Special Dark

Tea type
Pu-erh Tea
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Caramel, Chocolate, Leather, Malt, Wood, Mushrooms, Cocoa, Earth, Dark Chocolate, Bitter, Grain, Hay, Plums, Baked Bread, Brown Sugar, Raisins, Honey, Dark Bittersweet, Dates, Stewed Fruits, Cream, Nuts
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Edit tea info Last updated by Jason
Average preparation
Boiling 2 min, 15 sec 5 g 11 oz / 327 ml

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115 Tasting Notes View all

From Mandala Tea

We call this Special Dark for good reason. This decadent tea is hand crafted in small batches within cotton bags, and fermented more extensively requiring great attention and intention. Creamy, rich, dark, and smooth. This cocoa-y indulgence is one of our most unique pu’er teas. An excellent change-up from the norm for you lovers of the shu.

Pu-erh that is more lightly fermented can hardly be oversteeped in early infusions, but this tea should be approached differently. We suggesting easing in with quick infusions before experimenting with the full power of the Dark Side.

About Mandala Tea View company

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115 Tasting Notes

13 tasting notes

My first foray into Pu-er and I was not prepared for the intensity of Special Dark. The first infusion and I realized that Pu-er is in a totally different taste dimension compared to where I’ve been with tea. Luckily I was once and avid coffee drinker and straight black was my preference. So after I sat up and took notice of this foundational shift I am relishing my 2nd infusion, and immersing myself in decadent chocolately bliss.

Oh my, what devilish temptations have I opened myself up to? To late now, 3rd infusion coming up. :)

205 °F / 96 °C 0 min, 15 sec 10 g 5 OZ / 150 ML

Yes, I can totally see why this tea would appeal to any coffee lover! Used to drink mine black also :-)


Yay! You will find this stuff will grow on you!


I just got done packaging a bunch of this tea. There is something special about such a very small batch ripe tea like this. I’ve got my feelers out all of the time for ripes processed like this one was.

I’ll never ever forget my first ripe pu’er. So exciting. And then I went to China and experienced raw pu’er and had a whole other experience. I love both styles. First tea of the day has been a ripe pu’er for years and years. The last two years, my first tea has been Noble Mark. Then I usually switch to raw pu’er and whatever else is being brewed up in the shop at any given time.

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539 tasting notes

Not even really sure what to say about this one. It’s the only pu-erh I can say at this point that I can drink more than one cup of. :) It’s very interesting but I’m not sure I can pick out any specific flavors, it’s just very unique. Not what I associate with pu-erh, which is good. Thanks for the sample, boychik!


I’m glad you like it. You can make a latte with some maple syrup. It just soo good, like hot chocolate.

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530 tasting notes

Giving this one another try….

This time I rinsed then let it steep 3 min @ boiling and added milk.

The milk helped, but I’m still getting mushrooms with this! Sooo frustrating.

I really do appreciate the chance to try it though. Thank you MzPriss!

I’m going to check out the Imperial Dark again to see if I still prefer it. Funny!


I didn’t get any mushrooms. Can you make it gongfu style? 1tbsp 212F rinse short steeps like 5/10/15 sec


I tried doing 1 min the first time, I could try even shorter steeps to see
Though people recommended longer steeps to get the chocolatey flavor, I get zero cocoa!


Funny to see this review as I just finished a tea class with a group of people and the last tea that I brewed up was the Special Dark. We brewed it two different ways – gongfu (with steepings starting at 15 seconds) and western style. Gong fu style, people commented on hints of pecans, walnuts and baked goods, while western style yielded comments about the cocoa notes.

6 people were in the class and it was really something to here everyone say walnuts at the same time. Uncanny almost. Nutty, even :)


I love it Western style!


I’m going to have to try gongfu style!


@whatshesaid – you are very welcome. We all have different tastes. I don’t like to contemplate a work morning without a huge mug of this western style. I like it gong fu as well, but this is my happy day starter.


I just tried a 15-20 sec resteep and though I didn’t get mushrooms, still no cocoa or nuts!

I hate when this happens, makes me feel like my tongue is betraying me :/


hold on, it could be water. i had some Yunnan the same as Lee, steeped the same parameters and it came out different. i used filtered tap water and she uses some special filtered one.


I usually use tap water but could try some bottled water to see!


Water is HUGE when it comes to tea. Chlorine will zap tea flavor and is found in city tap water. Best to filter it out with some carbon-based filtration system. If you do get bottled water, just make sure it is spring water and not reverse osmosis or distilled. Also, check the “bottled on” date and get the freshest water you can.

Water is the mother of tea. The better the water, the better the tea. I read an old quote the other day: “if you take tea that is an 8 and brew it with water that is a 10, the tea will also be a 10. If you take tea that is a 10 and brew it water that is an 8, the tea will also be an 8.”

Tea is 99.9% water, after all :)


Ok @Garret, I tried it with bottled spring water and you’re right, the taste is very different.
Next time I will do steep one that way so i can really compare!

Now I have to break the news to my husband that I’m going to need a permanent supply of filtered/ spring water, lol


Water filtration is less expensive than buying water. Additionally, you won’t have the bottles to deal with. There are systems that will sit right next to your sink. Like these: http://crystalquest.com/countertop%20water%20filters.htm

These are much more effective than the pitcher style types or the ones that attach and hang on the faucet itself. I can get you set up with any of these. I’ve been a dealer for this company since I owned my wellness center. I’d love to help, if you would like. You can shoot me an email at [email protected]

Otherwise, I’m sure that you can find similar systems near you. Make sure to get activated carbon rather than charcoal. There are also undersink models, if that might work for you better. Just don’t get reverse osmosis. No good for tea. Gives you water that is one-dimensional in flavor. You want full-on 3-D!

Wishing you all the joy you can stand!

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164 tasting notes

Stephanie is so awesome to include this as an extra in her swap package! And I must announce that this is my first Mandala tea ever.

I don’t drink pu’erh much. My palate isn’t adjusted for it, especially shou pu’erh. This mostly tastes earthy – wonderfully earthy, not as strong as the other few shou pue’rhs I’ve tried – though I was able to detect the chocolate and cocoa notes. Additionally, the liquor is full-bodied, brisk, and thick.

Delicious! I don’t think I’d have to drink a hundred pu’erhs to discern that this one is a good one. I’m so glad Stephanie gave me the opportunity to try it :]

Flavors: Chocolate, Cocoa, Earth

Boiling 0 min, 30 sec 2 tsp 8 OZ / 236 ML

Thanks so much for writing about your experience with this pu’er! I smile as I hear about another person who doesn’t drink much pu’er but digs this one. It is a pretty refined shu pu’er and is so accessible for so many. Glad you found it enjoyable.

I am grateful that you took the time to write this up. – Garret


You’re welcome! I just had to write a review :]


Yay!! I’m glad you liked it, Kiwi :)

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4 tasting notes

A small note about myself, I do not like coffee since I was a child (I know I committed a crime! But I am not American so I guess I get a get-out-of-jail-free-card! ;p!) I mention this because most people try to find a ripe tea to replace their morning coffee but I am on a mission for a morning tea for tea not coffee…

Method: Gong Fu
I used my new gaiwan (120ml) and did 2 flash rinses. Began with a 30 second steeping and increased 15 seconds in subsequent infusions.

The first infusion has a bitter aftertaste, but a good bitter, and a nice full feeling in the mouth and almost cocoa taste in the back of the tongue. However, my favorite infusions were the ones after the first two! Bitterness completely gone by the second steeping but the thicker body and cocoa notes lingered so vividly in my mouth quickly after the second steeping. Utterly pleasant! In this pu erh I do not get any mushroom or earthiness, at least not like Phatty Cake, its tenderly sweet with toffee like notes coating my tongue. Did I mention how pleasant this pu erh is? Its very pleasant and gentle! Honey hints in the middle steepings still lingering chocolately mouth feel. I lost count on how many steepings I did but I brewed this until it was almost hot water! Loved this tea so much! Need to get more later! The last infusions were more floral with a hint of cocoa, like I said, I brewed this until I couldn’t really squeeze any for flavors!

This is truly a Special Dark pu erh! Please, join the Dark side! We have tea!

Flavors: Chocolate, Cocoa, Honey

Boiling 0 min, 30 sec 5 g 4 OZ / 120 ML

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141 tasting notes

Yes, again! I woke up ridiculously early (in fact, it is still ridiculously early) and headed out to my deck for a bunch of sun salutations. In the dark.It is already 64 lovely degrees and will get into the low 80s later. Right this minute, I love Texas weather. Ask me again in mid-July though. Today will be a very indulgent day for me. I SHOULD clean my house. Instead I’m doing yoga and going for a thai massage with a friend and trying a new restaurant later.

I got a whole bunch of new tea in the last week and I had every intention of trying something different this morning. And yet. Here I am sipping on a huge steamy mug of deep, dark, chocolately awesomeness with my dogs curled up in the bed. Because this is my indulgent day and THIS is what I wanted. I steeped for 7 minutes and even put in a little half and half a wee spoon of local creamed honey.

Special Dark reminds me very much of my yin yoga practice – long deep holds that you relax into. Yin is the black side of the coin. It is soft and slow and surrender.

I have an insanely stressful job and this is helping me hit the re-set button. This tea is all bottom. Like J-Lo, Kim Kardashian kinda bottom. Big, round and and full. This tea is Barry White singing Love Serenade – its alll about the little bit of naughty slow jam: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qj1QRbhEmlU


Sounds like a great day! I love yoga and hope to get back to it some day!


“I got a whole bunch of new tea in the last week and I had every intention of trying something different this morning. And yet. Here I am sipping on a huge steamy mug of deep, dark, chocolately awesomeness …” Sounds wonderful! Garret should be very very happy!


@TeaBrat – I promise you that I am not exaggerating when I say that for me, yoga was/is absolutely life changing. There are so many kinds that you can find one that works for you and makes your life better, even if your life is just fine the way it is.

@Tman – Well a whole bunch of the new tea that came was from Garret :) – but he strikes me as a pretty happy guy in general anyway. I need to get on trying all of my new Keemuns.


It’s looseTman as opposed to Tbagman :-)


@TeaBrat – I read your post about yoga wrong. You want to get back to it – not start it. I think its naptime.


I am happy LooseTman :) tea and yoga! Yoga is amazing. Yoga is life. So happy to know more tea heads who are into yoga.


The Steepster community appears to truly enjoy your teas. I look forward to the Mandala Tea experience. Congrat’s on your success!


Thanks a ton, Tman! We are the epitome of a small business. 3 people trying to make this whole thing go so it is very gratifying to be able to feel the love, that’s for sure. I began importing tea back in 2005 but since selling my wellness center and focusing only on tea (opened this new shop exactly one year ago in Rochester, MN), it is actually happening for us. Hard work, countless hours, but more and more joy to be experienced all the time. Have a great day, my friend!


You’re welcome! May you also have a great day Garret!


Oh yeah, after a session of yin I feel like a bird flying … so wonderful… and only discovered it in my 4th decade of life after 20 years of other types of yoga! Other styles of yoga are great but yin is different. So if this tea is like yin, I am going to have to try it.

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213 tasting notes
I only did one brew with 8 grams in the yixing and only one 30 second steep so far. This is a very rich an velvety tea. It has notes of cocoa and slight hints of bittersweet chocolate also. It left me wanting another cup and I think it will eventually morph into a sweet caramel note in the later steeps. I wish I had done another cup last night while writing these notes but I will continue later today. This one has a certain “richness” that I have found only in the highest grade shous. It is a very impressive shou.

Flavors: Cocoa

Boiling 0 min, 45 sec 8 g 10 OZ / 295 ML

I love this one :)


It’s a keeper for sure. I may buy some of this and put it up for a decade and see how it is then.


I also thought it was impressive, and i’m so happy to have a decent supply of it. For now…nice to know you consider it special enough to want to age it :-)


Yeah when I can afford it and also the Green sheng I drank the other night. I just put 4 other orders in and I think I am going to be in real trouble for doing it….


(just make sure to intercept the mailman first…to avoid the kind of troubles I think you are referring to…just saying)


I better “bribe” the mailman you mean!


Haha! Now I know the extend of your troubles! Yes then, a bribe might be the only way out…(hmm, does he like good pu’erh by any chance??)


I shower my mailwoman in chocolate. And I love Special Dark.


I may have to pay out cash this time!


Any SD updates?


I think I need to pull it out again soon.

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62 tasting notes

Nothing too offense after two long rinses but nothing worth $8/oz either. I have brewed it a few different ways and still can not seem to get a “80” rating taste out of it, not a bad ripe to start with before delving into the pantheon of puer but even some big box brands ive had better and for much cheaper (still prefer rishi’s shous over this and they are almost half the price and “organic” not that it matters but it doesnt hurt).

Boiling 0 min, 30 sec 4 g 100 OZ / 2957 ML

Hi!! This is Garret from Mandala Tea, wishing you a great day. I am sorry to hear that you have not been enjoying the Special Dark. It is a very big seller here for us, but not every tea can be loved by every person.

Just out of curiosity, can you tell me what you are using for water when you prepare your tea. There can be some HUGE differences in the tea depending of the water one uses to make it. Let me know when you get a chance. I’m interested to see if that may be part of what is giving you such a different experience for this (or any other tea).

Joy and good health to you!!

Jiāng Luo

Im honored and embarrassed someone from the company of the tea I reviewed is replying(thank you for the sample of gaba black btw). Until recently I was using the filtered water from my refrigerator but the city works cut off my water last week and I have been using spring bottled water. I do not believe it is water quality but I was curious about your recommended steeping times for my gaiwan I have learned this shou tasted better after two long rinses.


I love it when I have the chance to reply to users on Steepster, I am the one who is honored :) Please don’t be embarrassed. I hope you enjoy the GABA black. It is a tie guan yin varietal leaf fully oxidized into a black tea. It’s been quite popular since we began importing it. It has a sweetness to it and also the typical tie guan yin slight sourness. Very interesting tea.

Spring water is good. I just really recommend that people stay away from RO water or distilled because of the lack of minerals. Can’t get the taste from the tea without the minerals. It is always a good idea to use water without chlorine in it, too, as that chemical tends to really zap tea of its flavor.

As far as ripe style pu’er teas, I typically do two (boiling) rinses of about 5 to 10 seconds if the tea is loose leaf, slightly longer if it is compressed. With the special dark, I start with steepings around 15 seconds and slowly increase from there. That’s how I like it. Others report using less leaf and doing longer steepings. I’m always telling people to experiment and see how they like it prepared in various ways. Some drinkers allow the brewed tea to cool a bit in the cup before they sip and that does change the characteristics of the tea somewhat. Fun to see what might make it your cup of tea :)

Great to have some conversation about it. Thank you! Garret

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618 tasting notes

This is one of those teas that seems to get a lot of attention, and is especially popular in swaps. I got my sample that way.

So, I was really debating on how to brew this baby up this morning, since I know it’s a re-steep master. And so I read a lot of people doing many short steeps, increasing steep time as they went along. I also noted the power steepers…the ones that steeped for very long periods of the…so what was I going to do?

Because I was working today, I opted to kind of mix the two. I had my usual two travel mugs of tea…my kids mug and timolino. Normally when I steep in the morning, it is the same tea, and I split each steep between mugs as to minimize the weaker steep. Today though, I didn’t do it that way. Kids mug was first steep since that one cools off faster than the timolino. Also, I opted for 1-2 minutes on the first and 2-3 minuets on the second (and the time it took me to do dishes on the third when I got home). I’m quite accustomed to a dark pu erh, so it was no biggie…I just didn’t have the time to sit and steep multiple times today, but maybe on a later day I will. Also, it was effing cold out this morning, and a deeper richer brew was A-OK with me, to be perfectly honest. The fact that it is so coffee-like with a dark brew was hearty and warming.

Do I like this? Hellz yeah. I had it with milk and sugar and it was smooth, a bit sweet and chocolatey. On this third brew, there is no astringency, no fishiness, not much earthy, or sour. It’s smooth and creamy and sweet and yummy.

It’s definitely one of the better pu erh teas I have had. I have a little of the sample pouch left, so I may look into the alternate steeping, and may not use milk or sugar.

But this is a win, so thanks to CrowKettle for tossing the rest of this package my way.

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39 tasting notes

while still tasty, I think I’ve had this so much it’s losing its complexity to me and is starting to seem pretty one-note—still, when I want something dark and nutty, I reach for it :)

most recently, been loving butter tea with this.

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