65 Tasting Notes
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
Those who are familiar with some of my other reviews may be aware that I tend to seek out teas that are either exceptional or incredibly unique. At least on paper this one is certainly the latter. Though my experience with purple varietal teas is still quite limited, the ones that I’ve tried I’ve all enjoyed. The concept of blending ye sheng and shu pu’er was adventurous enough to entice me to buy a cake of this blind. While I’ve had it for a number of months, this was my first session with it.
I broke off twelve grams for my new silver-lined gaiwan, which Yunnan Sourcing began selling recently. Filled up to where the water just touches the lid, mine is about 165ml. For those who may have been eyeballing it, wondering if it’s worth the money, I would personally recommend it. While not the absolute highest level of quality with the same aura as a totally one-of-a-kind fully handmade piece of teaware, the craftsmanship is several steps above the cheapest standard level gaiwans and I find it great to use. This level of craftsmanship combined with the silver lining actually makes it a great deal in my opinion, like most products Yunnan Sourcing sells. Either of these things alone, this level of craftsmanship without the silver lining or the silver set in a cheap basic level gaiwan, would make you feel you were overpaying, but together they offer great value for the price. I’m not going to comment on the effects of the silver on the brewing as I’ve not done any sort of proper side-by-side comparisons, but I will say that for me the gaiwan has brewed great tea, and I don’t feel like I can say that about every vessel.
Anyway, back to the tea. I rinsed the leaves for good ten seconds, giving them a full ten minutes to get primed. The scent of the rinsed leaves was absolutely wonderful. To my nose it was that of sweet licorice. Really wonderful. I proceeded to do a total of ten infusions, the timing for these being 7s, 7s, 10s, 15s, 20s, 30s, 45s, 75s, 2 min. and 3 min. “Purple Mark” started out strong. I could taste bitter coffee mixed with brighter notes from the ye sheng. The soup was quite lubricating and hydrating and it coated your mouth with its flavor, not showing any signs of going anywhere anytime soon. I liked the tea already.
The second infusion was incredibly refreshing, exhibiting the taste of red berries with a ripe base. The body was good, but nothing crazy. More importantly, the texture was really smooth. This is a really flavorful and flavor-forward tea. The following third brew was nice and bitter. Very robust. It was accompanied in the finish by a sheen from the purple tea. The tea stimulated the tongue in a nice way, constantly triggering the sweetness receptors and making you salivate. This is a really engaging tea. I could feel the tea at the back of my tongue, near the entrance to my throat, as well as a cooling sensation in my throat itself.
Steep number four was bitter, REALLY cooling, and quite refreshing. I’d say the taste accompanying the cooling sensation was camphor, although it was a bit hard to pick out amid the other flavors. I’d definitely say camphor, though, with a bit of a medicinal edge. The tea continued to shine, displaying some woody and chocolaty notes in the fifth steep, now with a slightly grainy texture. A berry sweetness from the purple tea was present as well. I’m not sure if I’d go as far as to call it qi, but this is a really grounding tea. The aftertaste of this infusion was so sweet.
The texture of the next brew was smooth yet grainy. The taste was a mixture of cooling camphor and bitter coffee. A wonderful combo. I could also taste hints of caramel, which in all likelihood were notes from the ye sheng morphed by the ripe pu’er. The tea was still as strong as ever, which is to say strong. The seventh steep brewed probably the thickest yet, still very bold. The taste was… maybe a good kind of sour, if I had to describe it. The aroma left in the empty cup was that of intense caramel. Just wow.
Steep number eight brewed up a mixture of bitter and sweet. It was coating and lubricating, still possessing incredible strength. I could taste caramel, berries, as well as a ripu pu’er base of course. The body was quite big. Steep nine is where the flavors finally started to taper off. Now I was getting mostly just generic ye sheng and ripe pu’er flavors. The final infusion I did was the same deal. While there was still plenty of strength left and the tea could have conceivably been stretched on for several more infusions, it was staring to become quite singular and repetitive, so I decided to call it there.
This was a bomb of a tea, betraying its price point and any expectations I may have had for it. Fans of bitter tea and ye sheng rejoice! I believe I was expecting one of the teas, possibly the heavy base notes in the ripe pu’er, to drown out the other, but that ended up not being the case. While it’s quite obvious that this is a blend of two and exactly two teas, most of the time they are surprisingly harmonious together, making something you would not expect to work work. I don’t know if it’s the inclusion of raw pu’er, but this is also a very flavorful tea compared to most ripe pu’ers. The longevity is also quite good.
I went in expecting this to be mainly a ripe pu’er with some added layers from the raw material. In practice it’s not as clear-cut as that. I’d say this tea exhibits enough of both characteristics to not fall just in one category. This makes it interesting, because I’d both recommend this tea to people who love ripe pu’er, but struggle with getting into sheng, as well as those who love raw but just can’t understand the appeal of shu. The only downside is that one might have to be a bit adventurous to give this one a shot. But it’s cheap, so why not? I know I called this tea bitter, but I feel people have very varying sensitivities to bitterness. Some might find this way more bitter than I did, while others might not find it bitter at all.
While my expectations were not high going in, I came out a big fan of this tea. It will be interesting to see it age. Despite how weird it may sound, I definitely recommend trying out a sample of this tea, because it might really surprise you. I found it perfectly drinkable now, but in a few years it will have mellowed out a lot.
Flavors: Berries, Bitter, Camphor, Caramel, Chocolate, Coffee, Medicinal, Sour, Sweet, Wood
This is a review for the gold grade dragon ball. I wasn’t drinking this at home, so I didn’t have my 100ml gaiwan at hand, which would have been better suited. Instead, I ended up using a 130ml gaiwan which I filled up to a point which is about 100ml. I didn’t weigh the ball, so we’ll just assume it was around seven grams. I gave the ball a thirty second rinse which I normally do with these things and tasted the wash while I gave the moisture five minutes or so to penetrate deeper into the tight little knot. The taste was different from what I’m used to seeing from young sheng. It is possible I’m being influenced here by the name, but somewhat similar to the Hai Lang Hao 2015 Yi Shan Mo, I was definitely tasting some plum, although this time it was fresh plum, as opposed to the more jammy plum found in the Yi Shan Mo. As you’d expect from such a long infusion, there was body already and the stone fruit aftertaste was quite long-lasting.
I proceeded to do thirteen more infusions, the timing for these being 8s, 5s, 5s, 8s, 10s, 15s, 20s, 30s, 45s, 75s, 2 min., 3 min. and 4 min. While the body was still light and the flavors themselves light in nature, the tea started off with a fair amount of strength already. The flavor was quite unique: a floral sweetness accompanied by some sort of oily taste (not texture), perhaps rapeseed. The aftertaste was long and I could still taste it between infusions. In the second steep the oil and flowers were joined by white grapes. The texture had now improved and become quite luxurious.
The third infusion presented the tea at its boldest yet. I was now tasting more of the skin of the grapes than the flesh and while the floral notes were still present as well, the overall flavor profile had shifted more towards earthy/mineral tones. The finish was fresh and refreshing. Instead of oily, the fourth infusion had now become much more creamy, like melted ice cream, in a good way. The tea continued to maintain its luxurious feel.
Steep five presented the tea probably at its boldest. It was now much more earthy, lacking nearly all of the prior higher notes. The soup was thicker, more savory than before and quite brothy. The infusion that followed continued heading into a more mineral and metallic direction, which I didn’t particularly care for. At the same time, the finish started showing signs of a sweeter vegetal nature. The body was still holding up and the tea itself was quite refreshing and even a bit cooling.
While there was till strength, I was a bit surprised to find the flavors already starting to taper off around the seventh steep. At the same time the tea was beginning to lose my interest as it was starting to become more generic. The taste was chiefly mineral, vegetal and metallic. To prove me wrong, the next steep suddenly greeted me with a fairly thick broth which embodied the sweet taste of peas. While this is something I may have tasted before, it is something I’ve never identified before. It felt like another victory for my palate. All that palate training is paying off.
While the body didn’t maintain its high viscosity, the texture remained quite nice though in the ninth steep. There was still plenty of flavor and I was tasting more of the pea pods than the peas themselves now. The tenth brew was similar, but now started to show some signs of harshness. The taste was part mineral, part vegetal. Mouthfeel remained very enjoyable, smooth, almost oily, luxurious.
The small bit of harshness was gone for the eleventh brew, never to make a return. The strength remained good. I was still getting the peas. The texture was now almost a bit grainy. The sweet aftertaste was long and while it still had the peas, it actually reminded me a lot of vanilla. This made me start thinking that perhaps the two aren’t that far apart. Surprisingly the twelfth brew was still showing a lot of legs. The soup was full, sweet and lubricating. Quite enjoyable. The thirteenth steep was finally the last one I did. I was now starting to lose flavor proper and finding the tea itself less enjoyable overall. While there was still body and the familiar pea sweetness was there, I decided to call it here, because even if there were a couple more brews in these leaves, I made the educated guess that I’d seen all there was to see.
Overall the gold grade was really good. I received a free sample of the silver grade some months back and although I sessioned it, I don’t think I wrote a review for it. Although my memory of it is hazy, I do believe the two teas share some similarities like the early floral aspect and the emphasized texture and aroma. At the same time, my experience with the silver was that it was much more muted in flavor and became much harsher in the later steeps. The gold grade seemed to have much more strength, even better texture and it was just much smoother overall. Even though it’s not quite a fair comparison since I wasn’t drinking the two side by side, for me the differences were huge.
The quality of the material is very high and while this was one of the more enjoyable sessions I’ve had of late, at the same time this was one of those teas that are fun to try, but not something I’d necessarily be looking to revisit. And there’s nothing wrong with that, most teas fall in this category for me anyway. The gold grade is probably the most enlightening in the context of trying out samples of all three grades. For drinking now, it’s a really good tea. I actually ended up buying a cake of the ripe pu’er version made from the silver grade material, so those intrigued by high-quality shu pu’er might want to check that one out as well. It has my personal stamp of approval, for what that’s worth.
Flavors: Broth, Creamy, Earth, Floral, Metallic, Mineral, Olive Oil, Peas, Plums, Sweet, Vanilla, Vegetal, White Grapes
I was a bit too late to the party for the 2016 iteration of this tea, but once the 2017 became available, I grabbed a bing blind. When it comes to pu’er, I tend to either seek out teas of exceptional quality or ones that are incredibly unique. Based on the description at least, this one definitely falls in the latter category. As I want to save as much as possible of this special tea, for this review I ordered a sample a few months back and now was finally the time to break it out.
The dry leaves are really weird looking compared to your typical sheng. Many of them look like miniature pea pods or perhaps dragon scales, which would actually be quite fitting now that I think about it. The scent is also quite unique. In the pre-heated gaiwan, the smell of black currant really comes through, although most obvious on the lid. I used a single chunk of nine grams in a 130ml gaiwan and gave it a sub-five-second rinse followed by a five-minute rest while I sipped the wash. The soup tasted similar to its smell; black currants with maybe a bit of red mixed in.
I followed up with a total of twelve infusions, the timing for these being 5s, 5s, 5s, 7s, 10s, 15s, 20s, 30s, 45s, 75s, 2 min. and 3 min. From the first sip of the first infusion, I could tell this is a high-quality tea. It was quite incredible. Two or three sips in, I just wanted to stop for a while, because I felt I needed to take a moment to appreciate the tea. The texture was oily. I could immediately feel the vitality and life energy in this tea. There was a really nice sweetness and a combination of both fruit and berries, apricot and currants to be specific. The soup was super clean and pure and the flavors were really long lasting. The overall impression was very gentle. These are high marks.
As expected, the next infusion was way stronger. The compression seems to be on the looser side, so by this point the single chuck had practically come apart completely. The leaves are also tiny, really tiny, which contributes to the strength of flavor, while the age of the tea trees gives them the vitality they need to keep brewing steadily over multiple infusions. The tea continued being very sweet. The taste was chiefly that of black currants, but the acidic side of berries had become more emphasized. The long-lasting aftertaste from before was maintained.
The next two brews continued among the same lines. The taste of black currants started to become more leafy, resembling the taste of tisane made by infusing the leaves of said plant. Steep five was the boldest one yet. It saw a lot of minerality creeping in. Steep six swapped this with a very prominent acidity, but otherwise stayed true to form.
The seventh infusion, while not necessarily presenting anything new, combined multiple things at once, resulting in what was probably this tea at its most complex. The taste was very leafy with some sweetness as well. The oiliness was back and the soup was quite warming. I could feel a heatwave washing over me every twenty seconds or so over the course of a few minutes, which is totally new for me as usually it’s only a single wave or two. The tea was surprisingly complex with a lot going on and flavors that kept dancing around in your mouth.
The gentle, slightly oily texture characteristic for this tea was maintained for the eighth brew. The taste remained largely the same as what we’d seen before. Leafy, acidic, with a hint of berries in the finish. The acidity reached its peak in the next infusion where the taste was incredibly well defined and an uncanny rendition of the acidity in citrus fruits like grapefruit or lemon, but without the characteristic taste of that specific fruit.
From the tenth brew on we finally saw the tea beginning to simplify and the flavors starting to get thinner. The taste was nothing we hadn’t seen before. Leafy, acidic, with the occasional berries and touch of sweetness. The twelfth steep was the point at which I wasn’t enjoying the tea as much as before and thus I decided to call it there because I only expected the tea to start deteriorating from that point on.
I liked Slumbering Dragon a lot. Although the two Crimson Lotus shu pu’ers I’ve tried I’ve both really liked, while enjoying a few of their shengs to some degree, I’ve never really found anything I’d be seeking to purchase. This on the other hand is a winner. Although a tea I’ve already committed to buying, at least now I can say I do not regret that decision. The quality here is very high and albeit not cheap you are most definitely getting value for your money. I’ve had spring teas close to one dollar per gram or slightly over that while good aren’t necessarily of higher quality. For spring, this is definitely one of the better teas I’ve had in the around 40–60¢/g range.
This is one of the cleanest tasting teas I’ve had. Strength is good, longevity is good. You can definitely taste the clean environment these trees have grown in. One things the tea does slightly suffer from is that it’s not all that dynamic in terms of taste, but I find it less of an issue here than with some other teas. I didn’t get any bitterness or astringency or any other sort of harshness at all, unless you personally consider the acidic character such a thing. The acidity actually reminded me a lot of Bitterleaf Teas’ 2017 WMD which I reviewed recently. Specifically that vintage and not its 2018 counterpart as much. Fans of that tea might want to give this one a try. While I’ve yet to actually try ye sheng (pu’er), I’ve had both purple varietal hong cha and moonlight white and both the aroma and taste of Slumbering Dragon remind me of those teas, so fans of ye sheng might also be interested in what the dragon has to offer.
I think that covers most of what I had to say. I’m interested to see how this tea will age longterm. Crimson Lotus have pressed this tea again this year (available soon), so even if this vintage ends up selling out before you get to buy it, you’re not necessarily in any rush to try it. I may end up sampling the 2018 to see if it’s similar or different.
Flavors: Apricot, Black Currant, Mineral, Sweet, Tart
Having found the regular Bitter End more sweet than bitter, let’s see if its bitter varietal sibling delivers that Xtra bitter goodness. Since I only have ten grams of this tea and to ensure the speed of pour, I decided to go with 3.7g in a 55ml gaiwan. Good decision, it turns out, because this tea ended up going for twenty infusions! The timing for these were 4s, 4s, 4s, 4s, 4s, 4s, 4s, 4s, 4s, 7s, 10s, 13s, 15s, 20s, 30s, 45s, 75s, 2 min., 3 min. and 4 min.
I started off with a short rinse for about seven seconds, taking some time to cram the long leaves in, and tasted the wash while I let the moisture soak in and prime the leaves for about five minutes. The soup was bitter as expected and very cooling in the mouth. This tea was fairly straightforward, so I’m not going to go into it on any sort of steep-by-steep basis. Most of the time it presented you with a combination of bitter and sweet, occasionally giving you a glimpse of the fruity citrus flavors characteristic of this village. From start to finish the tea was very clean with great strength and longevity. The bitterness is not abrasive or persistent, but leaves the mouth fairly quickly. Notable cooling was present in the first few steeps, but then died down.
While Bitter End Xtra was not mouth-numbing like the Hai Lang Hao 2016 Lao Man’e, it should satisfy all but those seeking the most extreme sort of bitterness. While I enjoyed the tea and the quality is obviously high, one shortcoming it does have is that it’s not very dynamic at least right now. Not that teas from this village are necessarily the most complex and varied when young, but I’ve had Lao Man’es that offered a richer overall experience with more depth, although they’ve had a bit more age as well. While this is not something I normally do, I’m looking forward to trying a simple mix of Bitterleaf’s own regular The Bitter End and this tea. Probably a simple 50/50 blend. I’m hoping this will bring out the best of both teas.
If you’re looking for a bitter sheng, don’t be detered by the price. For me Xtra gave twice the amount of infusions as most raws, which can be equated to using half the vessel size to produce the same amount of tea. I’m glad I picked the smallest gaiwan I have for brewing this, because, man, I can’t imagine drinking twenty infusions of any larger quantity. This leaves only The Bitter End Lite to be reviewed. I’m interested to see how it compares to the other two.
Flavors: Bitter, Citrus, Sweet
I’ve been an advocate of bitter sheng ever since trying Hai Lang Hao’s 2016 Lao Man’e. Ever since I’ve been on the hunt for a Lao Man’e that could deliver most of the things I love about that tea, while being more friendly on the wallet. Bitterleaf has not just one, but three teas out from this village this spring, of which this is the “sweet” varietal.
I used 8.7 grams in a 130ml gaiwan. If there’s one thing I can say about Bitterleaf’s teas this spring, it’s that the leaf integrity is impeccable. Based on the samples I’ve received, the compression seems on the very loose end, and looking at the brewed leaves of various samples at the end of the session, virtually all of the leaves are intact and typically still part of a set of leaves picked together. This tea was no exception. I gave the leaves a brief five second rinse, followed by a five minute rest. Upon tasting the wash, it had strength, albeit it was still a bit watery in terms of taste.
I did a total of twelve infusions, the timing for these being 5s, 5s, 7s, 10s, 15s, 25s, 40s, 75s, 2 min., 3 min., 4 min. and 5 min. The tea started off slightly sweet and fruity, but more noteworthy was the juicy, wet, lubricating mouthfeel and its refreshing and palate-cleansing quality. This juicy, hydrating quality was something that was quite consistent throughout the session. The second steep was bolder as one would expect. Since I’m familiar with this region’s teas, I could pick up on the bitterness that was slowly building in the background, but normally I probably wouldn’t have even known it was bitterness. In addition to being juicy, lubricating, fresh and refreshing, the tea had an active mouthfeel.
For me this very characteristic grapefruit note is one of the trademarks of a Lao Man’e, and in the third steep it appeared in a very subtle way, which served this tea well. There wasn’t all that much sweetness, which further supported what the tea was going for. The result was something that was very refreshing, cleansing and enjoyable to drink. The mouthfeel improved in the fourth steep. The flavors continued being subtle, which I appreciated as I did not interpret them as being weak. There was now what some might view as slight bitterness, although to me it felt more like a sour grapefruit flavor.
The bitterness did keep growing in the next infusion, although it was still very restrained. It kept you wanting more. In many ways the tea was like a better version of most green teas. I don’t know if it was the tea, but I found myself spacing out a little while brewing the next infusion and as a result ended up pushing it a bit more than I’d intended. As one would expect, I was rewarded with more body, an oily mouthfeel, bolder flavors and just more of everything. There was more clear bitterness now. The tea was also very active in the mouth and the cha qi was much more pronounced now. The tea had a nice calming effect and I really enjoyed this steep.
I found the flavors to sort of fall more in the background in the seventh steep while the cha qi came even more forward. I really like the qi in this tea. While less of a focus, the flavors were nice though. They were a mixture of bitter, astringent, sour, warm, comforting and so forth. The bitterness finally took over in the steep that followed. This was now much more along the lines of how bitter young raws that have it typically get. I felt like I was also getting a bit of a roasted coffee note, but besides that there wasn’t much else going on.
From this point on the tea became rather simple. It started becoming increasingly sweet while exhibiting some initial harshness as well from time to time on the first few sips before dissipating. The strength stayed fairly strong actually and I was still enjoying the tea. It’s possible that the leaves could have carried on for a steep or two after the twelfth infusion, but I was starting to get the sense that the tea was on its last legs now, so I decided to call it there.
Don’t be too intimidated by the name of this tea. I may have different standards when it comes to bitterness than other people, but I didn’t find this tea any more bitter than your average young pu’er that does have some bitterness. If anything, I found The Bitter End more sweet than bitter. I would actually go as far as to say that this is one of the easiest to drink young raw pu’ers that I’ve had. The tea is very juicy, refreshing and hydrating, and as long as you can dig the small bite from the grapefruit and don’t mind the small bitterness, I think you’ll have a good time. This tea is perfect for summer and I see no reason why not to just drink it now.
All that being said, what I’m seeking is bitterness. Wonderful kick-you-in-the-face bitterness that leaves your mouth numb and makes your face contort all the while you keep reaching for more in euphoric bliss. For me this tea didn’t come even close to what I’m looking for, but that’s why Bitterleaf is offering The Bitter End Xtra, made from the bitter varietal growing in Lao Man’e. I’m hoping it will deliver. They are also offering a huang pian version of this tea, which should serve as a good budget alternative for daily drinking. Reviews of both are coming, as soon as I get around to drinking them.
Flavors: Bitter, Grapefruit, Sour, Sweet
Bitterleaf released a ton of new teas recently, and I purchased samples of most of them. Since I reviewed the 2017 WMD recently, I thought it good to start with its successor, since I had a point of reference for it. My sample had both a couple larger pieces of the cake along with some nice individual leaves. I ended up using just a single chunk which I did not break apart at all. I sometimes like to do this when assessing a tea to get a good sense of the actual level of compression as well as overall leaf integrity. This equated to seven grams in a 100ml gaiwan.
I did a brief rinse for five seconds, followed by a five minute rest while I sipped the precious nectar. The wash was sweet, clean and creamy, with a nice mouthfeel to it. The quality of the material was already evident. The session was promising so far. A followed up the rinse with twelve proper infusions, the timing for these being 5s, 5s, 7s, 10s, 15s, 20s, 30s, 45s, 75s, 2 min., 3 min. and 4 min.
First infusion, wow, strong. The single rinse had been enough to break apart the entire chunk, resulting in a potent brew right off the bat. The body was decent, but I expected it to improve as the leaves themselves started opening up in later infusions and the steeping times were lengthened. Mouthfeel was pretty good. It was already clear that this tea is quite potent, and when I say potent, I’m not talking about the strength, although it definitely has that as well. The taste was sweet, maybe a bit fruity. There was a darker green side to the tea as well. The soup was strong, full of vitality. It wasn’t quite something that would floor you, but the effect it had did come close to that. Smelling the empty cup, I noticed a really nice aroma.
As expected, the soup did thicken up in the second brew. The tea was still strong, but not quite as strong as before. The taste was sweet and somewhat sour. Once the huigan kicked in, the sweetness became quite intense. The flavors coated your mouth, and you could keep re-tasting the tea as many times as you wanted by pressing your tongue against the roof of your mouth.
The third steep presented you with more sourness. This is not something I’ve really tasted very often in young sheng, so it was interesting. It could either be a product of the very young age or being pressed recently, or just an attribute of the tea itself. And when I say sour, I don’t mean bad kind of sour, just a neutral kind of sour. The body was now quite good, but as I was greedy, at the back of my mind I was craving just a little more. Mouthfeel was good as well. The tea coated your mouth and throat lightly and I could definitely feel it in my body. The aftertaste between infusions was awesome. Overall this was a surprisingly satisfying steep. This is clearly quality stuff.
Steep four was brighter. It was perhaps a tad metallic and there was a small amount of harshness to it. There was also less body now, but some huigan as well. This was a typical rough patch that most young teas hit around this point, but it was honestly not a big deal at all. In terms of qi, I was feeling a bit of pressure in my head. Between infusions I could taste spices in my mouth. In the next steep the harshness was gone and the tea had become really easy to drink, perhaps in part due to the texture becoming much lighter. There was some darker character up front, which turned into sweetness from the huigan. I could notice my airways clearing up a little.
A small amount of harshness returned in the sixth infusion. I found the tea to catch a bit at the back of my throat as I swallowed. The body was decent and the taste mainly sweet, although the tip of my tongue was also a bit peppery. In terms of texture the next steep was quite thin, but really slick and agile. Taste was similar to before, sweet, but also a touch peppery on the tip of the tongue. What was new was a sort of floral character.
The eighth infusion was really sweet. The body was quite good as well. What was noteworthy about it was how it kind of massaged your esophagus and the entrance to your throat. It was really warming as well. This was a steep that was all about the throat and huigan. WMD surprised me by taking a totally different turn right after this. In the next steep I was tasting a quite prominent citrus note which was accompanied by sweetness, resulting in a sort of lemonade flavor I suppose. For such a late steep, this was actually really nice and flavorful. At the back of my mind I was expecting harshness to kick in around this point, but what I got was quite the opposite. The tea was really, really sweet and overall quite wonderful. Finishing your cup left you with a nice feeling.
The harshness that I was expecting did start to steadily increase with every steep from this point on. The strength and sweetness stayed solid and it wasn’t really until the twelfth infusion that the harshness really jumped up and became unpleasant for me. It is possible that this might’ve been a bump that you could have gotten over, but I was quite content with a dozen brews, so I decided to call it there.
While I thought the 2017 WMD was good, I must say I was more impressed with this year’s counterpart. It’s not quite a fair comparison as I never drunk the 2017 when it was this young, but nevertheless the 2018 does definitely not fail to deliver. That being said, at least for right now, the two teas offer two quite different experiences. While I found the 2017 to deviate from what I’m used to when it comes to high-end sheng and be more of a flavor-focused experience, the 2018 was much more along the lines of what I’m used to seeing. The strength is good, the longevity is good, the tea is clean and pure and possesses a ton of sweetness already. While there may be a small amount of harshness at least for now, there isn’t really any notable bitterness or astringency as far as I can tell. For drinking right now, the 2017 is probably better suited, while the 2018 I would probably give at least a couple months to settle a little.
While I already own a bing of the 2017 WMD, unless the tea sells out in the next month or two, I will definitely be purchasing a cake of the 2018 as well. I’d say you can consider that a recommendation from me. If you are interested in the other 2018 teas from Bitterleaf, expect to see more reviews in the coming weeks.
Flavors: Citrus, Creamy, Floral, Metallic, Sour, Spices, Sweet
I’ve talked about this more at length in the past, but I don’t really do that many blends. I believe I’ve compared it to jazz and how I prefer to hear a performance recorded live in studio (or concert) without any edits or overdubs. A lot of jazz is made this way, so it’s not really a huge point of contention (totally different case with classical), but there are exceptions like Bitches Brew by Miles Davis for example. That record was edited together from long jams that Davis had the band do and effects were used as well. While not really a Miles Davis fan, Bitches Brew is one of his records that I do like. However, while I appreciate the experimental nature and musical innovations on that record, the album does not really represent what I appreciate and love about jazz. With all that preface, let’s move on to this tea.
The sample I received consisted of a single large piece of the bing along with a good amount of individual leaves and debris. While not huang pian, the material shares their somewhat ugly appearance in its dry form. I used the single large piece along with some individual leaves to total up to 9.6g in my 140ml gaiwan. A single rinse for just over five seconds, followed by a five minute rest for the moisture to sink in and prime the leaves for extraction. I did nine infusions, the timing for these being 7s, 7s, 10s, 15s, 20s, 30s, 45s, 75s and 2 min.
Jade Rabbit started off with a salty seaweed taste. It was more salty and mineraly on the front with the seaweed most prominent in the finish. This was a lot like drinking seawater. There was body already and the flavors were pretty present. I could taste both the presence of new and older material in this steep. The second brew was full, creamy and foamy. If you slurped the tea, it produced foam in your mouth, which was a new experience for me. The taste was that of Fairy (dishwashing liquid). Before you freak out, not in a bad way.
The third steep presented some mineral sweetness that turned into a spicy prickling sensation at the back of my throat. Over time the tea started tasting like Greek yoghurt to me. In the lingering aftertaste between steepings, I was getting the Fairy again. Steep four was surprisingly a lot weaker than I’d expected. The tea was not weak, but in comparison to the prior three infusions, it almost seemed so initially. The Fairy taste was now absent and had been replaced by the taste of sweet soap. There was also a sweet floral aftertaste. However, the aftertaste hanging around in my mouth between infusions eventually turned into an acrid dishwashing liquid taste, which I did not particularly care for.
Steep five was bolder, a lot bolder. The taste was mineral, with some sour/smoky aged notes in there as well. The soup was slightly prickly, with a slight burning sensation to it as well. Overall the taste was very clean. This was a product of the notes starting to lose depth, but at the same time becoming clearer and much more easily defined. There was some astringency present in the tea as well. Steep six was similarly strong but simple. It was super mineraly, but there wasn’t much else going on. It had some slight sweetness and savoriness, but that’s about it. Frankly, I was getting a bit bored with this tea at this point. As eccentric as it had been initially, I could now tell for certain we were past all the fireworks already and that’s not really something you want to be feeling at around steep six.
The last three infusions weren’t anything special. Steep seven tasted like mineral soap. It had some sweetness and the body was still decent. Steep eight is where we were really starting to lose flavor. The taste had turned to raw soap, with no sweetness to speak of. The final infusion tasted like cleaning agent to me. It produced an unpleasant sensation in my mouth, so I decided it was time to call it.
Jade Rabbit was interesting – different. Definitely a unique experience, if you’re looking for one. As wild as my descriptions for the flavor notes are, none of them were intended to be negative descriptors, unless otherwise indicated. That being said, was the tea good? Was it bad? For me, it fell somewhere in between. I neither liked or disliked it. It was interesting, but that’s all it was. Most pu’ers I sample I end up not purchasing. That does not mean they were not worth sampling, sometimes quite the opposite. The amount of information you can learn from trying out countless teas is immense and invaluable. There are very few teas I would want to drink more than once or twice. That has nothing (or at least very little) to do with how good they are. I would rather drink fifty different teas than fifty session with one of my favorite teas. Even duds are not a loss. Giving thought to why you didn’t like a tea can be as valuable or even more valuable as why you did like a certain tea.
Just speaking of quality, at forty cents per gram, this tea is not cheap. Then again, with the increasing prices of pu’er, it’s not that bad. As this is a blend, and especially given that I hardly ever drink blends, I find it a bit harder to evaluate the exact quality of the tea, but I’d say it’s certainly well above entry level. Ultimately I think the value represents the price fairly well. This is not a tea I would purchase for myself. Frankly I have no idea when I would even drink it. The only occasion I can think of is to showcase to people what sort of different things tea can taste like. While I don’t think this is a casual brew, if you are looking for something to drink now, you can certainly do so with this tea. Aging it is an option as well. The results would certainly be… interesting, if nothing else.
Is this the Bitches Brew of pu’er? I leave that up to you.
Flavors: Floral, Mineral, Salty, Seaweed, Soap, Sweet, Yogurt
I’ve been reviewing so many raw pu’ers lately it’s time for another ripe. At around forty cents per gram, this tea is crazy expensive for a shu. I ordered two five gram sample packs and after weighing them my scale displayed eleven grams. I used all of it in my 160ml Jianshui clay teapot and also drank the tea from a Jianshui clay teacup. I rinsed the tea for slightly under ten seconds and let the leaves rest and wake up for five minutes before I began brewing. I did seven steeps, the timing for these being 12s, 12s, 15s, 20s, 30s, 60s and 2 min.
Since my sample was already broken up into smaller pieces, I got a dark color right from the first brew. The liquor was exceptionally clear for such a young tea. The taste was sweet, with a little bit of the young shu vibe going on, but it was really minor. There was a darker note as well that was not quite chocolate nor coffee. The body was pretty average for the time being, could have been a bit better.
While the second infusion brewed perhaps even a bit darker, there was actually a little less body now than before. The taste was dominated by a generic unidentified darker note. While the tea started off less sweet than before, it got sweeter over time, developing into a cherry or cola type of sweetness. While it was not bitter, it was leaning a bit in that direction.
In the third steep the body got back closer to the first steep or maybe even a bit thicker. The taste was sweet, increasingly sweet. I could taste maybe a touch of vanilla or fudge, or maybe vanilla fudge. Yes, I would say the tea had a caramel vibe to it. As the tea cooled, I could catch a hint of dark chocolate in it. I was beginning to feel the tea in my body.
The body dropped again in the next steep. The taste was slightly sweet, quite generic. There weren’t really any distinct flavors for me to pick out. Maybe a bit of weak nougat if I really push it, but not much else. I was feeling the tea a little more now. While the tea continued brewing a dark color in the fifth infusion, there was almost no taste at all now. Maybe some generic sweetness, but not much else. There was a very distinct void of flavor. There was the most absolute basic ripe pu’er base, but nothing else. I was continuing to feel the qi, but the energy in this tea is one that caused a slightly unsettled feeling and a throbbing sensation in me, which was not something I enjoyed.
For the next infusion I decided to push the tea a little and brewed it for a full minute. The results were similar to before, only now there was an added note of a non-bitter bitterness. The flavors felt really stretched out, like the very late steeps of a tea. The tea actually reminded me of the taste of paper, and once I got that image in my head I could not get rid of it. I’m all for being adventurous when it comes to tea, but sorry I’m just not interested in drinking something that tastes like paper. The body was passable, but fairly thin for such an extended steep. The tea tasted absolutely hideous once it cooled down.
I brewed the seventh steep for full two minutes in an attempt to force out some sort of flavors of interest. I ended up over-brewing the tea as expected. Not much changed, however. The tea was still dominated by the dry paper taste and I decided to call it there. At this point I was so not into this tea that I didn’t have the fortitude try to do the science and see what else there was to see.
While this tea started out okay, maybe somewhat above entry-level ripes, from the fifth infusion onward I was not able to extract much from it besides color of which there was plenty. For a shu that costs forty cents per gram, four steeps is abysmal. That is poor for any kind of pu’er. While fairly easy and straightforward to drink in the early steeps, I honestly couldn’t recommend this tea even if price wasn’t a factor. There are simply so much better alternatives out there. If you want to experience a true high-end ripe, try one of Hai Lang Hao’s many excellent offerings or something by one of the vendors specializing in pu’er like Crimson Lotus Tea or Bitterleaf Teas. Also a personal favorite of mine similar to this one in flavor is the Menghai/Dayi “Xin Hai Bai Nian” which comes highly recommended.
Flavors: Caramel, Cherry, Dark Chocolate, Paper, Sweet, Vanilla
My first huang pian. Possibly also my first slightly more humidly stored tea. My sample consisted of big chunks from the cake made up of large, intact leaves. It is possible to smell some of the humid storage, but it’s not dank in the same way as more humidly stored teas. I used twelve grams in a 180ml teapot made from clay from Dehua. I rinsed the leaves for about ten seconds and let them rest for five minutes before proceeding with the brewing. I did a total of twelve steeps, the timing for these being 8s, 8s, 10s, 15s, 20s, 30s, 45s, 75s, 2 min., 3 min., 4 min. and 6 min.
The first infusion was sweet, mineral and woody. It was possible to taste some of the humid storage in some of the sips, but it was fairly minor overall. For the time being the mineral fizz was the most prominent characteristic. Over time the tea did get a bit sweeter as it cooled down and I began tasting some fruit in the finish, perhaps peach. At this stage the strength/boldness and body were fairly standard for some types of tea, but below average for pu’er.
The next steep was similar. There was a bit more flavor and also more body, albeit the soup still wasn’t necessarily thick. The tea was less fizzy, with some sweetness and perhaps some dried fruit. Overall it was drier than before (dry, not drying). It suddenly hit me that these type of semi-aged teas actually remind of a lot of a hot version of an iced tea.
While the body still remained fairly light, the mouthfeel improved in the third steep. The minerality was still prominently present along with some sort of really bright acidity or tartness. In a few of the sips I actually got just a hint of bitterness in the finish, which is a plus for me. I also tasted some vanilla, which I could smell in the liquor as well. I guess you could call this infusion fairly complex overall. Each sip tasted a bit different each time. There was both a certain juiciness as well as a slight dryness to the tea which complemented one another cyclically.
After everything the third steep had had to offer, the fourth one felt incredibly simple in comparison. While the body was now pretty okay, the tea was mainly just sweet, mineraly and somewhat dry. Steep five was similar, albeit slightly woody and now most of the sweetness came from the huigan, not up front.
The body continued to improve in the sixth infusion. I was actually starting to feel the tea at the entrance to my throat and to some extent along my esophagus. The taste itself was sweet, fruity and mineral. I was definitely feeling the qi now. The tea was getting pretty heady. I could feel it in my chest, upper back muscles and to some extent in my head. There was definitely some heat as well. This was actually one of the better infusions so far, and not just because of the cha qi.
Steep seven was the point where the tea began simplifying and entering its late steeps. The flavors were familiar; sweet, mineral, maybe a touch woody. The soup started losing body in the following infusion. The sweetness was diminishing as well. The absence of sweetness was actually leaving a bit of a void in its wake with just the minerals and dryness there.
While there was some dryness lingering in the background, the tea got juicier in the ninth steep and easier to drink as a result. The taste was slightly sweet, slightly mineral, and there was some huigan as well. The body was still holding up being either light+ or a light medium. The tea was pleasing to drink and this was actually also one of the better steeps in this session. Despite being easier to drink, the qi was starting to hit my motor control pretty hard, making me slow down as a result. As I was preparing the next brew, I began swaying from side to side and we weren’t too far off from the qi taking me down.
The last three steeps I did were all quite similar. They had virtually no sweetness and had an apricot note that made them taste like apricot jam without added sugar. There were also a lot of minerals present in these steeps. The twelfth steep is where I began losing some flavor for the first time. While the leaves would have likely had more to give with extended steeps, I decided to call it there since the tea had stayed virtually the same for the last few infusions.
While my experience with aged teas is still quite limited, this was the first one that I actually enjoyed. I think a lot of it has to do with the base material being higher quality than the other teas I’ve had, even if it’s huang pian. This tea actually reminded me a lot of the 2017 WMD which I just reviewed. Given that the two come from quite close proximity to one another, that’s not a huge surprise. Strictly speaking the flavor profile of WMD is more citric or acidic while Hidden Gem is dominated more by a fizzy mineraliness, but both are quite bright in their overall presentation and share some similarities.
Cha qi is of course always very personal and situational, but this tea got me fairly tea drunk. My muscles were aching for the rest of the day, so if you consider yourself sensitive to cha qi, you might want to use some caution and take things slow. As you’d expect from an aged tea, the longevity is good and this tea seems quite forgiving in terms of how you brew it. Not that I really stress-tested it but anyway.
While I enjoyed Hidden Gem, it is not a tea I would seek to purchase. It’s one of those many teas that are fun to try and very educational, but not something I’d be looking to revisit. While somewhat dry, the dryness wasn’t a complete turnoff for me in the same way as in a lot of other semi-aged teas I’ve tried. The excessive mineraliness, however, while not something I totally disliked taste-wise, caused such a strong fizzy/prickly sensation on the tongue that it was quite taxing on the long run, ultimately leaving my tongue tired and worn out for the rest of the day.
For those seeking a cheaper alternative to WMD or wanting a glimpse into how that tea or Alter Ego might taste a decade from now, Hidden Gem could very well be what you’re looking for. A good candidate for further aging as well.
Flavors: Apricot, Dried Fruit, Mineral, Peach, Sweet, Vanilla, Wood