually the same tea just different harvest, but I can certainly see some resemblance, even if only in very broad terms. I would classify this tea as quite good, just not quite to my taste in terms of its profile. I’m generally not a fan of mineral notes and that is the case here as well. While I do enjoy dark chocolate notes in ripes, the milk chocolate here is again somewhat of a miss.

The wet leaves are an atypically light shade of brown for a modern ripe, hopefully hinting at more room for this tea to develop over the years than your typical shu. Despite this, I didn’t find Green Miracle to be too “green” for my stomach, which has often been the case with Yunnan Sourcing’s other lighter fermentation ripes when young.

Flavors: Berries, Chocolate, Licorice, Mineral, Roasted, Soy Sauce, Sweet, Woody

Boiling 0 min, 15 sec 13 g 5 OZ / 160 ML

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Most really young raws don’t tend to offer me a lot in terms of aromatics, but when they do, it seems to often be a sign I’m in for a treat. This Hong Ni Tang was one such occasion. After the rinse, the leaves have a complex, deep aroma. Foresty, campfire embers, perhaps even a touch of vinegar. This is reflected in the taste, and it’s great.

I love this tea. I state that twice in my notes. It has a lot of character. Scott’s description says the character of this tea is between Jinggu and nearby Mengku and I agree. It has the complex yet deep foresty character of certain Mengku teas together with the sweetness and added extra character of Jinggu. The aforementioned campfire embers are there in the most enjoyable form I’ve come across in tea. After the first couple steeps it also develops a pleasing tanginess. Somewhere in the middle I started picking up on some grape leaves. Towards the late infusions the tea gets more fruity and floral. There’s a touch of astringency but no bitterness to speak of.

The Hong Ni Tang is such a complex and unusual tea I immediately fell in love with it. And not only is it complex but has great depth as well. The mouthfeel is also good and cha qi noticeable but not too potent for my liking. While not one of Scott’s strongest teas, the strength is also very good and longevity excellent. This is a tea I would warmly recommend to any sheng lover, especially given its rather affordable price of $0.20/g. I’m definitely picking up a cake in my next Yunnan Sourcing order. While it’s too early to say, based on first impressions at least this might just be one of my personal favorite young raws.

Flavors: Campfire, Charcoal, Floral, Fruity, Grapes, Pine, Resin, Sweet, Tangy, Vinegar

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

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I don’t care who you are, Cucumber Village is obviously the best name for a village, can we just agree? Of my recent big Yunnan Sourcing 2021 sample haul, this tea was the second one to stand out to me. Just the aroma of the dry leaf in my pre-heated gaiwan was so lovely I knew I was in for a treat. The fragrance is that of most pleasing vegetal sweetness. If I could bottle it, it would make a wonderful perfume.

The scent is reflected in the cup. Being a Jinggu tea, this tea is very sweet. Perhaps I’m being influenced by the name of the village, but I do taste cucumber in this tea, its juicy, vegetal taste upfront and earthier skin in the aftertaste. Either way, vegetal sweetness is the predominant character here. In my second session with the tea, I also picked up plenty of honeydew melon.

While the character of the tea is very sweet and friendly, once the leaves open up it displays a surprising amount of strength. The longevity is also excellent and I was able to enjoy pleasing steeps through the session all the way to the final three and five minute brews. There’s probably some amount of bitterness and astringency present, but honestly both sessions they remained so negligible they never entered my radar.

Of the teas I’ve tasted, Yunnan Sourcing’s Da Qing Gu Shu comes the closest to this one. Both are Jinggu teas and have a dominantly sweet, vegetal flavor to them when young, albeit both have a character that’s unique to them. The price point is also pretty much identical. I own a cake of both the 2014 autumn and 2015 spring Da Qing and can report that they’ve been aging really nicely, at least in my own storage. Between the two, I’d likely recommend the Da Qing over Cucumber, but I enjoy both highly.

Fans of Jinggu teas as well as sweeter Yiwus would likely find Cucumber Village worth a sample at least. Personally I’m likely to cake it.

Flavors: Cucumber, Honeydew, Sweet, Vegetal

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

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I haven’t really kept up with Yunnan Sourcing’s new sheng offerings and I realized the most recent one I’ve had is from 2018. So I decided to order samples of most of their spring 2021 teas – the ones that sounded interesting. That ended up being eighteen teas plus one from 2020 and another from 2014. Since a couple of the Yiwu pressings seem to already be nearly sold out, I decided to start from the most expensive teas and work my way down. So far this has been the first tea interesting enough to bother reviewing at this point in the teas’ lives at least.

Thinking about it now, this might well be the first time I’ve had tea from Mang Zhi. Yunnan Sourcing has offered tea from there in a number of prior vintages, but I’ve just never happened to sample it. Nor can I recall ever running across anyone reviewing teas from there either. As such I went in pretty blind besides knowing it was from somewhere within the greater Yiwu area. The name makes my mind immediately draw parallels to Man Zhuan, but I had no idea if I should expect any sort of resemblance in the cup.

Using my standard ratio of 8g in my 120ml Yixing jiangponi gaiwan, the aroma of the wet leaves is already unique enough to pique my interest. Before even removing the lid, I could pick up a caramelized scent wafting from the small aperture I used to pour out the rinse. Then, bringing the leaves closer to my nose and breathing in deep, I got an interesting tingling sensation. The aroma had a slightly smoky and sour character to it. Taking a sip of the wash, the taste very much mirrors the aroma. I get a tingly sensation on my tongue and the taste has a whisper of smoke, sourness and an intriguing sweetness.

The Mang Zhi starts off rather light in terms of body, eventually settling on what I’d describe as around a medium or medium-light body. While the flavors themselves are generally on the gentler side, this tea has a lot of strength, easily beating all of Yunnan Sourcing’s 2021 teas I’ve sampled so far, even the ones that were in totally loose, broken form.

The early steeps have some (pleasant) sourness to them, along with a sweet, vegetal taste which is joined by bitter greens a couple steeps in. The sweetness came across to me as rather unique, starting off caramelized as mentioned, moving to a vegetal sweetness, then a more typical Yiwu sweetness, before finally settling on an interesting berry sweetness in the late steeps. Early on I got some sour breadiness, in the mid steeps some woody, piney, resinous notes reminiscent of the more foresty Mengku teas, in the early late steeps a surprising amount of bitterness with a lot of resemblance to Nanmo/Hekai/Bulang teas, and lastly in the late steeps the aforementioned interesting berry tartness and sweetness (possibly black currant, but I’m not very good at identifying berries).

All in all I really enjoyed this tea. It is rather pricey at $0.67/g, but the quality is there. The tea is strong, dynamic and unique – or unique enough. The longevity is also excellent; I was able to get ten good steeps out of this one without the leaves really losing steam at any point. The eleventh brew I left for 10–15 min, coming back to an extremely strong bitter fest.

For an Yiwu there’s a surprising amount of bitterness in this tea, but it is often a very fast bitterness which transforms almost instantly. Over time it does grow more persistent, but I at least personally rather enjoyed it for most of the session. It’s not quite a kuwei that I love but I do like it a lot. There is also a lot of sweetness in this tea to counterbalance it.

The aftertaste is very strong. Some infusions I could taste for a long time after swallowing, the taste being just as strong as when I’d had the tea sitting on my tongue. The empty cup smell is also very strong for such a young tea. I highly recommend paying attention to it.

For experienced sheng drinkers I would highly recommend a sample. Less experienced drinkers and those who’d consider themselves not great at picking up the small nuances of sheng pu’er on the other hand might find themselves better off spending their money on other teas. Interestingly this tea – at least for me – displayed characteristics of Yiwu, Bulang and Mengku. As such, there are actually a lot of teas that I could recommend that are quite similar and offer much better value, but most of them don’t offer the same level of quality as the Mang Zhi. Bitterleaf’s “Drink Me” from Nanmo for example offers almost unbeatable value at just $0.135/g. That one while sharing similarities with the neighboring Hekai has also started reminding me a lot of foresty Mengku teas as it’s been aging. It does get pretty rough in its late steeps, but up till then it punches way above its weight.

If you don’t like bitterness, then this is probably not the Yiwu for you. If you’re more of a Bulang drinker, like me, then this might very well be your jam. I for one am certainly considering a cake, despite the price. Obviously I will have to make my way through the rest of the YS ’21 samples first and revisit this one, but based on first impressions we might have something here.

Flavors: Astringent, Bitter, Black Currant, Bread, Caramelized Sugar, Pepper, Pleasantly Sour, Resin, Smoke, Sweet, Tart, Vegetal, Wood

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

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I’ve only drunk sheng pu’er from Di Jie once, the Yunnan Sourcing pressing of the 2017 autumn to be exact, but I remember being highly impressed with tea from there. When I saw this ripe being listed, I instantly knew I wanted to try it at some point. Of the recent order of Yunnan Sourcing samples, it was the first shu to end up in my pot. I used my standard ratio of 13g in my 160ml Yixing zini pot accompanied by a Jianshui clay cha hai and teacup. While I received the bing hole, this being a ripe, the tea was easy to break apart by hand.

Taking my first sip, the first thing I notice is the mouthfeel. I find it very smooth and highly enjoyable. Well above average among ripes. It also stays very consistent throughout the session. The next thing I notice is the sweetness. This tea is VERY sweet. It is a mineral sweetness, though, and as such gives more of a sensation of the presence of sweetness rather than a direct taste of sweetness, if that makes any sense. I am someone who typically isn’t a fan of teas that are overly sweet, especially in the absence of an accompanying bitterness, but the sweetness in the Di Jie never detracted from my enjoyment.

In the first few brews, I got chiefly a hot chocolate taste, maybe a whisper of bitterness. After that the tea blooms into its primary character, which I found hard to identify and quite unique among ripes. The closest thing I can think of is the soy milk note I’ve picked up in a couple of ripes. In the finish I got some roasted coffee tones along with some cooling. In the late steeps those got replaced by touches of dried fruit.

All in all I enjoyed my session with this tea a lot. While I’d personally prefer it had some bitterness to it, I enjoyed both the mouthfeel as well as the flavor profile. The quality of the material is very good and the fermentation has been expertly handled. For a tea so young, it is shockingly clean tasting and has none of the roughness many of Yunnan Sourcing’s slightly lighter fermentation ripes tend to exhibit in their first few years after being piled. Currently selling for $62/357g ($0.17/g), the value is excellent. The longevity is also very impressive. My 3 min brew was as strong as a typical steep for your average shu and the two more brews I did after that were not disappointing either.

For a tea so young, the flavor profile is surprisingly satisfying already. In its current state, it reminds me a lot of the Yunnan Sourcing 2017 Yi Wu Rooster, which I revisited recently. In four years that tea has gone from mainly sweet but otherwise not particularly memorable to a surprisingly complex tea with the savoriness of soy sauce accompanied by dessert-y notes of milk chocolate, vanilla custard and soy milk. That one’s really tasty now, but the price has also jumped to $0.32/g. Both are teas I recommend to those who don’t see the sweetness of them as a potential issue, but at half the price of Yi Wu Rooster, the Di Jie is a much easier tea to recommend. And it already being so far along this young, I see a higher longterm aging potential in it than the Yi Wu.

I need to finish my other Yunnan Sourcing samples first, as well as the sample of this, but I see a potential cake purchase in my future.

Flavors: Chocolate, Coffee, Dried Fruit, Mineral, Roasted, Soybean, Sweet

Boiling 0 min, 15 sec 13 g 5 OZ / 160 ML

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This is one crazy tea. A lighter fermentation Bulang ripe fermented using black tea kombucha instead of spring water. I couldn’t resist trying it out and even felt lucky enough to go straight for a blind cake. When it finally arrived, I could just bring it to my nose, smell it through the wrapper and tell it’s not your typical ripe. It has none of that typical shu barnyard/compost smell that essentially all ripes have when dry. Instead I get this scent of gingerbread dough, perhaps some plums as well. Needless to say I was hyped to give this one a try.

After a mere couple days of rest, I could wait no longer. In went 8+ grams in my 100ml Jianshui clay teapot and after a brief rinse the stage was set. The smell of the wet leaves is very similar to the dry leaf. Slightly more sour, obviously richer and deeper, with an added note I can’t quite put my finger on but which makes me think of something similar to soy sauce.

Then I get to that always-so-magical first sip, and, yes, this tea tastes very much like it smells. Gingerbread dough, mix of spices, woody notes, sourdough, slight medicinal character and a surprisingly strong immediate cooling sensation in the mouth. I’m not sure if I’d call the coolness minty, menthol or something along those lines, but it wasn’t the typical camphor I most often get in ripes. This stuff is quite strong for a shu and potent to boot. After just a few small cups I was already feeling the tea in my body and soon after my head began to feel tingly and I started to feel intoxicated.

Midway through the session some bitterness started to creep in briefly, showcasing how some of the Bulang character has been preserved thanks to the lighter fermentation. Overall the tea wasn’t too dynamic though. The mouthfeel is good though, livelier than most ripes, and the tea even has a nice lubricating feeling in the throat, speaking to the quality of the material. I did push the tea all the way to the long multi-minute brews and while the small 100ml vessel size meant heat wasn’t maintained that well, the results were still decent enough. While light, the tea revealed a slightly citrusy character, accompanied by slight fizziness.

I’ve found Mei Leaf teas to be really hit or miss for me, but when they hit, they really hit it out of the park and I’m happy to say that is the case here. Not only is Playground Rendez-Vous really unique, but it is an actually good tea to boot. I would still classify it as a ripe, but it is unlike any other ripe I’ve ever tasted. I’m always somewhat skeptical of claims of the material being gushu when it comes to ripes, and even in cases where I can believe them, the supposed higher quality doesn’t always translate to the cup in an easily perceptible way, not in the same way as with raw pu’er. Here though, while I’d already disregarded all gushu claims, I can actually buy this coming from older trees. While this is no sheng pu’er, some of the qualities I look for in a high-quality raw have managed to make their way into the final shu in a way that seldom seems to happen even in the most high-end ripes I’ve tried.

If you’re a fan of ripes, you’ll most likely enjoy this tea. It is at the very least worth a sample. At £69/200g (~$0.46/g) it is far from a cheap tea, but at least for me the price is (nearly) justified. Most teas past $0.40/g simply can’t deliver the same quality-to-price ratio as teas below that, and when it comes to ripes that often ends up being even more challenging to achieve. Here you are paying some for the uniqueness, but also for the quality, and the end result ends up living up to the expectations better than most shus with a hefty price tag.

The tea has absolutely zero of the typical ripe funk and I found it extremely clean tasting at the time of writing, a mere year after being fermented. If you absolutely hate ripes, this is unlikely to change your mind, but if you’re kind of on the fence and feel like you just haven’t found any ripes you like (that was me for many years), this one might be worth a shot. I drank this together with my mom who can’t stand ripes and her descriptors for it were: bitter, medicinal and cat piss. She really hated this one. Fortunately she loves sheng.

I will need to spend more sessions with Playground Rendez-Vous, but so far I really enjoy it and it’s certainly among my favorite ripes. I am seriously considering buying a second cake.

Flavors: Citrus, Cookie, Medicinal, Mint, Spices, Wood

Boiling 0 min, 15 sec 8 g 3 OZ / 100 ML

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

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

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

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

Flavors: Bitter, Floral, Fruity, Sweet, Thick

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

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As a big fan of the 2016 Wild Purple Green Mark, Dizzy as another raw–ripe blend became a tea that I definitely wanted to try. I received my sample of it around a year ago and had a couple of sessions with it. I remember liking it and still have my tasting notes from one of the sessions jotted down on my phone, but I never got around to writing an actual review for it at the time. Today I dug up the last of my sample from the depths of my pumidor and here we are finally properly reviewing this bad boy.

After a brief rinse, Dizzy opens up quite earthy and surprisingly sweet. Perhaps a bit caramely or nutty. I’m reminded a lot of roasted wulongs, which is quite interesting. The mouthfeel is also surprisingly enjoyable for the first brew. The cha qi which I remember from the previous session is also kicking in already from the first steep. A very enjoyable opening.

The second brew presents a very multilayered flavor profile. We are still in the sweet, roasted, earthy spectrum, but the texture has picked up a little and become slightly sticky and coating. I also notice some active sensation in my mouth. Cha qi’s even more noticeable than before, but thankfully it’s a good type of qi. Very positive and vitalizing.

The third steep presents a big turning point for this tea. I’m greeted by an almost shockingly fresh and fruity taste. Very zesty, citrusy I’d say. I can’t overemphasize how fruity this tea is. The body has also thickened up and the soup actually feels heavy to swallow. The cha qi is possibly at its most potent, very heady. I wouldn’t consider this a casual brew. The aftertaste is strong. To me this is a quite superb tea.

Immediately after I say that, we head into steep four and experience a bit of a dip as the tea heads in a more sour direction, which I personally aren’t a big fan of, although sour teas have their fans out there. I’m getting a bit of a cola vide in the finish and as I keep drinking this steep I do actually end up liking it. The mouthfeel remains great and the tea very flavorful. For a tea with ripe mixed in, the freshness is quite uncanny. There’s a lot going on here and you aren’t getting just one singular taste. Dizzy is a very dynamic tea to session.

Infusion five is even thicker, even zestier. SO fruity. I get such good vibes from this tea. It’s so clean, so fresh. I’m getting a touch of cooling now. The flavor has shifted from citrus to white grapes together with the slightly earthy touch from their skin.

Unfortunately from infusion six onward the tea starts tapering off, big time. I remember having issued with longevity in the past and I really recommend beginning to push the tea hard once you notice it gets to this point. Steep six is pretty much a combination of a standard shu affair and a run-of-the-mill sheng in its twilight. Infusion seven is similar but has more of the fruity, zesty character. Both brews are still good, though. Very flavorful and enjoyable. But there’s a distinct “thinness” to the flavor – a lack of depth. And that ultimately makes these steeps lacking in satisfactions, at least for a person like me.

Steeps eight and nine are the last two, but fortunately present yet another chapter in the journey of Dizzy before we close the book. Both present an unexpected medicinal character, distantly similar to what I experience with Wild Purple Green Mark. In infusion eight I get a nice minty, camphory taste. We’ve also returned back to the sweet citrus. The closing brew on the other hand leans more toward licorice. I’m happy to say these last two brews elevated my opinion of this tea back up again.

So yes, I highly enjoyed Dizzy. I remember it being good a year ago, but even just a single year in storage has done wonders to this concoction. The experience is really unique and I recommend a sample to anyone who’s even a bit adventurous. If you’ve already tried raw–ripe blends in the past and didn’t like them or just find the idea of such teas sacrilege, then perhaps this is not the tea for you, but otherwise I highly, highly recommend picking up a sample next time you are putting together a Yunnan Sourcing order.

While I highly enjoy (the now sold-out) Wild Purple Green Mark, which I own a cake of, I think Dizzy easily surpasses it in my book. I don’t think the two teas used in WPGM by themselves are anything special. It’s really the combination of them together and the unique flavor profile that results that makes that tea better than the sum of its parts. Dizzy on the other hand shines in other areas besides just taste, which is key for me. And on top of that the flavor profile that is born is even more unique than what we get in WPGM. Granted, it is most similar to some roasted Taiwanese wulongs I’ve had, but at the fraction of the price and on top of that you get the body and cha qi which you often miss out on in many wulongs.

The only shortcoming is the longevity, which ultimately isn’t that poor all things considered, just a tad disappointing. It reflects the affordable price of this tea, which I would consider amazing value. I’m most definitely going to be grabbing a cake of this.

One final note, though. I would say the sheng is easily the main star here. If you are more of a shu drinker, this might not be the tea you are looking for. This baby might brew up dark, but the flavor as stated is very fresh and zesty after the first few steeps. And similarly if you are mainly a sheng drinker, don’t be put off by the inclusion of shu in here. The earthy, fermented spectrum really plays more of a supporting role here.

Flavors: Camphor, Caramel, Citrus, Cola, Earth, Licorice, Medicinal, Nutty, Roasted, Sour, Sweet, White Grapes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flavors: Astringent, Bitter, Floral, Mineral, Sweet

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

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


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

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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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