Special Dark

Tea type
Pu-erh Tea
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Cocoa, Dark Bittersweet, Malt, Cacao, Cherry, Cookie, Fig, Stonefruits, Chocolate, Mushrooms, Smooth, Cherry Wood, Oak wood, Sawdust, Wood, Dark Chocolate, Caramel, Leather, Earth, Bitter, Grain, Hay, Plums, Baked Bread, Brown Sugar, Raisins, Honey, Dates, Stewed Fruits, Cream, Nuts
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Edit tea info Last updated by Jason
Average preparation
Boiling 2 min, 15 sec 6 g 10 oz / 301 ml

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129 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.

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129 Tasting Notes

134 tasting notes

Drinking this exactly as I always have (because why mess with something so good!?)
10 sec steep/rinse

30 sec 1st steep: Mineral and dark baked quick bread, with walnut and caramel.
As I’m sipping, my youngest is skipping through an Adventure Time dvd, trying to locate a specific episode, so this tasting is being accompanied by the AT theme song…over and over. Is it just me, or do the new episodes of that show just not stack up to the old ones? I’m much more of a “Regular Show” appreciator now…. Haven’t had a cup of this in awhile, and I really did miss it. So good!

45 sec 2nd steep: Oh, do I love the colour of the second cup (as always). The scent is completely brown sugared quick bread, all crusty and caramelized on top. The taste is nutty, with a mineral end note. I love how it leaves my mouth feeling so bright, with the aroma being so deep… a contrast I really appreciate.

60 sec 3rd steep: tingly tongue and gorgeous cup colour. So light and refreshing, this cup is on the end note, but with that dark chocolate lead in that just knocks my socks off. Cocoa powder and almonds… mmmmmmm……


Mmmmmm – I love this too. You of course should drink it however it makes you happy. I love it western brewed – 2 tsp – 450 ml yixing pot – 8-10 minutes. Either way, it’s a special tea…. :))


now, I am going to have to try it western brewed. I don’t have a yixing pot, though. (yixing is SO gorgeous!!)


The pot I use for special dark is still fairy new so it still has a little of the clay/mineral taste to it – that taste just goes so well with this tea. If you love it short steeped you should drink it that way – I just meant that it’s really versatile and you can drink it lots of different ways. :)) http://instagram.com/p/w5O59buE-v/?modal=true


That pot. THAT POT!! So beautiful!
That setup is really divine… the cup is so pretty!
No, I totally got that that was what you were saying, and I so appreciate you saying it, because that’s what I love most about tea (especially when you get one like this…); there are so many ways to make a single cup of tea, and exploring them all is the most fun part of tea drinking.
Thanks for sharing that photo! :D


Thanks – I have a bit of a teaware addiction…..


I did this one western style and I really liked it.

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2271 tasting notes


So I really don’t like pu’erh teas. Perhaps one day my tastes will develop enough that I grow to enjoy them but so far that has not happened. Nonetheless, Cavocorax was generous enough to share a sample of this with me so I figured it was at least worth trying it.

When I first sniffed the dry leaf, there was nothing offensive about the smell so that was comforting. I boiled the kettle, rinsed the leaves for 30 seconds, and that brought out the fishy pu’erh scent that I hate so nerves kicked in. I then steeped the tea for 30 seconds and the result is not as bad as I anticipated given the smell while rinsing. Luckily, there is no fishy taste in this cup however, it is not the cup of liquid chocolate that so many others seemed to experience either. Instead, it is a little bit mushroom and a little bit of dark chocolate and I don’t know about you guys but chocolate-covered mushrooms seems like a weird snack. Ultimately, though this is far more tolerable than other pu’erhs I have tried, I just don’t think I am a pu’erh fan. I am very grateful to Cavo for the chance to try this out though because it has received so much love on steepster lately that I was actually a bit curious. Plus, if I can’t enjoy this one, I feel it is safe to say that pu’erh is just “not my cup of tea” (sorry for that :P).


I’m the same way, it makes me feel like something is lacking me somehow, but maybe with time…


Maybe. I mean, I never thought I would outgrow my flavored black stage but more and more I find myself reaching for straight blacks so perhaps pu’erh will come with time. Though, tbh, it is nice being able to completely overlook a type of tea when shopping.


I am in that same place, starting to want straight blacks more and more.


Mmm, chocolate covered mushrooms. ;) I think the earthy/mushroomy taste is super neat, but it’s not something I crave often. I drink the flavoured bready puerh teas way more frequently.


I got mushrooms too. But I like it with cream :)


I tend to steep this for a long time – like 8 minutes? It brings the chocolate out, but I can’t say if it enhances the mushrooms or not…

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277 tasting notes

Method 1: 1.5 tsp, 4 oz, 208 degrees, seconds: 30, 45, 60, ru kiln gaiwan. Then I blended these together to make 1 cup of tea

Method 2: 1 tbsp, 8 oz, 208 degrees, grandpa style

Method 3: Slightly less than 1 tbsp, 8 oz, 195 degrees, 2 and 3 minutes, Forlife brew-in-mug strainer, Dr. Who mug

Dry Leaf Aroma: chocolatey forest. This smells like Pennsylvania forests when you’re out for a nice hike. But then someone came along and dumped chocolate in the forest!

Brewing Aroma: Cocoa and stuff. It smells pleasant, but earthy. I can’t pick out the exact thing it reminds me of.

Flavor: The first method used shorter steeps. It was good, but it didn’t knock me off my feet. I could taste some of the chocolate notes, but it didn’t seem to have as much complexity as I expected.

The second method was quite unpleasant. The package says you can’t oversteep pu’erh. Since I love grandpa style tea so much (lazy), I decided to just let it sit and see what happened. Well I beg to differ, but you certainly CAN oversteep pu’erh! LOL. I call this one: The Burninator. It tasted like burnt dirt.

The third method was the goldilocks. Finally, woo! I took a sample out at one minute, two minutes and three minutes. Two and three were the best. I think I actually liked two the best, but you can’t go back! So I drank it at 3 minutes. The flavor is kind of hard to describe. I can taste a little cocoa, and some earthy flavors, but I can’t put my finger on them. I haven’t had many pu’erhs, so maybe I’ll get better at that as I go along. It’s a very rich tea. I suspect it would go well with some decadent dessert. I’ll be trying that soon! I would definitely buy this again.

195 °F / 90 °C 3 min, 0 sec 3 tsp 8 OZ / 236 ML
Cameron B.



Burninating the countryside, burninating the peasants!

Cameron B.

Burninating all the people in their THATCHED ROOF COTTAGESSSSSSSSSS!



If you add some milk and sugar or maple syrup you can have a nice treat ;)


We need someone to make a Trogdor tea.

Cameron B.

Definitely lapsang souchong…


Boychik: I’ll try that when I buy some more maple syrup!

Cameron: Totally agree. Maybe I’ll buy some and make a blend. :)

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294 tasting notes

As soon as the hot water hit this, and I got a whiff of pond water, I started to panic. What did I do? What did I get myself into? Why did I trust all the reviews. This isn’t going to taste sweet and chocolaty and caramelly. This is going to taste like licking pond scum. I stood there in fear during that 1st 30 second steep.

Tentatively, I took a sip. Nearly holding my breath, it seemed like it took an extra second for my mind to register what I was tasting. Hm, what’s this? This isn’t pond water at all! I don’t really know what to say about that first sip. I was baffled, no bad notes about it. I didn’t really taste any cocoa in those first few sips. It was much lighter than I expected, sweet, and almost caramelly. By the time I finished my first cup, I had decided I needed to skip class today and continue to experience this tea (I mean I didn’t have my notebook, that’s why I skipped class. Not because of tea. Good girls don’t skip class because of tea).

Second infusion, I went 45 seconds, and this time I got more cocoa notes. Again I was pleasantly surprised by the fact that puerh isn’t as dark and bitter and I guess straight coffee-ish as I expected. This is my first straight puerh, and the only other one I had was minty so I didn’t like it. But this? This is good.

I followed the increase by 15 seconds directions until the 5th steep, where I went up by a minute. MMM I’m definitely getting cocoa powder this time. And caramel. I drank about half the cup, and then saw the Ghiradelli Dark Chocolate with SeaSalt Caramel squares on the counter. I dropped on into my cup, and made up the 6th infusion (3 minutes) and poured that into too. Oh my decadence. This is like sweet sinful chocolate dessert in a cup. So chocolaty, with notes of caramel, some almost nuttiness, and a sort of earthiness. This is like a very complex and delicious hot chocolate. Oh my word. I’m sure I can get some more out of those leaves, but for now my tummy is nice and full and satisfied.

Not bad at all for what essentially is my first puerh, and my first Mandala order!

205 °F / 96 °C 3 tsp 8 OZ / 236 ML

I really regret not trying this when it was in a TTB.


Its really good! I can send you some if you like?


Sure! Let me know if there’s something in my cupboard you would like in exchange.


(warning, my cupboard isn’t 100% up to date. I’m hoping to clean it up this weekend, but it’s mostly accurate.)


Thanks for writing this up, Mandy! What a great ending to the story :) Yay!

Cheri – until midnight tonight you can check out all kinds of our loose ripe pu’er for 50% off. We’ve never done this kind of sale in 9 years of importing tea. If you have any questions, let me know. http://shopmandalatea.com/sale-items.html

I hope you are both having a super sweet day! Garret


I saw in one of your tasting notes that you have Milk Oolong from ThePeriTea coming in. If you’re willing to part with some I’d love to try that! I meant to order some Milk Oolong from Mandala and was so mad when I realized I forgot. If not I’d also love to try Lemon French Macaron from Butiki (:


Phew! Mandy I’m so happy you got your fairytale ending with Special Dark, yay!!!


My Mandala order arrived today and I gave this one a try, but I am going to try again before I write it up. I definitely found some chocolate/cocoa, but it wasn’t sweet or caramelly. I liked it, but I think I can get more out of this.


I’m tempted, Garret, but I’m completely new to pu’er. I wouldn’t know what to order, and I’d be worried I’d order the wrong thing. I think even though it’s an amazing deal, I’m going to have to sit this one out. I’ll try the sample of it from Mandy, and see what I think.


Sarsonator how long did you steep it for? I saw a lot of people found more cocoa and caramel coming out with longer steeps. Also the more times I steeped it the more caramel and cocoa seemed to come out. And if you aren’t against sweetening your tea, a touch of sweetener really draws out those notes

Cheri I also got Temple Stairs in my order, I haven’t tried it yet but I’d be more than happy to send you a bit of that too. It’s supposed to be a good beginner puerh from what I understand. Probably what I should have started with but I went for this one instead. I’m a complete newbie to puerhs too (;


I’d be interested, sure.


I did 30, 45, 60. I’ll try one long steep and see how that goes. :)


Don’t tell garret, but I cheat….I do five minutes. Then I go mmmmmm!!!

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169 tasting notes

I think I’m just not cut out to like Pu-erh. It’s not from lack of trying. I’ve bought a half-dozen samples from various sources, but never pu-erh specialists. I was excited about the unfavored TTB, primarily because it promised an importunity to sample many of the highest-rated pu-erhs. If I didn’t like those, then pu-erh just wasn’t for me. My first attempt (Mandala Wild Monk) didn’t end to well, though some of the blame may fall on my steeping technique. This was my second attempt.

Not wanting to use too much of a limited sample, I went western-style. The nose was light. The flavors were deep and dark; earthy with hints of chocolate and a tinge of bitterness. Not exciting me the way I hoped it would. Reminds me a bit of a medium-quality Yunnan. As it cooled, I could hold it in my mouth longer, and feel the power and complexity, but the flavor profile isn’t one that I enjoy: earthy and woody and dark. I wound up rating this fairly high because it was interesting, but it isn’t a tea that I would buy.

200 °F / 93 °C 3 min, 0 sec 1 g 6 OZ / 177 ML

Awww :( sorry you didn’t care for it Dr Jim. This tea is my boyfriend that I will never break up with. I have some every morning. And it’s another illustration of how differently we all taste things.


Perhaps: 5 g / 10 oz / 212 / rinse / 5 min, 10 min ?

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1027 tasting notes

(From the Unflavored Traveling Tea Box)

MzPriss wrote a tea note earlier today saying this tea took her to her happy place. Since she was kind enough to add some of this to the tea box I thought I’d give it a try and see if it took me to a happy place, too.

Whoa… this is crazy good. MzPriss recommended a 7 minute steep, but I wussed out at 4 minutes after doing a quick rinse. The resulting liquor was very dark and the smell was earthy. The first few sips I drank plain. The taste was unsweetened cocoa and earth with maybe a hint of something nutty in the aftertaste. After adding a bit of sweetener I tasted dark chocolate and stone-fruit. There was still some of the earthy flavor and a definite nuttiness in the aftertaste. Like I said, crazy good.

I did a second steep of the leaves for 8 minutes. It was longer than I intended, but I wasn’t as worried this time. Since I was experimenting I added sugar and milk to my cup. Now I taste chocolate and caramel. As the tea cools I get more of the earthy, kind of spicy notes in the tea.

So, here is another tea I’m going to buy. This tea is begging to be experimented with. I want to try much shorter steeps, very long first steeps, all day sessions… this is a tea of wonderful possibilities.

Boiling 4 min, 0 sec

Yes, so good this one!


This is my comfort tea. I promise you can do a 7 minute steep on this. But it’s great gong fu’d too – I just don’t have time very often.


I can totally see how a 7 minute first steep would be amazing! I’m leaving the rest in the box for others to enjoy, but I’ll pick up some of my own very soon. :)

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77 tasting notes

Oh Special Dark, I had such high expectations from you. Maybe I read too many reviews, maybe I just put you on a pedestal before even drinking you.

But you taste thin :( and dare I say almost weak? Now don’t go feeling bad, compared to a regular black tea you are a fine specimen. I just…expected more from you. I wanted you to work so badly. I did short gong fu steeps and long western steeps but you never lived up to my expectations.

I think the next time we work together it might be best to gasp add some milk and sugar but there’s only so many times I can stand the disappointment, It’s not your fault , I know there are plenty of others that love you and I may have to pass you along to one of them.

I cringe as I rate you but I must be truthful. I’m sure you are a good tea, we just aren’t soul mates.


Lol, to each their own. I really like it but I overleaf a little, have you tried that?


How long did you steep? I like 1 tbs per 8oz boiled water for 5 minutes. It is all cocoalicious then! :(


I’ve done quite a few steeping parameters but haven’t found any that work. I do tend to underleaf in general but with this tea I’m trying not to.

How much do you overleaf by TeaFairy? I might give it another go. I really really want to like this tea!

It doesn’t ever taste bad. It’s just kinda meh.


That’s why I think you may be under-leafing it, cause to me it’s so flavourful, tastes like chocolate covered raisins! I weigh it, and use 7g for a 6oz Gaiwan. I brew for just a few seconds the first steeps.

If I do it western style, it’s the same as Stephanie, a full tablespoon for about 5 min.


Do you prefer the western or the gaiwan?


Honestly, I’d always prefer Gongfu over Western if it wasn’t for the time consuming issue. But I have to say this one works really well both ways, IMHO.


LOL LOVE this one – two big tsp/8oz steep forever – 9 minutes is not too long – IMHO it just keeps getting darker and richer the longer you steep it…


Ok I’m going to do a really long steep with tons of leaf tonight and see how it turns out.

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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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619 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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614 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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