74 Tasting Notes
As someone who mainly drinks young raw pu’er for the time being, probably my main issue with aged teas has been that it is hard to find teas where the quality of the base material matches the teas I’m used to drinking, and even if you find some the prices can get absolutely ridiculous and verifying the authenticity of the tea challenging unless you are dealing with a vendor whom you trust to trust that the tea is what it claims to be. While Hai Lang may not have started out as such, today he is mainly known for his more premium productions. This tea falls somewhere in between, being made from older trees yet remaining quite affordable despite having some age on it already. While familiar with the name, I don’t believe I’d had tea from Nannuo before. I believe it’s located somewhere in Menghai county, possibly somewhere in the vicinity of Bulang, but that’s about the extent of my knowledge.
For this session I used 5g of tea in a 75ml Yixing zhuni clay teapot. The pot is new, having only been used once before for a more casual session with this very same tea, but since this type of clay is in part appreciated for the less dramatic effect it has on tea compared to other types of zisha, I wouldn’t expect it to absorb too much of the flavors even this new. I rinsed the leaves briefly for under ten seconds and gave them a couple of minutes to absorb the moisture before proceeding. I did a total of eleven infusions, the timing for these being 10s, 8s, 10s, 15s, 20s, 30s, 45s, 75s, 2 min., 3 min. and 4 min.
The Nannuo started off very full-bodied and creamy. Really, really thick. There wasn’t much taste yet, but the sticky soup coated the surfaces of your mouth. The taste was creamy, sweet and mineral, with some hints of underlying bitterness or smokiness. The finish in particular had a subtle sour smokiness to it. Steep two was thick and creamy still. Sweeter, with more clear bitterness now. This was a bitterness that transforms into sweetness, leaving your mouth really sweet and a tad spicy.
Some astringency emerged in the third infusion. Nothing major yet, though. Otherwise it remained largely unchanged. Full-bodied, sweet, with a pleasant bitterness that turns into sweetness, leaving my tongue slightly numb afterwards. The fourth steep was the same deal, but now slightly drying and also boasting a nice caramel note in the finish.
The next four steeps did not bring much change. Brew number six was noteworthy though for its almost immediate huigan. Somewhere along the way the bitterness ceased being pleasant, turning into something less so. After this, starting with the ninth steep, the tea acquired a somewhat honied character to it, whereas the bitterness and sweetness were more muted compared to before.
While still possessing plenty of body in the tenth steep, the flavors were definitely getting thinner now. The tea was mainly sweet, but also bitter in the finish. The color had faded substantially by the final steep. While there was an adequate amount of flavor still, the tea was also starting to feel quite watery by this point. I decided to call the session there.
All in all the 2010 Nannuo was an okay tea. The material is definitely better than your standard factory production, but didn’t necessarily strike me as high-end. There is huigan and transforming bitterness — things you’d look for in, say, a Bulang tea — but overall I didn’t find anything particularly memorable or special about this tea. While the quality is better than some similarly aged daily drinkers from Bulang, I’d personally rather drink some of those teas than this one.
While taste-wise I imagine this tea hasn’t changed all too much from when it was young, the age is most evident in the texture and mouthfeel. The texture is definitely that of an aged tea which you don’t get in younger teas. While not a weak tea, the Nannuo doesn’t necessarily possess the amount of strength I would like to see in a tea to have confidence that it won’t go flat over the years. I’m not entirely sure how a tea like this would age, but based on how it is right now, it feels like it has a long way to go still.
Flavors: Astringent, Bitter, Caramel, Creamy, Honey, Mineral, Smoke, Sweet
The handful of young raws I’ve had from Jing Mai in the past have all made me conclude that I didn’t particularly like the general characteristic they shared. Despite this I actually bought a cake of this particular tea blind back when it was released. Why did I do this? There were two influencing factors. First, my track record with Yunnan Sourcing brand raw pu’ers has been generally very good. I tend to like the kind of teas Scott sources. Second, before this tea, I believe Scott hadn’t pressed a Jing Mai tea since 2013. For him to decide to press this one and especially at such a high price point for Yunnan Sourcing, that gave me confidence that if there was any Jing Mai I might like, this one had hope.
As Jing Mai is famous for its fragrance, but pu’er processed for the longterm generally requires time to develop fragrance, it was obvious to me to give a tea like this at least this much time before trying it out. Since my precious little cake is intended for storage, I went ahead and ordered a sample for this session to avoid having to break into it. This also makes my notes more comparable to those ordering a sample for themselves as it removes the influence of over a year in my own storage. Surprisingly, what I received was essentially just a single piece of the cake. I’m used to receiving my YS 10g samples totally loose. Fortunately I knew from experience to weigh mine, because my scale ended up displaying 11.4g. This was just about the perfect amount for my 165ml silver lined gaiwan, so that’s what I ended up using.
I gave the tea a brief five second rinse followed by a five minute rest while I sipped the wash. The compression on my piece at least was quite tight compared to what I’m used to seeing from Yunnan Sourcing, but I could have been dealing with a part closer to the center of the bing, although I couldn’t tell. Because of the tightness, the wash was essentially still quite light and watery, but already nice and oily though. There was a nice, floral aroma in the finish, possibly jasmine. Really wonderful finish. I proceeded to do a total of nine infusions, the timing for these being 7s, 7s, 10s, 15s, 20s, 30s, 45s, 75s and 2 min.
The tea started off soft, oily and floral — unlike any other Jing Mai I’ve had. Absent were the honied and strong mineral notes and instead it was like drinking nectar from a bouquet of flowers. I’m very unfamiliar with flowers, but I’ve had jasmine tea a few times and I’d say for me jasmine is one of the most prominent floral notes in this. The tea left a nice lingering floral sweetness in the mouth. Had this been served to me blind, I don’t think I would have guessed Jing Mai. The softness made me think of lighter, gentler Yiwus or perhaps Xigui. So far I was quite impressed, and surprised.
Whereas the first infusion was still quite light, the second one was already quite strong. You wouldn’t necessarily expect that from a tea with such light, delicate and subtle notes. But that’s Scott for ya, he likes to source strong teas, and I like to drink them. If the tea had still been somewhat subtle in the first steep, it was now full on floral. It was an amazing experience to drink and produced a nice tingling sensation at the back of the mouth.
By the time I got to the third steep, my tongue was already so covered with the various compounds from the tea that I could basically taste it just by bringing the aromatic soup to my mouth and breathing in through it. The flower fest continued, but now there was also some underlying young raw earthiness present. This earthiness rose to dominate the tea in the fourth infusion, while the flowers continued their strong presence in the finish. While a bit thinner than before, the tea was still quite, quite strong. After finishing the cup, it felt like the tea was massaging my throat, which was really nice.
The tea became slightly dry and almost dirt-tasting in the next steep. Dry in a good way. This developed even further in the sixth infusion, which was really refreshing and juicy to start with and then turned dry in the finish. This created a cycle of you wanting to drink more and more tea. Both the taste and body feel were wonderful, euphoric almost. Mmm, so good.
The juicy, refreshing and earthy character continued in the seventh steep, but the jasmine from the beginning was now back or at least revealed again from underneath the earthier tones, unearthed you could say. The Jing Mai finally began to fall off in the eighth infusion. It was still quite strong actually, with some sweetness now beginning to emerge, but the tea was clearly in its twilight now. There was actually still a very decent amount of body, more than your typical pu’er at this stage. Very strong lingering aromatics as well. I could have easily still carried on after the ninth steep, but the tea was beginning to approach your standard leaf juice, and while there was still plenty of flavor and the tea wasn’t watery at all, I expected things to only be downhill from there and so decided to call it there.
This is yet another case of me making a very fortunate blind purchase. I couldn’t be much happier with this tea. The quality is very high and the experience was quite unique among the ones I’ve had. This is most certainly the most floral tea I’ve had and no slouch at all in terms of strength. A great demonstration of how delicateness and subtlety don’t mean a tea has to be weak. Fans of high-end Yiwu will be right at home with this tea and while it does not compete with the best of the $1/g teas, it is very competitive at its price point. With this kind of quality and strength, I would expect a tea like this to age beautifully.
Flavors: Dirt, Drying, Earth, Floral, Jasmine
This was among the first bings I ever bought, yet it has remained untouched until now. I picked this up in early 2017, back when this tea would have still been very young. Unwrapping it now for the first time, I’m surprised by how autumnal the colors have already turned, veering more toward brown than green. The cake looks good, the leaves intact and pressed in the traditional manner. I used seven grams in my 100ml gaiwan. Sub-ten second rinse, followed by a five minute rest while I sipped the wash. The tea was sweet, milky, peachy. Nice body and mouthfeel. Soft, thick and slick. Plenty of minerals as well. Long finish. Promising so far.
I proceeded to do eight more infusions, the timing for these being 7s, 7s, 10s, 15s, 20s, 30s, 45s and 75s respectively. The first steep was similar to the wash, just slightly less of everything. Less flavor, less body, more rock minerals pushing through. The tea was still milky, sweet and a touch fruity. The liquor was very soft and welcoming – very feminine. The tea really left your tongue tasting like you’d just licked a rock. Not saying that in a negative sense, just an attribute of the tea. Again, a long aftertaste.
Second infusion had a sharp mineral and metallic taste. I was less impressed than before, but still held hope for this tea. The texture was still nice as was the gentle fruity sweetness which was now starting to veer more toward apricot. The apricot was much more upfront in the next steep where it became very prominent. It wasn’t too sweet, which I liked, but also not too dry. The tea was slightly refreshing, yet made you yearn for more. There was a slight milkiness to the finish. The minerals present in the earlier infusions were still there of course, but they were staying out of the spotlight for now.
The following steep was as good as the previous, if not better. Soft, fruity, jammy. Nice mouthfeel, nice sweetness. It felt like I was almost getting some vanilla now, although the note shared a lot in common with metallic so not sure which it was. The tea left my mouth incredibly sweet, crazy sweet. My tongue also became restless and wouldn’t keep still.
Starting with the fifth steep, the body began to get thinner. The flavors were also less clear now. I was getting some apricot, minerals and garden soil still. The finish was slightly drying now. Not necessarily in a bad way, some might like it. The flavor began dropping fast as well starting with the next brew. While that steep was still okay, increasing levels of nastiness began to emerge in the last two steeps and I ended up tossing the last one. While it’s possible the tea could have still recovered and gotten over this bump, I decided to call it there.
While unsure what to expect going in, I was actually pleasantly surprised by this tea. I used to also have a cake of its spring counterpart, but upon revisiting it some months back I ended up gifting it to a friend to make room in my pumidor as I still wasn’t terribly impressed with it. I found this tea quite enjoyable, even if very generic in its flavor profile. As a daily drinker it works well though and assuming it’s been properly processed I can definitely see it aging quite well. While there are plenty of other great alternatives out there, as a first introduction to raw pu’er this one would definitely serve quite well.
Now more knowledgeable about pu’er than back when I bought this cake, it puzzles me that this tea costs the same as the spring, when usually autumn harvest sells for half the price if not less. Putting that aside, 28¢/g for an Yiwu is not bad. Definitely not cheap, especially for autumn, but if you’re looking for something to drink now and aren’t looking for the absolute best value for your money, you can do worse than this tea. There are some absolute bomb autumn Yiwus out there, though, as long as you’re willing to look and especially if you’re willing to pay just a little more. When it comes to spring, I would also look into huang pian as it offers some amazing value.
Flavors: Apricot, Drying, Earth, Metallic, Milk, Mineral, Peach, Sweet
I grabbed a cake of this almost exactly a year ago. I’ve been letting it chill, but finally it felt like the time to break this bad boy out. The compression is tighter than I personally prefer to deal with and you’ll inevitably end up creating some tea dust. For this session I used a 160ml Yixing zini teapot that’s a fairly new acquisition, but one that I’ve been using a fair bit to try to break it in. Initially when I got it it cleaned up the taste to a ridiculous degree absorbing virtually all of the base notes. I ended up bumping up the normal ratio of 12g that I use for shu to 16g just to get the strength to match my Jianshui pot of the same size. I’ve been gradually able to bring the ratio back down to around 12g and I’m still trying to decide if I need to go even slightly below that on average, because many of the teas are still turning up quite potent even for my tastes. The tea the pot is brewing up is really good now and this was the first time I felt confident enough in using it for a review. The difference between Jianshui and Yixing zini is night and day, but I’m not going to get into my impressions on that here as I’m still discovering them myself.
For this session I ended up using 11.5g. I was considering going with 11g just in case this tea was potent, but ended up with a compromise between 11 and 12g. I did a single 10s rinse followed by a rest of five to ten minutes to allow the moisture to seep in and prime the leaves. I forwent my trusty Jianshui clay teacup this time around just because I felt like it and since I’ve found that with the zini pot I don’t find it an absolute necessity unlike when brewing in Jianshui. I did ten infusions, the timing for these being 12s, 10s, 10s, 12s, 15s, 18s, 30s, 45s, 75s and 2 min. respectively.
The first thing I noticed about Storm Breaker was its smoothness. This tea is very smooth. The body was light to medium to start with and the texture quite nice and unique. While there were some earthier notes present of course, the tea was fairly bright overall. I tasted a subtle sweetness that lay somewhere between a berry and a caramel sweetness. In the second infusion those darker notes became more prominent and there was now a touch of bitterness in the finish as well. The tea became increasingly more bittersweet once it cooled, ending up tasting like the darkest of the dark chocolates, just without the chocolate. The quality of this tea was already evident to me at this point.
The third brew presented a mix between the profiles of the first two by combining the berries from the first with the bitter notes from the second which were also now joined by new roasted notes. The result was kind of like a really gentle and refined coffee, one that as a non-coffee drinker I could imagine the fancier coffees possibly tasting like. This was nothing like the generic shus that are often reminiscent of diluted or cheap coffee, but seldom the good stuff. This was the best steep so far. This is a very elegant tea.
In the fourth infusion we were beginning to lose some of that nice texture. At the same time the background bitterness was quite high now. The tea was dominated by bitter, roasted and coffee notes. A touch of the berry sweetness peeked its head in the fifth brew, but this got overpowered by the bitterness. On the other hand I was noticing some mouth cooling now. At this point it was also becoming clear that this tea can take a toll on the body, especially if brewed strong, and I would recommend keeping some snacks on hand.
Steep six was sweeter, brighter, with less bitterness, but also somewhat weaker than the other infusions because I held back on the time afraid the tea might get too strong otherwise. Texture was good still, feeling very expansive in the mouth. At this point I found myself craving some more development from this tea.
I haven’t talked about the color of the liquor yet, but this tea brews up a dark red. Steep seven is when I was able to barely make out the bottom of my white porcelain cup. The flavor was bright, but still quite bitter. The tea was starting to get creamier, both in taste and texture. The soup was at its thickest now, impressively thick. I was actually finding it very hard to swallow as my commands weren’t getting through. The following infusion was thinner, but smooth still. There was quite an alcoholic tinge to the finish, or at least that’s how I’d describe it as a non-drinker. Overall the general presentation of this steep was quite wine-like, something I associate with certain Menghai area ripes I notice.
The second-to-last infusion was very nice. Sweet and sticky – very reminiscent of a plethora of shus out there, just a much better version of them. I’d likely describe the sweetness as approaching date-like. The tea was so sweet it almost hurt. Mouthfeel and texture remained supreme compared to most average shus. The tenth steep was the last one I did. In it we pretty much returned back to the beginning with the berries and generic sweetness, but this time with a slight alcoholic tinge to it all and thinner texture overall. Mouthfeel remained nice – smooth and lubricating – and there was a somewhat refreshing quality to the tea now. I could tell that we were at the tail end now, though, and I decided to call it there just to be safe and avoid ruining good memories with a bad experience.
I’m happy to report that Storm Breaker’s promises of being made from higher quality material than typically used for shu are very evident in the cup. The smooth mouthfeel is definitely one of the standout qualities and the flavors are very refined and clearly defined. While I found the tea to lack some development and be dominated by bitterness in the middle steeps, this eventually corrected itself and my slightly reserved opinion eventually turned into a positive one. This tea actually brews out a lot like a raw pu’er if you think about it, and looking at the leaves at the end of the session they are actually possibly the lightest I’ve seen in ripe, very similar to Yiwu Rooster but possibly even paler. I haven’t had a raw that’s been dry stored for a number of decades, but I could imagine one that still had bitterness left after all that time being somewhat reminiscent of this tea. While drinkable now with maybe a slightly lighter hand or if you like the bitterness, this is definitely a tea made for the long term, with great care from great material. This is genuinely one of those shus I can easily see people wanting to age for ten years and more – two decades is definitely no joke. I’m not saying you have to, I’m saying you can. That should say something about the tea.
Did I like this tea? I had a good session with it. What does that mean? I think the quality is high and I’m interested to see where this tea will go. There were infusions that I enjoyed very much, but for me the time to drink this tea is not now. This was a nice glimpse into the tea, but now I’m going to be tucking it away in my pumidor for a number of years, to be revisited sparingly to conserve this precious tea. Would I have purchased a cake if this were just a sample? I’m pretty sure I would have. Even among the ripes made from “better material,” this is one of the ones that stands out. I’d consider this a sheng drinker’s shu, as the quality and character of the original material is still being allowed to shine through.
If nothing more, Storm Breaker is definitely worth a sample. As alternative recommendations, this one reminded me in a way of Bitterleaf’s Plum Beauty ripe at least in terms of quality. Hai Lang Hao’s Yi Shan Mo ripe is also of course a personal favorite of mine. All occupy virtually the same price point, so they would make for a great comparison. At ten bucks cheaper than Crimson Lotus’s Black Gold, I prefer this tea over that one.
Flavors: Alcohol, Berries, Bitter, Coffee, Creamy, Dark Bittersweet, Dates, Earth, Roasted, Sweet
I received a free sample of this with an order a while back. I’ve also tried the regular Eden some months back, but at the time concluded it needed more time. My sample was essentially just a single piece of the brick. I didn’t have my more accurate scale on hand, but a simple kitchen scale that only has a display resolution of one gram hovered between 17 and 18g. I ended up using the whole thing in my 250ml Yixing clay teapot (Ben Shan Duan Ni). Massive, I know, but it brews amazing tea and the clay and craftsmanship are just stunning. Relative to the size the pour is actually really fast, seven seconds according to my mental clock, and the tea just shoots out like from a jet engine. Unfortunately I was forced to use a gooseneck kettle for this session and filling the pot full with it takes forever. Under such circumstances I would have never loaded in 17 grams for most teas, but since this was Yiwu, since it was huang pian and since it was all just a single tightly compressed chunk, I knew it would work out.
Just smelling the sample bag was quite an affair. Really fruity, with an artificial, candy-like quality to it. Then it clicked: gummy bears. The dry leaf smells just like gummy bears! I did a ten second rinse followed by a five minute rest while I sipped the wash. The liquor was mineral and fruity. More flavorful than you’d expect from just a single piece of compressed tea. I proceeded to do nine infusions, the timing for these being 20s, 16s, 16s, 16s, 18s, 20s, 25s, 35s and 75s. Sixteen seconds essentially represents a flash brew in this case given the kettle I was using to fill up the pot.
Little Eden lite started off light, mineral, slightly buttery with a bit of a sparkly mineral water sensation of the tongue. As the tea cooled, hints of fruitiness and sweetness started to emerge. After struggling to identify the fruit, the picture finally became clear and I knew what I was tasting: bananas, fried bananas with slight caramelization. That’s a new one for me.
Virtually every steep was very mineral, slightly sweet and varying degrees of fruity so I’m not going to repeat those things. Steep two saw the fruit moving from banana to perhaps a more peachy direction. Starting with the third infusion the tea started to feel quite easygoing, refreshing, hydrating and somewhat lubricating.
For the fourth steep I broke up the still largely intact large chunk into three smaller chunks and this really helped the color, which became immediately more yellow instead of pale and clear. The flavor was really nice now, not that I had complaints before, really fruity, really, really fruity. Not too sweet, not too dry. This tea is more mineral than I usually prefer, but overall it’s a very minor thing. The fruitiness was now a cocktail of bananas and a stone fruit of some sort.
The fruit moved toward apricot in the fifth infusion. I’m not sure if I was actually tasting some wood in the sixth steep or just thinking I could see this tea developing some of those notes in ten years’ time, but at this point the tea started reminding me a lot of Bitterleaf’s WMD and Hidden Gem. While there isn’t too much to say, the tea was good. Really good actually.
Starting with the seventh brew the tea was beginning to veer more towards acidic. The flavors were beginning to taper off as you’d expect, but the tea was definitely still going. I did two more infusions and while the tea could have most likely kept going with increasingly long steeping times, I decided to call it there as I’d frankly drunk a lot of tea by this point.
This tea really surprised me. This is most likely the fruitiest sheng I’ve had to date and just one of the fruitiest teas in general. Fans of fruity dan congs would likely be all over this tea. At eight cents per gram this might very well also be the cheapest raw pu’er I’ve ever drunk. This might be the bargain of the year right here. I’d call this tea really, really good and possibly the most drinkable young sheng I’ve encountered. I got absolutely no bitterness or astringency, not even a hint of them, can’t say how much of a role the clay played. I’m not sure if this tea gets bitter ever and it would most likely be a prime candidate for grandpa style.
As mentioned, fans of dan cong should definitely check this one out. Those who like Bitterleaf’s WMD and Hidden Gem will likely be onboard as well. For my tastes the tea is a bit too mineral tasting as mentioned, but other than that it’s a nice casual brew. This would make for a wonderful introduction for someone new to raw pu’er or even quality tea in general. While a high-quality tea, it should not be mistaken for a high-end tea. The thickness and mouthfeel didn’t really seem to be there nor did I get any qi. On the other hand the flavors are great, longevity seems surprisingly good and even after drinking probably over two liters of this stuff I didn’t feel any lightheadedness, dizziness or issues with my stomach. I think the aging potential is there if you just look at Hidden Gem, but drinking it now seems the most attractive option. Then again at $21 for 250g you could easily buy a kilo of this and drink half, store half.
I need to try the regular Eden again once it’s had time to chill out a bit more.
Flavors: Apricot, banana, Fruity, Mineral, Peach, Sweet, Tart
I bought a cake of this right after it was released. It has had six months to chill in my pumidor and today I felt like finally giving it a shot. This is the second Yiwu ripe I’ve tried, the first one being the Hai Lang Hao 2017 Yi Shan Mo. Premium and ultra premium ripes have been a growing trend in recent years and while not highest of the high-end, at 22¢/g Yi Wu Rooster is definitely priced above what most people are accustomed to paying for shu pu’er.
The dry material looks much more akin to raw cakes than your typical ripe. I recall Scott saying in his YouTube video for this tea that he suspects it was likely originally intended to be sold as a sheng and the decision to turn it into a shu was made later. The compression isn’t too tight at all and I was careful to maintain leaf integrity while I broke into the little pie. I used a suitable ratio of large chunks to smaller individual pieces in my trusty 160ml Jianshui clay teapot, 12g total. The tea was also drunk from a cup made from the same clay.
I gave the leaves a ten second rinse, followed by a five minute rest during which I prodded the larger pieces gently with my finger to help them come apart more easily. This was almost not necessary because of the loose compression. I proceeded to do nine infusions, the timing for these being 10s, 10s, 12s, 15s, 20s, 30s, 45s, 75s and 2 min.
The first infusion brewed up a cloudy diluted cola as you’d expect from a tea this young. The initial taste was that of sweet dirt. Really sweet. A really bright sweetness. There was a certain coffee/caramel vibe as well, but without any of the darker base notes that coffee has for example. Overall the flavors were really bright and forward, not veiled or obscured in any way. So far this was a quite unique tea. The aftertaste was long; coffee, caramel, insane sweetness.
The second infusion brewed much clearer. Darker, but nothing crazy. Certainly dark though. The taste was quite clean, but not 100% clean, more like 90%. The flavors were light in nature (nothing to do with actual strength), body medium or close to it, improved from before. I could taste some red berries, with some very minor bitterness in the finish. The bitterness was also accompanied by sweetness and there was some minor cooling in the mouth. The finish eventually turned into pretty typical shu flavors, but was accompanied by noticeable sweetness and the finish of berries. I might’ve started feeling the tea a little at this point. I don’t necessarily mean that in the sense of qi.
Steep three was likely the best so far. The flavors were coming across more clearly than in the previous steep, similar to the first one. There was slightly less body now, but still relatively similar to before, light+. The flavors were really lasting. One sip was enough and after that you didn’t want to drink more for a while since there was no point. The sweetness was really potent. I could feel it in my gums. I think I’d describe it as a date-like sweetness, although it’s been a while since I’ve had dates. There was some very minor bitterness in the finish. For a shu this is a quite potent tea. Not among the most potent ones I’ve had, but more potent than most. I’m not talking about flavor here. Not necessarily qi either, more just how much you “feel” the tea in your body. That being said, I did start feeling the effect of the tea on my tongue, a certain numbness starting to spread to it. Once the tea cooled it did actually get considerably thick. As you kept drinking the overall impression started veering more and more toward toffee and caramel notes, caramel coffee is how I’d describe it.
My first impression of steep four was that it was sweet. The tea was starting to develop some darker tones now as well. I could feel the tea at the back of my mouth. There was also something familiar that I was finding hard to place. A some sort of roasted note perhaps. While a gentle tea on one hand, it is also deceptively potent. I found myself having to slow down my drinking at this point. The fact that this was only steep four scared me a little.
Of course immediately after I thought that the fifth steep brewed much thinner, the tea beginning to simplify in the process. While the flavor notes were a touch “thin” now, they were still coming across swimmingly. We were now back to those berries. There was a definitive berry sweetness accompanied by underlying darker shu notes – ones I’d classify falling somewhere in the roasted category or perhaps slightly in the dirt/sand territory rather than in the woodsy or overly soily bracket. I’ve never drunk wine (I don’t drink), so I’m not entirely sure what it is people are talking about when they speak of tannins. However, right after downing the last of this infusion I could feel an unpleasant dry sensation at the back of my mouth/tongue, different from your typical astringency. This is something I’ve experienced before, in the context of Lipton black tea or bad coffee if my memory serves right, but I could be mistaken as it hasn’t happened to me recently. I’ve never experienced this in the context of quality whole leaf tea, so it was a bit of a surprise. I don’t know if it’s tannins or me developing a sore throat, so I’m not going to hold it against the tea too much. Moving on.
From this point on the tea became fairy simple and mainly sweet, but steeps six and seven still had a small amount of depth to the notes and complexity to the tea as a whole. I can easily see many people losing interest at this point, though. There was an increasing level of minerality and the tannins from steep five were still present in steep six, but disappeared after that. The last two infusions were not enjoyable anymore and I actually ended up tossing them. Steep nine was severely lacking in color as well.
Those familiar with my other reviews may know that my track record with Yunnan Sourcing’s sheng pu’ers has generally been quite good. The kind of teas Scott likes to source – strong, clean, pure – are something that appeal to me. When it comes to the Yunnan Sourcing brand ripe pu’ers, I’ve found them less to my tastes. None of them have been bad (although I hated my first session with Rooster King, it has improved since then), but all of them I’ve found merely okay, which is not enough to satisfy me. One exception is Wild Purple Green Mark, which I highly recommend, but that’s a blend of raw and ripe so it doesn’t really qualify as a pure shu. And now there’s this tea. I wasn’t sure what to expect given my track record with other YS ripes, but this tea is good. It is quite unique among ripes and highly enjoyable during the first half. The flavors are strong and well defined and the aftertaste very long-lasting in the first several steeps. The longevity is somewhat disappointing at this stage, but given the age of the tea, age of the tea trees, the region and the level of fermentation, it is not at all surprising. Hopefully this will improve with age.
In its current state, I would categorize this tea as perfectly drinkable right now. It is not totally clean tasting just yet, but unless you demand your shus ultra clean, I doubt you’ll have issues with it. Those specifically looking for those dirt notes will not find them here. For me this tea borders on being too sweet, and at some point in the future I could see it crossing that threshold. If you are eyeballing an Yiwu ripe, you know you’re most likely getting a sweet tea. Despite what I said about this tea being drinkable now, my personal recommendation would actually be to hold off for at least two to five years before drinking it. This is most definitely one of the less fermented ripes I’ve had and a lot of room has been left for it to develop. I think the potency I spoke of in my notes may very well stem from the relative “greenness” of these leaves. The steeped leaves look very much like sheng with a fair amount of age, but nothing even remotely close to fully mature sheng or much more heavily fermented shu that’s just black. Those who can find some green teas or less oxidized wulongs at times too potent or taxing on your body may want to let this tea age a fair bit like I intend to do. Drinking it now, while good, does not let the tea show its full potential.
To sum up my thoughts, while not as good as the absolute high-end ripes out there, this is a really good tea for the price. At the very least I would recommend a sample for those interested, but depending on your personal preferences this is not a tea for everyone. If you are a fan of Yiwu sheng, but have never tried a Yiwu ripe before, I would consider this a good introduction.
Flavors: Berries, Bitter, Caramel, Coffee, Dates, Dirt, Mineral, Roasted, Sweet, Tannic
I thought I was out of white2tea teas, but I’d forgotten I had a small mini bing or whatever people call these flat, dragon ball-esque coin things of this tea that I received as a freebie with my order of some samples. This has been sitting in my pumidor for a year now and it’s frankly a wonder it did not get lost somewhere between the cakes. I drank this away from home with some company and only weighed it with the wrapper on when I took it with me. My scale showed 7.7 grams, so I assume these are intended to be around seven grams which is fairly standard. The gaiwan I had on hand was 130ml, so I did this session filling it up to what I know to be around the 100ml mark.
Now, before we move on to the tea, I’ve done a long rant in the past about my weird relationship with white2tea (none of which I’m going to repeat here) and how I might not be the most unbiased person to be reviewing their teas, but I will do my best here to express my honest opinion. I’ve also mentioned in past reviews that I don’t drink a lot of multi-region blends, so I’m a bit out of my comfort zone here. As such, if I come across slightly harsher than normal, that’s why.
With dragon balls, I’ve found that a longer 30s rinse followed by a shorter second rinse / extended first steep at around twenty seconds works quite well for me. That is what I did here as well, thirty seconds followed by twenty seconds after a five-minute rest in between. The first rinse was sweet but still light. There was some body, however, and a nice, silky texture. The second rinse was still light in terms of its flavors, but the extraction itself was much stronger. The taste was clean, mineral, sweet and earthy. The nice texture from the first wash was carried over. I proceeded to do ten more infusions, the timing for these being 4s, 7s, 10s, 15s, 20s, 25s, 35s, 45s, 75s and 2 min. Somewhat irregular pattern for me in the middle steeps there.
Compared to the two washes, the first flash steep was really light and had lost its nice texture. I tasted mainly notes that I associate with a patch of soil in the garden. There was also some sweetness there. The second steep was stronger, really earthy/peaty with a dirty taste to it. Can’t say I was a fan. Slight creaminess in the finish, accompanied by a strong sandy note. The mouthfeel was now better.
The next three infusions were all strong and each stronger than the last. The flavors moved from a combination of leafy and dirt to increasing levels of bitterness, accompanied by at time sweetness, others extreme tartness or even sourness which is a rare one for me to encounter in pu’er. My tongue grew gradually numb from the bitterness, leaving it feeling somewhat similar to it being burned.
This is the point where I needed to start adapting to the tea to regulate it and as a result the sixth brew while still strong and bitter was also now smoother and more balanced. While steep seven was similar, some astringency was now starting to creep in and this culminated in the following infusion where all of the other flavors suddenly dropped off, leaving the tea dominated by astringency. I attempted two more brews, but if I’m being totally honest with you the ninth steep tasted like sock juice to me and the final infusion had hardly any taste to it besides some mild sweetness and astringency.
While we’ll likely never know what exact teas went into this blend, if I’m allowed to speculate a little, it seems fairly clear to me that there’s some Bulang material in this. The mid-to-late steeps are dominated by an aggressive bitterness that is quite familiar to me. As to what other teas went into this, it’s hard to say. The soft, more elegant start could very well come from a Yiwu tea or something of similar character, of which there are many teas out there. If there are any more than two teas in this, I found it extremely hard to tell as the more aggressive tea dominated everything once it got going.
As for the quality of the material, the silky mouthfeel at the start was actually pretty nice, so whatever material was responsible for that might actually be quite good. Once the tea got going, the strength was so good that I actually had to start adapting to the tea on the fly. What puzzled me though was the way the tea just suddenly died at the end. Considering I was holding back on my brew times, I would have expected that to extend the longevity, not diminish it. Perhaps I’m spoiled, but I’m used to teas typically winding down more gracefully. I’m not going to try to read too much into it since I’m no expert, but maybe this means the more aggro material isn’t necessarily gushu but perhaps dashu or younger.
Looking at the leaves at the end of the session, many of the leaves are quite big, but there is a quite high ratio of more oxidized leaves in the mix, many of these quite heavily reddish, not just small blotches. You of course see these in nearly every tea, but it’s usually just a leaf here and there. On the other hand I didn’t spot any leaves with burn marks from the wok.
So what are my thoughts? It wasn’t a bad tea, but it also didn’t really impress me. It is unclear to me where they were really going with this blend. A soft, elegant start, suddenly turning into aggressiveness? I’m going to compare this to Bulang teas, because most of the time the tea behaved like one. At 55¢/g, it’s really hard for me to see this tea being worth its price tag. If I wanted to buy a more aggressive Bulang tea, I could get one with ten years of age on it for around 10¢/g. The material wouldn’t necessarily be as good, but the tea would have gained complexity and notes that this young tea currently lacks. At 55¢/g you can also get crazy good Yiwu teas as long as you sample and find the ones you like. Therefore for me this tea would maybe fall in the 10–20¢/g bracket, not that it matters. Could be that it’ll age into something magical, but I leave that up to those willing to invest a hundred dollars and wait for a decade or two to discover.
And there you have it. If anything, this tea made me want to go drink some more Bulang teas. I should also maybe order some samples of aged Bulangs to expose myself to more semi-aged teas. So far Bitterleaf’s Dear Comrade has been the first aged sheng to click with me, but of course it sold out right after I ordered my sample. Any recommendations for aged teas to include in my next Yunnan Sourcing order are welcome.
Flavors: Astringent, Bitter, Creamy, Earth, Mineral, Sand, Sour, Sweet, Tart
Ever since trying the Hai Lang Hao 2017 Yi Shan Mo ripe pu’er – and subsequently buying an entire 1kg brick of it – I’ve been somewhat infatuated with this village. Since then I’ve been on a quest to find a raw pu’er that spoke to me as well. Before this I’ve already tried Hai Lang’s 2015 offering as well as Yunnan Sourcing’s own 2017 autumn. The 2015 I’ve already reviewed, but found way too intense for me. The 2017 I drank a couple months ago, but did not write notes for as it did not come across as particularly interesting or noteworthy. I may have simply drunk it too young, a year from now it might be better.
I was probably not the only one knocked aback a little when I saw this and the Xiang Chun Lin listed among the first Yunnan Sourcing pressings for 2018. At 80–90¢/g, I believe these are the most expensive teas Scott has pressed to date. The prices are nothing outrageous for quality old arbor Yiwu, but in Yunnan Sourcing’s catalogue this hits a new price point. Since Scott typically demands a pretty clear correlation between price and quality from the teas he presses, I was interested to try this.
Since some of the past 10g samples I’ve ordered from YS have been clocking at close to twelve grams, I decided to weigh this one just to make sure I wasn’t going totally overboard. My sample was almost precisely 11g and after some deliberation I decided to use it all in the largest gaiwan I had on hand, which was 140ml. That’s a ratio of 1g/12.7ml, in case you are wondering. My sample was virtually entirely in loose form, a mixture of whole, intact leaves, broken bits and a couple minuscule pieces of the cake. I gave the leaves a brief sub-five-second rinse, followed by a ten minute rest while I sipped on the precious nectar that had grazed the leaves. The wet leaves carried the scent of peach and plum. This was carried over to the taste, which was strong, mineraly, with clear notes of peach. I could even taste the stone inside the peach, which was just uncanny. The finish was long and once the leaves cooled their scent became that of sweet, sweet peach tart. Simply amazing.
I proceeded to do a total of eleven infusions, the timing for these being 6s, 6s, 8s, 10s, 15s, 20s, 30s, 45s, 75s, 2 min. and 3 min. Yi Shan Mo started off strong, clean and mineraly, with incredible clarity of the liquor right out of the gate. I could feel a really active tingling sensation in my jaw and tongue of course. The back of the tongue especially, gradually extending back toward the throat. The taste was maybe slightly citric and tart – but the feeling in the mouth and throat was the highlight here.
The second infusion was powerful, but by no means overpowering or anything even close to that. It was clean, delicious, with a strong mineral vein running through it still. There was a touch of acidic tartness to give it the edge it needed. Super delicious tea. The feeling in the body was very notable. I could feel it in my chest, moving downward. When I breathed through my nose, I could taste amazing flavors in my mouth. Even after finishing the infusion, new, amazing, complex fruity notes were emerging on my tongue. Sensations and flavors were radiating from my throat, which was beginning to feel constricted while my tongue began to throb and grow numb. So much to write about one infusion. Based on how it started off, this was one of the best teas I’ve had.
Sold on this tea yet?
Steep three was strong, mineral, slightly tart. Somewhat creamy after you swallowed. Powerful, serene. Made you stop between sips and contemplate. The taste was slightly vegetal and oily, bitter greens one might say. The cha qi was quite prominent, but not overpowering and content in just hanging in the background. I got some huigan after finishing the infusion, maybe some lingering green bitterness as well.
I found the body of the fourth infusion somewhat disappointing. The taste had also devolved into “green leaf juice” with some fleeting bitterness, which was naturally somewhat disappointing after such a good run. The qi was still there, hanging around in the background. Steep five brought back the tartness, along with some sweet, sweet sweetness. The tea was aromatic, with some vegetable/garden/soil notes in the finish. The sweetness only intensified over time, later joined by huigan radiating from my throat. My mouth was left incredibly sweet. I predict this tea is going to develop an incredible sweetness over the years. Along with the sweetness, I felt a growing cooling sensation, expanding from my mouth to my nose. Eventually when I breathed it felt like someone was pressing an ice pack against the section where my nose and throat intersect. While this was going on, a small heatwave also washed over me, making me feel hot and cold at the same time and break into a light sweat.
Steep six was a mix of sweet, bitter and acidic. The body was acceptable and the finish great as always. The tea was quite aromatic if you did a long slurp. The somewhat intoxicating qualities present up to this point were still there as well. The brew that followed was super mineraly. The taste of bitter greens was present and the tingling sensation in my jaw and back of the mouth from earlier in the session made a return. Various aromatics emerged when you breathed out through your nose.
The eighth steep was bold and mineral, but also very singular with no complexity left. There was still perhaps some depth remaining, though. I was also still feeling the tea a bit in my chest, almost like it was telling me, “We’re not done yet.” The following infusion was very clean and acidic. The tea was maintaining good strength, even if the flavors hadn’t developed there yet. This was a nice, easy-drinking brew. Some sensation in the mouth could be observed still.
The second-to-last infusion was sweet and acidic – simple, but with a lot more depth then you would have expected. Even in its twilight, the Yi Shan Mo was surprisingly satisfying. The final steep was really sweet. Apart from the finish, there was virtually no harshness or tartness now, just a nice stone fruit sweetness. The finish was signaling me though that this might be the last good steep, so I decided to call it there.
If it wasn’t clear, I was very impressed by this tea. It’s not the best tea I’ve ever had or even the best Yiwu, but it’s up there. The impression left by this session is that this is a tea that is still really young and needs time to develop, but countless of the quality markers I look for in a good raw pu’er were there. This is why I keep going back and forth between wanting to give teas time before evaluating them and indulging in them early. I don’t drink tea for taste, or I should say that taste ranks fairly far down the list for me, so I’m starting to feel fairly confident in my ability to judge these kind of teas fairly even in their young state. Taste can change constantly, but other factors are generally more consistent over finite periods of time at least.
This is most definitely not a tea for pu’er novices as the price suggests, but fans of high-end Yiwu will find a lot to like. While not without flavor and at times actually quite delicious, at least in its current state I found the Yi Shan Mo much more of an aromatic affair and something fans of aromatic sheng will love. For such a young tea, the level of aroma and the depth and complexity it possessed was impressive. My experience with most young raw pu’ers I’ve had is that they can take some time to develop aroma, but this one is way ahead of the competition. Looking at a different spectrum, I found this tea to have a much heavier emphasis on body feel, sensation and cha qi than mouthfeel, texture and viscosity of the tea soup itself. It’s more about how it makes you feel rather than how it feels in your mouth and going down.
While the price is high, Yi Shan Mo certainly delivers. Quality autumn teas will naturally deliver better value for money, but as far as spring teas go, the price is representative of the quality. I will most certainly be purchasing a cake of this in the very near future and encourage all those who are interested to grab a sample. I’m glad to have finally found the Yi Shan Mo that is for me.
Flavors: Bitter, Citrus, Mineral, Peach, Sweet, Tart, Vegetal
The last of Bitterleaf’s 2018 Lao Man’e teas to be reviewed. I went slightly heavier on the leaf at 9.3g in a 130ml gaiwan which equates to 1g/14ml. To offset this somewhat I used only a couple of larger intact chunks with hardly any loose bits. I gave the tea a generous 10s rinse since it’s more heavily compressed than its brethren to give it a chance to start opening up a little. The wash was thick, but there wasn’t much taste yet. I proceeded to do fourteen infusions, the timing for these being 10s, 10s, 10s, 12s, 15s, 20s, 30s, 45s, 75s, 2 min., 3 min., 4 min., 5 min. and 7 min.
The first steep retained the thickness of the rinse, but despite the slightly extended brewing time compared to my typical parameters, the taste was still very light and slightly watery. The second infusion was much bolder, although still very light in nature. I would actually say I over-steeped this one just a little. The flavors were generic grassy hay, with maybe a hint of sweetness. The tea soup was still quite thick.
Steep three was again thick, bold, but also somewhat watery I’d say. The taste was rather basic; a bit grassy, a bit mineral, a bit sweet. The fourth infusion is where the tea finally got going. The mouthfeel was quite lubricating and the taste sweet, but also very tart. The acidity was one that made me think of the white part of a citrus fruit between the skin and flesh.
The next infusion brewed thick and oily. There was hardly any sweetness now, but the tartness was still there. The steep that followed was very similar, but I could now detect a hint of bitterness lingering in the background, but you really had to be on the lookout to spot it. It is also worth noting that the flavors were starting to get stronger now.
Steep seven really amped up on strength and the tea was brewing up really strong now. It was also extra tart, but also quite smooth. The lack of sweetness in these infusions may be a deal-breaker for some, but others will find themselves wanting more. Between infusions I finally broke apart the final tight knot left in the gaiwan by hand and as a result the tea brewed up extra strong. It was thick, thick, thick. Pleasantly acidic, blended with very minor sweetness.
Steep nine was super, super strong. Thick, syrupy. Slightly sweet, with some citrus fruit and bitterness. I was actually getting proper bitterness now, which was nice. It was nicely balanced with the sweetness and this was probably the best steep. At this point I was staring to feel warm. Steep ten continued along the already established lines. It was thick, sweet and tart. There was some bitterness as well. The tea soup was really smooth and kind of dense.
If you’ll believe it, the tea actually continued to get better in the eleventh infusion. It was thick, smooth, lubricating and increasingly bitter, but still nothing crazy yet. At this point the tea was staring to live up to its name. The bitterness was so nice. It tingled my mouth in a nice way. At this point I was surprised to realize that I found myself preferring this to the regular version of this tea in some ways.
Steep twelve was even more bitter than before, but still really smooth and palatable. Super smooth and still really thick and syrupy. There was a nice sweetness as well. While steep thirteen was smooth, sweet and fruity, it was also the first time I detected some slight astringency. The infusion that followed was the last one I did. While there was still body, the taste was watery and the flavors were clearly tapering off. I considered the tea done and called it there.
The Bitter End Lite surprised me. Based on the first half of the session I did not expect myself walking away recommending this tea, but in the second half it really came into full bloom. Two observations I made are that I feel I over-leafed this tea. I would consider 1g/15ml perfectly adequate with no reason to go above that unless you really want to. Second, my recommendation would be to break up the tea more than I did. The tight compression will take a long time to come undone, and otherwise you will get wildly inconsistent sessions in the first several steeps. We all appreciate leaf integrity, but a couple of broken leaves aren’t going to matter that much.
For the price this is a hella good tea. The strength is good, longevity is exemplary and somehow this brewed up way thicker than either of the two other Bitter Ends. I would have to revisit the regular version of this tea (I’m out though) since it may have already changed over the past two months, but I actually found this session more bitter than my encounter with the non-huang pian rendition. All three teas are good though and each have their own strengths. While this one is not necessarily quite as high quality and well suited for aging as the other two and more geared towards daily drinking, that does not mean you could not age it – while also drinking it – since it’s so inexpensive. Stock up on a few of these and you’ll be good for a while.
Flavors: Bitter, Citrus, Grass, Sweet, Tart
I was kindly gifted a pair of these with an order. I’ve never drunk pu’er (technically heicha) advertised coming from outside Yunnan, so I was interested to try this. I was drinking this away from home and thus didn’t have my 100ml gaiwan on hand. As such, I ended up making due with a 130ml one, which I filled up to around the 100ml mark.
Normally I rinse dragon balls for around thirty seconds, but I recalled the description mentioning these balls requiring only around twenty seconds, so I followed that recommendation. I let the moisture penetrate deeper into the ball for around five minutes while I sipped the wash. Both the dry and wet leaves have a quite smoky scent. Smoky at least to my nose. The tea soup itself was still quite light, but sweet and oily and perhaps a bit fruity. This tea was very promising so far.
I proceeded to do eleven proper infusions, the timing for these being 6s, 6s, 8s, 10s, 15s, 20s, 30s, 45s, 75s, 2 min. and 3 min. The first steep was still quite light, probably lighter than the rinse due to the shorter time, but the quality was there. The tea had a nice, soft mouthfeel, accompanied by a sweet taste with perhaps a hint of the smoke from the aroma. After the second brew, the dragon ball had already come apart completely. As one would expect, the resulting soup was now much bolder than before. The very nice mouthfeel continued being the highlight here. The flavors were soft and enjoyable. Sweet, maybe a bit vegetal if I stretch a little.
The third steep was even bolder. Quite bright. Maybe a touch tart. It kind of tasted like hot leaf juice, in a good way. It was also quite refreshing. The fourth brew was one of the money steeps. It was thicker and very flavorful. This is going to sound weird as it’s a first one for me as well, but what I tasted was egg yolk. Really, really good. The aftertaste was incredibly sweet.
While the fifth brew was still very flavorful, the tea was starting to show first signs of beginning to simplify. Texture-wise it was very easy to drink. The following infusion was really sweet, with the whisper of smoke making a small return in the finish. There was maybe some vegetal character as well and the texture continued being really nice.
The strength continued holding up in the seventh steep, but we were definitely entering the late steeps now. The liquor was sweet with a nice mouthfeel. Highly enjoyable. The sweetness left lingering in your mouth was crazy. Steep eight had a really wet and juicy texture. I could taste a fruity tartness, reminding me of the white part of an orange between the rind and the flesh.
Steep nine was very clean and still pleasant, but the flavors were now definitely starting to taper off. The soup was sweet, with a touch of orange rind present as well. The tenth infusion didn’t mix things up all that much. The soup was clean, sweet and mineral. Really nice and easygoing. Steep eleven was finally the last one I did. At this point I was starting to find the tea less enjoyable than before. It had flavor and sweetness, but it was starting to taste a bit diluted. Overall still quite pleasant though. Very clean and pure. I could have tried one more brew, but I decided to err on the side of caution and call it here.
Overall this tea was really good. I’m definitely a fan. This is a tea I can highly recommend to both those new to raw pu’er as well as seasoned drinkers. I got absolutely no harshness like bitterness or astringency and in terms of flavor Outlier should be quite approachable to new drinkers. At the same time there is a lot here for more veteran drinkers to enjoy. While priced as high as a quality Yiwu tea, it is as good as those teas and made quite affordable by being offered in dragon balls. If you’re wary of Outlier because of its origin, don’t be. This stuff’s good.
Flavors: Mineral, Orange Zest, Smoke, Sweet, Tart, Vegetal