Bitterleaf Teas

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Recent Tasting Notes

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

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

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Sipped slowly, during a D&D campaign.

I can’t remember who it was in the Slack tea chat who recommended ordering this one, but whoever it was is a genius! I don’t know why I was sleeping on this tea – it’s a really nice black tea. Lots of the rich chocolate notes that I really adore in a Dian Hong, but also malt, oat, French Bread, honey, and a bit of that “autumnal leaf” sort of quality. I rarely Gong Fu steep black teas anymore unless they’re Taiwanese in origin but I bet this actually would be a really nice tea to steep up Gong Fu, like BLT had recommended…

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This tea delivers unforgiving, punishing, mouth puckering bitterness that lingers. Needless to say, I was so impressed by this effect that I had to write a couple of lines about it here :)

Flavors: Bitter, Flowers

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We did not care for this tea. It seemed over-toasted, lacking in complexity, and was pretty mediocre.
Expensive and had an unusual flavor for this type of tea.

165 °F / 73 °C 2 min, 0 sec 8 g 16 OZ / 473 ML

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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

Boiling 0 min, 15 sec 4 g 2 OZ / 55 ML

Two more teas worth trying would be the 2014 Lao Man E from Tea Urchin, and this years Lao Man E from King Tea Mall’s own Bokuryo brand.

The latter is 100% bitter whereas the TU cake is a 50/50 blend of sweet and bitter.


Also, if you’re into bitter teas and don’t mind yesheng, try the Jingdong Wild from EoT.

TJ Elite

I have samples of Tea Urchin’s 2013 and 2014 Lao Man’e. I think I’m going to bite the bullet and save up for the Hai Lang Hao 2016 bing. It’s crazy expensive, but nothing else I’ve tried has managed to match it.


Seconding the Jingdong for sure.

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I bought the original ‘Secret Garden’ back in 2016, and I drank that one in less than 2 months. However, when I saw that Bitterleaf Teas was releasing the same version of it this year, I had to blindly buy it. It was safe to say, I wasnt dissapointed. It reminded of the 2016 version so much, however, it still had a wet taste from pressing. This is certainly one worth revisiting in a month or so.

Click here to read the full review…

Flavors: Grass, Green, Hot hay, Medicinal

200 °F / 93 °C 0 min, 15 sec

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I treid last year’s In Bloom and I must say, this years version is a vast improvement. This tea gave off the tasting notes of orchid, sugar, green grass, and plums. It was very sweet, flavorful, and brothy. One thing I like about In Bloom was how noticeable and upfront its floral tasting notes were. Anohter thing I liked was how flavorful it was. I blindly bought this beeng, and im glad that I did.

You can read my full review here….

Flavors: Grass, Green, Orchid, Plums, Sweet, Sweet, warm grass

190 °F / 87 °C 0 min, 15 sec

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Naka first started out thick and full of flavor. It was really flavorfuil, oily, and very powerful. I brewed this tea warrior style (1g/10ml), and got around 22 infusions out of it. One thing I liked about Naka was that its hella complex, and right when I though I figured it out, it subtly changed again. Another aspect about this tea that I liked was that it left a heavy fragrant aftertaste in the back of the throat, and the longer the infusion, the longer the aftertaste.

You can read my full review here -

Flavors: Green, Milk, Olive Oil

190 °F / 87 °C 0 min, 15 sec

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Had this in dragonball form as part of the Sheng Olympiad. This tea started out low and thick, with some of the sweet/savory grainy notes that I associate a lot with high-end Yiwu. After a few steeps, higher, citrusy notes started coming to the fore, along with some astringency that got very punchy for several steeps. Once this shook itself out, the low register was mostly replaced with the high citrusy notes, along with some lingering pronounced astringency; the thickness remained, as did some noticeable qi. The finish became bright and lingering, not to mention slightly drying. Towards the very end, some green tea elements started emerging in the back of the mouth and the thickness dropped away. It held up for a good number of steeps, though, and I ultimately had to end a little before the tea did.

I had this tea in the wake of a 2014 Last Thoughts session. While the teas resembled each other a fair bit at the start, they really started diverging once the citrus notes came out. On the whole, I think Last Thoughts stands up better; it settles into the later steeps more gracefully and lacks the tartness of this one. This is, of course, noticeably less expensive (the 2018 is ~$140 cheaper than the 2016 Last Thoughts) and could make for a good alternative for someone seeking out a premium young Yiwu-ish tea for a bit less cash.

Flavors: Citrus, Grain

Boiling 8 g 4 OZ / 125 ML

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Last year there were 3 versions; this year only one. I assume this is equivalent to the bronze, based upon the price. After tasting, it is obviously not as good as the silver or gold, which I really liked. The taste is very mild and unassuming, with hints of straw and grass. 3rd steep (20s): Slightly tart and bitter but the grass and straw are still prominent. I backed off a bit on the 4th steep, which reduced the bitterness considerably. Decent aroma, but not much finish. No noticeable cha qi. A decent daily drinker, but not something I would buy more of.

200 °F / 93 °C 3 g 3 OZ / 88 ML

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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

Boiling 0 min, 15 sec 9 g 4 OZ / 130 ML

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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

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

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Gong Fu!

I was in a very rare Sheng mood yesterday, so TeaChat people on Slack helped me pick out a Sheng from my cupboard that I hadn’t tried out yet to steep up Gong Fu. This was more of a stream of consciousness/casual session though; no real measured out steep times and not jotted down notes. Just good music in the background, and the enjoyment of a good tea and testing out a new teapot.

The new teapot was awesome! It’s a little bigger than I’ve been using lately; but the shape and colour really spoke to me. It reminded me so much of the celadon teaware that I’m so fond of, but also is separate/distinct from that style of teaware. This particular spout style is one that I’ve also been really into lately. It’s got a good seal, and a really nice pour! I’m very excited to use it with a lot of new things…

Pictures of tea session, including new teapot:

I think I ended up doing seven infusions, which is actually quite a bit for me when it comes to Sheng. Ultimately I really did enjoy the session, and even when I tapped out after the seventh infusion it wasn’t for lack of enjoyment but just because it was getting quite late in the evening and I felt I should be policing my caffeine intake a little bit more. I was feeling quite a happy buzz/glow at that point and didn’t want to push it…

This was REALLY smooth though; often times I find Sheng has some bite to me. Either it’s a bit bitter because it’s fresh/young or it’s got some astringency/drag to the mouthfeel. This was just light and sweet though; very medium bodied though I’d almost describe it as having a certain ‘bounce’ to the flavour. This quality was only strengthened as the session went on, as well. Flavour wise, I’d describe the taste as a mix of subtle, soft florals, nectarine, white peaches, honey, faint lemon, and wood. The wood notes were kind of the most interesting thing to me though; it was wood notes but dry wood over wet/damp wood. I felt like I could taste the ‘snap’ in it, if that makes sense? Like, a young tree on a hot summer morning!? That probably makes ZERO sense and is a little too poetic in description, but it’s what I felt.

It’s just… it was so smooth. Really, really hit the spot!

Song Pairing:

(Sounds like Maroon 5, but isn’t Maroon 5. I think the singer’s voice fits with the smooth, sweet, and brightness of the tea though…)

Flavors: Floral, Flowers, Fruit Tree Flowers, Green Wood, Honey, Lemon, Nectar, Peach, Smooth, Stonefruits, Sweet, Wood

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Drank this today. This tea is a flower bomb. Resembles a green oolong in many ways – could have fooled me. Bright, smooth, very sweet. Lingering taste is predominately floral and sweet, low on bite and bitterness. Empty pitcher / cup aroma abounds.

Flavors: Floral, Flowers, Orchid, Sweet

Boiling 0 min, 15 sec 6 g 4 OZ / 125 ML

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This is a tea that you drink for the cha qi. It’s in the top 5-10% in my experience.

1st steep (10s): Pleasant nose. Taste is closed in at first, but opens. Good finish. Already feeling a full-body cha qi. 2nd (10s): Flavor isn’t as complex as In Bloom, but has nice floral/veggie overtones, and a great finish. 3rd (20a): I’m just going to meditate with this one. 7th (40s): Taste is still really nice, though the cha qi has faded (just as well). During this session I bought a cake. this will probably be my go-to sheng when I want cha qi.

200 °F / 93 °C 3 g 3 OZ / 88 ML

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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

Boiling 0 min, 15 sec 12 g 6 OZ / 180 ML

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A cake of this was actually my first ever Bitterleaf purchase. I’ve also had a sample of it sitting in my pumidor for a couple months now for the purpose of reviewing it without having to break into the precious little bing. With a sample of the 2018 harvest on its way to me, this seems like a good time to finally give this one a try.

The sample I received consisted primarily of one large chunk from the cake. The appearance stands out as the leaves have a shine to them because of the small hairs on the surface. I measured nine grams in a 130ml gaiwan and gave the leaves a brief five second rinse followed by a five minute rest while I sipped the wash. The rinse was soft, sweet and aromatic. I proceeded to do eleven infusions, the timing for these being 6s, 6s, 8s, 10s, 15s, 20s, 30s, 45s, 75s, 2 min. and 3.5 min.

The tea started off sweet and mineral. I am hesitant on labeling it fruity. Since I was using a single large chunk and just a few individual leaves, the texture was still on the lighter side as the leaves were coming apart. This was already improved upon in the next steep which produced more body. The tea was also bolder, but retained the overall soft feel, which speaks for the quality of the material. The taste remained sweet, mineral, maybe a bit leafy.

It took a few sips for the strength of the third steep to become evident. It was quite strong relative to the first two. The taste itself was something new to me. It was some sort of bright citric or acidic taste with perhaps an aspect of leafiness to it. The aftertaste was strong and long-lasting. The next infusion was similar. Strong, bright, citric. Not particularly thick, but the mouthfeel was pretty good. After pondering the matter for a bit, I arrived at that the citric taste in this tea or this infusion at least reminds me of these hard lemon drop candies I’ve had at some point growing up.

In the fifth steep the texture became more juicier as I often refer to it. The liquor continued to flow well as in all of the steeps up to this point. The taste was bright, fresh and citric. There was now some sweetness as well. Steeps six and seven continued brewing along the lines of bright and citric, but were now starting to become more mineral.

The eighth infusion is where some of the flavors started dropping off while some astringency was simultaneously being introduced into the mix. This wasn’t a bad thing, as the astringency stimulated the back of my tongue in a very pleasing and addictive way. The body remained decent still and the tea was perhaps a tad oily. While the steep that followed was similarly simple in terms of flavors, the flavors themselves were really well defined. The overall taste was bright with some citric tartness.

In the last two infusions that I did, the flavors were beginning to become more faint and rather basic. The last one did introduce a small amount of harshness which to me seemed to signal a good place to end it.

Overall WMD was very approachable and easy to drink. The quality of the material is high and looking at the brewed leaves at the end of the session leaf integrity seems to have been preserved well as well. The leaves possess a good amount of strength and the tea tastes ultra clean overall, conveying the environment it grew up in. Unlike some other high-end teas I’ve had, I found it more focused on flavor than the sensory side of things, which some might prefer and others not. Besides maybe a slightly more energized state, I didn’t notice all that much cha qi, although there were a couple of points where I felt this tea might get me tea drunk, but ultimately that never happened. If not for the price, this tea would be a safe choice for someone just getting acquainted with young raw pu’er, as it lacks almost any kind of harshness (this is probably where the huang pian version comes in).

While I liked this tea, I didn’t necessarily love it. I’ve had the privilege of sessioning some really good teas recently that wowed me more than this one. Had I sessioned it six months ago, I would probably have been very impressed by it, but for the time being the bar is set pretty high right now. Regardless, it is a very good tea with a price tag to match. The quality of the base material is high and seeing how it will develop with age will be interesting. I am probably going to give the 2018 iteration some time to settle before trying it out, but comparing the two will be interesting.

Flavors: Citrus, Green, Mineral, Sweet

Boiling 0 min, 15 sec 9 g 4 OZ / 130 ML

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Bitterleaf just released a ton of new teas, this one included. I received a free sample of it with a recent order before the tea was officially released and was confused because the bag only read Spring 2017 “Sterling”. I’m glad to finally know what it is.

I used my fairly standard nine grams in a 130ml gaiwan. Boiling water as always. A brief 5s rinse, followed by a five minute rest to let the chunks soften up a little to help me break them apart a bit. I did ten steeps, timing for them being 8s, 6s, 8s, 10s, 15s, 20s, 30s, 45s, 75s and 2 min.

Sterling started out quite powerful right out of the gate. While the flavors themselves were light, the strength was good. The taste was clean, vegetal, mineral, earthy. The mouthfeel was nice. The second steep was similar. Strong, earthy, mineral. The mouthfeel continued to be very nice and the tea had a strong, floral aftertaste. I try not to be influenced by product descriptions and other reviews when drinking and reviewing teas, but I think Bitterleaf’s use of the word “dense” in describing the taste and texture of this tea is spot on.

In the next infusion the tea was beginning to get sweeter. The soup was still really dense, but not overly strong. The taste was similar to before: earthy, mineral, vegetal. Those who have had Mengku/Lincang teas before would likely recognize the basic taste. While still dense, the tea lost a bit of body in the fourth steep. The taste was vegetal, maybe a bit creamy, and for the first time there were small hints of some bitterness and astringency.

While the texture continued getting thinner in the next infusion, the mouthfeel remained quite nice. The tea was strong, earthy and bitter, with a vegetal finish. There was also a sort of vanilla flavor when you breathed out through your nose. The flavor in general in this steep was quite rich. Steep six remedied the body issue by being big and full in the mouth. The mouthfeel was quite good and there was even some throat feel. The taste was mainly earthy and vegetal and there was some sweetness and bitterness as well.

The seventh steep had the right balance of sweet, bitter and astringent. The overall tone leaned toward dark. The sweetness had a density to it that made it almost syrupy. Even now the tea continued brewing up strong and dense and the flavors themselves were really full and long-lasting. The next steep was cleaner and clearer. There was almost a sudden void of flavor up front, but the huigan was fast and noticeable. The resulting sweetness was strong and long-lasting. The broth continued to feel big in the mouth.

The second-to-last steep presented yet another experience that differed from before. The tea was soft. The feeling of it extended all the way to the back of the mouth. The flavors were light, gentle. Mainly sweet and mineral. This infusion was more about the feeling than flavor. The feeling that was left in your mouth was great. In the last steep the flavors were starting to taper off. The body was good, but the taste was starting to be reminiscent of mineral water. The mineral taste itself though was very rich and I could taste them all around my mouth. I decided to call the session there just to be on the safe side.

I will say that I am a fan of this tea. You tend to run into a lot of hyperbole when it comes to tea, especially pu’er, but what Bitterleaf says about this being high-quality material without a high-end price tag is not wrong. While this might not be the most aesthetically pleasing tea, the material itself is clearly very high quality. As long as you are fine with young teas and are not averse to possible small levels of bitterness and astringency, this is a great tea to drink right now. For someone relatively new to raw pu’er, this could be a great introduction to higher end material at a very friendly price. At the same time the tea has enough to satisfy more seasoned drinkers as well. Despite the tea having my personal recommendation, I am likely not going to be purchasing it for myself, although I could see myself giving it as a gift to someone at some point. I already have so many teas in my rotation along with countless samples to go through, that I’m not really looking to add another drink-now tea to the mix.

If you haven’t compiled your latest Bitterleaf order yet, I recommend throwing one of these in there! You can thank me later (actually thank the fine folks at Bitterleaf).

Flavors: Astringent, Bitter, Creamy, Earth, Floral, Mineral, Sweet, Vanilla, Vegetal

Boiling 0 min, 15 sec 9 g 4 OZ / 130 ML

Enabler…. :P

TJ Elite

Guilty as charged. :D



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Got a sample of this in the fall and was like meh…and let the rest sit in a closet til yesterday. Brewed a pot and was pleasantly surprised at how good it became…especially for a tea this cheap. Nice floral and honey notes. Nothing mind blowing but very pleasant flavors and mellow qi. It’s not a brain zap, exploding flavor gushu but at 5% of the cost, who’s complaining?

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Outside some Menghai productions, I haven’t really explored big factory ripe productions. From what I gather the 7581 seems to be a pretty well known recipe, but all that really matters to me in the name is the 8 as I’ve generally observed that I tend to have a preference for ripes with a larger average leaf grade. The sample that I received has a surprisingly strong sweet rice aroma especially for such an aged tea. The appearance of the dry leaf is very dark and although the compression was probably reasonably high back in the day, time has gradually transformed the material into dry and brittle.

I used 12.1g in my 160ml Jianshui clay teapot and also drank the tea from Jianshui clay. I was foolish and neglected to break the one large chunk I tossed in into smaller pieces and ended up doing so after the first rinse which I followed with another. I did a total of seven steeps, the timing for these being 12s, 12s, 18s, 28s, 45s, 75s and 2 min.

The first infusion was still fairly light in terms of color, but the liquor was already really clear. The taste and texture were similarly still light, but the tea was very clean and there was a certain refreshing quality about it. The mouthfeel was also nice. There was some very minor sweetness and overall the tea was very reminiscent of berry juice. There was also a certain creaminess about it. This profile reminded me a lot of the general Menghai area ripe pu’er profile.

The second infusion brewed a slightly different shade, but not really much darker than the first steep. This applies to the session as a whole as the tea never really brewed much darker than this, which isn’t dark at all. The liquor was super clear. While the texture had gotten even lighter than before, I was actually getting some bitterness now. The flavor profile was generally darker than before, but no particular flavors besides bitter really popped out at me. At this point I was already noticing some cooling going on in my airways. The tea became extra bitter once it cooled down.

Steep number three wasn’t thick, but it had a sort of slimy texture, if you know what I mean. The taste was that of dry wood. The tea was quite drying in fact, especially at the back of the mouth. The cooling was only amped up, which in turn really emphasized the dryness. The bitterness was still there, but in a very minor role. At this point I happened to get a whiff of the empty cha hai and the aroma was absolutely wonderful. Definitely pay attention to the aroma of this tea.

By steep four the color seemed to already be fading, but despite appearances the body had now improved. On the flavor front you got the slightest hint of sweetness which then turned into much stronger bitterness which then also went away. My favorite steep was steep number five. At first I had difficulty trying to come up with a way to describe it, but then I happened to smell the tea in the cup and it kind of reminded me of medicine. After tasting the tea again, I arrived at the conclusion that describing the taste as medicinal might actually be apt. I have heard others describe some teas as medicinal, but before this I’ve never tasted anything I’d personally label as such. I really, really liked this steep.

The sixth steeping brewed strong and bitter with more of the prior dry wood taste. At this point I felt some slight burning sensation in my throat, but I don’t know if that’s solely the tea or if my throat is becoming a bit sore. Steep seven was the last one I did. By this point the color was very light and the flavor reflected this. The tea had become very basic with some sweet and woody notes to it. The leaves could have probably carried on with extended steeping times, but I decided to call it there as I expected the steepings to only deteriorate from this point onward.

For such a budget tea, I quite enjoyed this tea. 10¢/g is typically the bare minimum I pay for ripe pu’er, but I must say I’ve never really been particularly impressed by any tea at this price point. While this tea might lack the richness and body of some younger similarly priced teas, what you are getting is a very clean tea that offers amazing value for the money. I don’t think I’ve ever really found any of the aged ripes I’ve tried in the past worth it, as the age has typically come at a substantial premium, but in this case you get an ultra clean tea that costs the same as a freshly pressed shu. Granted, some modern boutique pressings that cost about the same may have the potential to surpass this tea years down the line, but for my personal taste for immediate consumption I prefer this tea to most affordable ripes I’ve tried. That being said, ultimately I’d categorize Red Star as a daily drinker and while this is a tea that’s fun for me to session once or twice, it is not something I’d be looking to purchase. I’m not really a person who drinks the same tea more than once every few months or so, so daily drinkers aren’t really something I’m looking for. That being said, shu pu’er as a category is probably closest to a daily drinker for me as it’s generally the most casual type of tea for me.

I honestly didn’t expect much from this tea as I’m generally really picky about ripe pu’er and tend to prefer only the really premium productions and teas from certain areas. While Red Star does have its shortcomings, I found it to be excellent value at just under 10¢/g and something I can recommend to someone looking for a clean, affordable daily drinker that you can also pay attention to if you so choose.

Flavors: Berries, Bitter, Drying, Medicinal, Wood

Boiling 0 min, 15 sec 12 g 5 OZ / 160 ML

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While I’ve highly enjoyed ripe pu’ers made from Jingmai material, the young raws I’ve tried from there have always left me with mixed feelings. I was very curious to see what I would think of this tea. I’ve had a free sample that I received with an order sitting in my pumidor for several months. The tea is still very young, but I’ve been drinking through several samples over the past few days and decided to give it a shot. I used nine grams in a 130ml gaiwan and drank the tea both from a regular teacup as well as an unglazed Jianshui clay cup dedicated to young sheng.

I rinsed the leaves briefly for five seconds and let them soak up the moisture for five minutes while I drank the wash. There was already body to the tea but not much taste. It did leave a faint, perhaps floral aftertaste lingering in the mouth. I proceeded to do a total of eleven infusions, the timing for these being 5s, 5s, 7s, 10s, 15s, 20s, 30s, 45s, 75s, 2 min. and 3 min.

The tea started off with a big, oily body, although the mouthfeel itself was nothing all that special. There was a distantly honied taste, but all in all the flavors weren’t very defined yet. The aftertaste was actually stronger than the tea itself and very stable. I could taste the tea with my entire mouth. Over the next three steeps the tea grew greener and more astringent while retaining varying degrees of a honied character as well. What all of these infusions had in common was a long and stable aftertaste that was almost always better than the taste of the tea in your mouth. The aftertaste of the fourth steep was more of a honied mineral taste and it made your saliva taste AMAZING (like honey).

I found the fifth steep perhaps a bit weaker in terms of flavor, but also more settled and balanced. It was astringent, perhaps even a bit smoky, and I could feel a slight burning sensation in my mouth. The honey was now more in the background. Again, I found the aftertaste of this round more enjoyable than the front flavors. I would most likely recommend a small brewing vessel for this tea as it is something you don’t really need to drink more than a few sips of each steep.

Steep six was more friendly at least toward my tastebuds. The taste was softer with less astringency. The tea was still fairly green tasting and leafy, but more drinkable than before. I wasn’t really tasting the honey anymore, but there were now whispers of a green/leafy sweetness. The aftertaste was again the highlight here and this time concentrated around the sides of your tongue. It also improved over time and ended up becoming very nice. The seventh infusion continued on this path of change and presented a liquor that was now much more mineral sweet tasting and highly aromatic in the mouth. While the tea wasn’t necessarily excessively astringent, I could feel a slight burning sensation both in my mouth and throat. In terms of texture this steeping was incredibly easy to drink and the tea left a satisfying sensation in your mouth and throat after you’d drunk the tea. Your throat was also left feeling very lubricated.

The astringency and burning sensation started ramping up in the eighth infusion while at the same time you got less taste. This is the point from which on the clay cup started to become very helpful. It helped bring down the astringency to a more manageable level while revealing more of the underlying flavors. The tea was beginning to exhibit more of those honey notes again while also having that nice sweet mineral taste. It was highly aromatic especially in the nose and also left me salivating while making my mouth taste sweet.

The burning astringency continued in the next steep where the clay cup continued to be my friend, revealing complex notes of honey with countless layer to them. When drunk from clay the tea was also incredibly thick, feeling like yoghurt in your mouth. This was the thickest the tea got and I was really surprised by both the thickness and how well the clay cup was performing. Steep ten was no longer as astringent, but even here the clay cup made the tea much better. It improved the texture considerably and made the flavors rounder and more balanced. Overall the flavors were beginning to simplify, however, but the honey notes were still fairly “thick,” even if there was less depth now.

Steep eleven was the last one I did. Once again the clay cup presented fuller flavors here. The taste itself was beginning to get fairly simple by this point though. While the strength and body still remained quite good for steep eleven, I wasn’t expecting to see anything more interesting so I decided to call it here. The tea could have possibly gone on for at least a steep or two.

This session ended up being much more interesting than I originally expected based on the first few infusions. However, just like other young Jingmais I’ve had, I didn’t find that the flavors appealed to me and I found the tea to have too many unpleasant qualities in its current young state for me to enjoy. I think the area in which the tea easily shines the most is the stable and incredibly consistent aftertaste which I found often the reason why you’d drink this tea. I’ve never had an aged Jingmai, but based on the fact that I enjoy Jingmai shu pu’er and just the gut feeling I get drinking this tea, I’d suspect that these teas need to be aged a fair bit before I can enjoy them. This particular tea, while not necessarily high-end, displayed quite a few promising quality markers. I don’t really have enough experience to say how it compares against other Jingmai teas, but just generally speaking it performs just about how I would expect from a tea at this price point, making it fair value.

While I can’t personally recommend this tea as the flavor profile does not appeal to me, this tea was more interesting to session than other Jingmais I’ve had and if you’re looking for a Jingmai tea in particular definitely give this one a shot.

Flavors: Astringent, Green, Honey, Mineral, Sweet

Boiling 0 min, 15 sec 9 g 4 OZ / 130 ML

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Wow, it’s been a while since I’ve reviewed a ripe pu’er. I haven’t really explored Bitterleaf’s shu pu’ers, so I went in not knowing what to expect. The sample I received was simply a single piece from the cake. To me the compression seemed rather high, reminding me of Hai Lang Hao’s ripe pu’er bricks, expect in bing form. I found it easier to just chip away some small bits until I was left with a single twelve gram chuck, so that’s what I did. The appearance is rather appealing, reminding me of teas like the Green Miracle for example, although the buds seem smaller and so forth. The dry leaf has a familiar shu pu’er manure scent, although this could have been acquired in my pumidor so don’t place too much weight on that.

I used a 160ml Jianshui clay teapot to brew the tea. Since the tea was so highly compressed and still fairly young as well, I opted to do two short five second rinses instead of one longer one to try to soften up the tea a little. This was followed by a ten minute rest before proceeding to steep the tea. The rinsed leaves didn’t have a very strong scent. The smell was very interesting and unique though, very perfumy. Later on into the session I could pick up the scent of wet wood that had begun to decompose coming from the teapot. I did a total of twelve steeps, the timing for these being 10s, 10s, 13s, 15s, 20s, 30s, 45s, 75s, 2 min., 3 min., 5 min. and 10 min.

At this point I should mention I’ve been dealing with the flu for the past week, but I’d say I’m more than 90% recovered when it comes to appreciating tea. As another side note, I drank this tea both from a regular teacup as well as an unglazed Jianshui clay teacup dedicated to shu pu’er. Most of my drinking was done from the clay cup, but I had the regular cup there for reference just in case. With other types of tea I find it less straightforward, but in regard to shu pu’er I find that the clay almost exclusively improves the tea. The flavors are much more forward, the body is better and you lose hardly any of the nuance of the tea. If you are looking for the simplest and most cost-efficient way to improve your every ripe pu’er session, my tip would be to buy a simple cup from a vendor you trust and see if it makes a difference for you.

Anyway, getting back to the tea, the first infusion brewed rather cloudy, which is to be expect from a tea this young. The liquor itself had a sort of nasty smell to it, though, which was kind of new to me. That was limited to just this steep, however. As expected from a first infusion and a chunk that had still yet to properly come apart, although there was already flavor, the tea was still fairly light. The tea was kinda oily, but not necessarily in the same way as a raw pu’er. I still don’t know what people are talking about exactly when they speak of fermentation taste in the early steeps of young shu pu’er, but I did pick up some of the taste I’ve encountered in some other young ripes. For me it’s this sort of very mineraly taste that I could see some people describing as feeling slightly “off” or perhaps even slightly unpleasant, although I’ve never really had problem with it myself. Overall the tea was slightly sweet with a spicy finish. It left a sense of freshness in your mouth and helped open up my clogged airways featuring some nice mouth cooling as well.

The second infusion produced a much darker color now that the leaves had begun to open up and separate from one another. The liquor was still very cloudy, like dirty, extremely muddy water. The flavor was also much stronger. I could taste cacao, or you could also call it unsweetened hot chocolate. Overall you could call the tea bittersweet. The brew that followed produced an almost black liquor, but you could also tell that there was much more clarity now. The tea was thick, coating and lubricating, producing thick saliva in your mouth. It was even bolder than before, with darker tones to it. I could taste chocolate, perhaps even hints of vanilla. There was also a pleasant bitterness running through the tea that I enjoyed. Overall this infusion was really nice.

Steep four brewed as black, if not darker than the previous one. A sort of syrupy sweetness was beginning to emerge in the tea. Bittersweet would describe the tea quite well. The fifth steep had a taste of wet wood. There was also a potent, hidden sweetness within the tea. The steep was quite strong with lasting flavors. I found this infusion in particular very warming. I ended up having to take off my sweater as I suddenly began to feel extremely hot.

The color didn’t let up in the sixth and seventh steeping. The tea continued to brew strong and bittersweet, with both the bitterness and sweetness strengthening. Steep seven also had an interesting perfumy quality to it. The eighth infusion produced a gorgeous dark ruby red color with perfect clarity to it. It was one of the most gorgeous colors I’ve witnessed while brewing tea. The tea on the other hand wasn’t as potent as before. The texture was thinner and the flavors much simpler than before. The taste was slightly creamy, with some emerging minerality. Super clean taste overall. The tea left your palate relatively clean, although there was a lingering aftertaste as well.

The ninth steeping still continued to give a really dark color, although the liquor itself looked much “thinner” now, like colored water rather than tea. The taste was really creamy now. The sweetness had changed. It was very interesting. It had depth to it which is something I have not really experienced from sweetness before. Thanks to the extended steeping time there was decent body as well. The color did continued to fade in the tenth steep, though the tea was still brewing about as dark as some ripe pu’ers get. The flavors were definitely tapering off fast though. I could taste some of those red berries that I often get in Menghai area ripes just as they are about to steep out.

Steeps eleven and twelve were both longer ones and produced mainly a basic sweetness with some body as well. The strength and color were still decent and the tea could have probably gone for a couple more extra long steeps, but I decided to call it there. Toward the end of the session I could feel some mild qi in my body. It was nothing major, mainly a dull, pulsating sensation in my body. I did experience another wave of heat as well.

Looking at the steeped leaves at the end of the session, they look totally different from any ripe pu’er I’ve seen before. The leaves are large, springy and lively like raw pu’er, not dull, disintegrated and unrecognizable like most shu pu’ers. I’d say just from the appearance that these leaves look like higher quality material than a lot of sheng pu’ers out there.

So what did I think of this tea? I thought the material is excellent. This tea brews strong and it brews long. It even has qi, which speaks to the origin of the material. Although I enjoyed the flavors, the one caveat I have with this tea is that I didn’t find it to be very dynamic. The tea is very young, however, so this could change with time. I don’t have that much experience with ripe pu’er so I can’t really speak to how much change you can expect, but having revisited Yunnan Sourcing’s Green Miracle recently, I felt it had changed in terms of flavor over the past twelve months. I know the level of fermentation plays a big role here.

Having been made from the same material as their silver grade Plum Beauty raw pu’er, this tea is priced similarly, which places it outside what most people are willing to pay for ripe pu’er or raw pu’er even in some cases. I’ve tasted many shu pu’ers that are supposedly from higher quality material than your typical ripes, but this tea easily blew all those teas out of the water in terms of raw quality of the material. While this was not my favorite ripe pu’er based on a single session, I found it an interesting and rewarding tea to session nonetheless and I will be purchasing a cake of it in the very near future. I expect this to be a tea to benefit a lot from aging and will give it at least a year before even sessioning it again.

Flavors: Berries, Bitter, Cacao, Chocolate, Creamy, Dark Bittersweet, Spicy, Sweet, Wet Wood

Boiling 0 min, 15 sec 12 g 5 OZ / 160 ML

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I tried the gold dragon ball today:

It started out tasting like flowers and green herbs together, nice backbone of bitterness, really intensely flavorful. The aftertaste quickly turns cool at the tip of my tongue and the front roof of my mouth, while I continue to feel those big flavors deeper in my throat. After a short delay, my throat starts to turn cool and almost numbing, too. This tea tastes like a big burly guy dressed in some sort of delicate Brian Froud faerie costume and pulling it off in a super sexy study in contrasts sort of way.

The next few steeps were more bitter and dry brown medicinal herbal instead of green fresh herbal. Verging on exhilarating old books. Fuzzy numb tongue after. Dry thick herbiness sticking to tongue, my throat feeling tight.

Later steeps mellowed out in rich savory bean broth. Not much aftertaste or astringency anymore, just savory yums with eventually some bitter vegetal notes joining in.

I got a lot of housework and stuff done in between steeps – it kept me chill and productive and happy for hours and hours today. Might have to grab a few more.

Boiling 7 g 5 OZ / 140 ML

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Leaves are long, kind of like loose pu erh. I wasn’t sure what to expect even though I had other yellow teas before.

First steep… OMG It’s cotton candy!! Literally the only thing I can think about. I was so shocked that I had to keep going and see if the taste continues.

Future steeps are still very sweet… reminds me of the honey taste of sheng, but it’s more forefront and cotton candy-like.

Very interesting since I’m more used to green tea having umami flavors and being malty. This is a pleasant surprise, and I would definitely repurchase!

Flavors: Cotton Candy, Honey, Sweet

2 g 2 OZ / 55 ML

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