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Recent Tasting Notes
While trying to get through my sample stash, I had came upon this one from the old sample box that LP had sent a few months ago. I apparently hadn’t finished the samples from the box (there are four more remaining which must’ve been more than a session’s worth at the time).
I must say that this reminded me a lot of pipe tobacco. It mostly reminded me of the pipe itself after it hasn’t been smoked from in months and months. The pipe has that slight subtle note of tobacco, but has lost that once dominant odor/smell/flavor. I’m guessing that this must’ve been a smoky sheng once upon a time, but has ceased to be the smoky tea like it had been. Now, you only get the reminder that it once was something smoky, but currently remains as the reminder of something that once was….
This is a luxurious tea, that would pair well with a bubble bath, or sitting by a fireplace reading a book.
I brewed this in my ruyao 100ml gaiwan, with 5 grams which was plenty as this tea is packed with flavor! I have brewed this with both 208 F and lower temperatures (180) and have leafed it as high as 8g per 100ml. I find that making it the way I did this time (5g/100ml/180F) brings out the best qualities of the tea.
Mandala’s Big Red Robe is pretty steady throughout steeps, and doesn’t really change it up much besides fading to a gentler taste at the end of the session. However, this doesn’t take points away from it. This is a tea for easygoing sessions, a stroll along a beach instead of a roller coaster ride.
The sweet honey fruit taste, like peach juice and spices (cinnamon? clove?) is luxurious with a thick feeling coating my tongue on each sip. The flavor lasts quite long after each sip, lingering a while before fading to ready you for the next sip. The sweetness is strong with a spicy quality to it, and has a warming quality as well. The nose carries on the sweetness almost pushing it, being a little edgy in the sweetness, before relaxing back again.
Not a very complex tea (that is, tea which has a flavor that changes steep by steep), but not every tea needs to be. Mandala’s Big Red Robe holds its own against more complex teas with its rich texture, spicy sweet taste, and long lingering aroma. A tea for relaxation, contemplation, and unwinding after a long day.
EDIT: After watching Mei Leaf’s video on Da Hong Pao on youtube, who recommends brewing da hong pao at high heat I brewed this again at 6g/100ml/208F which brought out some different qualities. Very chocolatey, brown sugar, cooked fruit like cherries when you make jam, very juicy, still has that lingering aroma, and a taste that washes back and coats the tongue after each sip, a little bit of astringency but very very light, some charcoal smell on the gaiwan lid, forefront taste is mineral like stone or concrete (this was subtle brewing at a lighter temperature so I didn’t notice it especially compared to the very strong taste on the nose). Over all this fits with the description of a very high quality da hong pao as described by Don at Mei Leaf.
Flavors: Brown Sugar, Cherry, Cinnamon, Clove, Dark Chocolate, Fruity, Honey, Mineral, Peach
A very shiny buddy tea! The small golden tendrils give off a faint baked bread aroma with some salted caramel and malt. I am not big on Dianhong, but I do like the gold buds. I warmed my bowl up and slipped some inside. The aroma expands into some dark cherry, cocoa, and a woody tang. I washed once and sipped away. This is a good red tea, for it lies somewhere in between bitter/woody and sweet/cocoa. It has a good malt base with some woodiness but with a sooth baked bread taste. The astringent tone is just slight, and it shows up in the aftertaste. The next steeping brings on some yam notes with a wood shaving dryness. The tea is decent. I am more keen to the flavor sweet bombs, but this is still a fair tea.
Flavors: Baked Bread, Burnt Sugar, Caramel, Cherry, Cocoa, Malt, Wood, Yams
I’ve had this for some time, so I picked it out of the rucksack to steep out. The leaf has long delicate tendrils with no discernible scent. It was incredibly light, so I couldn’t quite place what I was sniffing, but I would say a light hay-y aroma. I brought out one of my English tea pots and brewed away. The taste was nice and subtle. I am not a huge fan of white tea, but this one was decent. The liquor is a rusted orange with a slight earth green aroma. The taste is smooth, light, and sweet with tones of hay, cane sugar, vanilla, and wood. Also, this brew has a delicious base of lemon grass that follows to the nose. I liked this tea, and it was an interesting steeper.
Flavors: Hay, Lemongrass, Smooth, Sugarcane, Sweet, Vanilla, Wood
I finally pulled this out from my cupboard, mostly to get rid of it and drink it by sheer force of will alone. I had gotten a sample around a year to a year and a half ago, and like all ripe pu’s I didn’t like it as they all tasted very “samey” to me. Turns out I had taken someone’s well meaning advice and had been following it unwittingly this entire time. That is, brewing ripe pu’s at near boiling (208-212 F). Apparently this completely blows all the subtle flavor out of a ripe pu ehr, hence why I’ve been thinking they all taste the same!
I had basically been doing the same as blasting a steak until it was well done, then wondering why people rave about steak so much, when it just tastes bland to me.
Well, this time I brewed at 190 F, and brought this pu down to a “medium rare” equivalent, and boy does it make this tea shine.
Throughout brewing, this tea has a woody, wet earth, mushroom taste at the forefront, immediately followed by the most delicious nose I’ve ever had in a tea before.
Cinnamon, butter, sweet sugariness, walnut… all at once, layered on top of each other, like eating a cinnamon bun taken straight from the oven. In later steeps this takes on a more sweet taste throughout, with the earthiness relaxing a bit into a more molasses cookie in a forest after a rain flavor, and more of that cinnamon bun flavor on breathing out after a sip.
The taste doesn’t linger long, and there’s no astringency and very little bitterness.
I’d have to experiment more to see how long this pu could last after a rough session, but I have a feeling this would hold up to a lot of resteeps without losing its charm.
I’ll definitely have to see if I can get a hold of a cake (or two, or three…) as it is well worth it.
This pu is a real charmer, and an absolute gem.
Here’s to pleasant surprises, and learning from mistakes.
Flavors: Brown Sugar, Cinnamon, Molasses, Mushrooms, Vanilla, Walnut, Wet Wood
First, an apology to anyone who reads my musings (no, hecklers, not for their quality). I had a lengthy bout of congestion and other such complaints this winter, and didn’t want to post tea reviews that would be equivalent to movie critiques by someone watching a heavily occluded drive-in screen from a block away and making up their own dialogue. I wouldn’t class my reviews as being from someone who fully understands or appreciates the teas in full before putting electrons to “paper”, but I at least require one legitimate session before offering an opinion, even though I needn’t fear that I hold any notable sway over public opinion.
So, on to this tea. It was a rather humbling experience trying to suss out the correct way to describe it. This is due to a phenomenon everyone I know seems to exhibit, although whether it is an American trait or more universal to human nature I do not know.
The trouble I have with this tea is, it’s perfectly fine. It’s thoroughly acceptable. It’s quite all right.
But this is damning it with faint praise, is it not? I know if I asked someone whose opinion I trusted to describe the food at a new restaurant and they described it as “all right”, I wouldn’t go. If a movie is “fine”, I don’t need to see it. I only want the amazing, the truly noteworthy. I was sipping steep 16 of this, a plant someone grew almost a decade ago nearly half a world away, and it was enjoyable, but all I could think of was thicker liquor, longer lasting flavor, and evoking deeper feelings.
I have no more of this, and perhaps for the sake of the tea, that is best. May you find yourself in a more salubrious situation next time, leaves, and not with someone who views your merits as if through the haze of your namesakes. I hope I will become a more attentive drinker from this experience, and then I will look back on you more fondly than your otherwise limited charms may have merited.
Another small sample out of the Puerh TTB! Brewed 4g up in handy 60mL gaiwan. After really enjoying the 2015 Reprise cake, I was interested to try the OG Wild Monk that people seem to have raved about. The dry leaves had a bit of a smoky aroma to them, which only intensified after a rinse. There was also some fruity and perhaps woody notes to the leaf aroma.
There was a bit of smoke to the first two steeps, but it wasn’t unpleasant. Other than the smoke, those two steeps had a bit of a fruity finish and were thick and creamy in the mouth, leaving a bit of a tingling sensation on my tongue.
By the third steep, the smoke was gone, replaced by a few different flavors which interplayed nicely. There was a hint of cinnamon, along with the fruity sweetness. The fruity notes weren’t intensely peach or apricot or anything, but were pretty laid back. By the fifth steep, I was also getting a bit of a sugary sweetness in the front of the sip.
This tea had some pretty powerful qi – even with the small amount, I was really feeling it by this point in the tea session. Felt pretty tipsy and fuzzy-headed. In terms of flavor, this tea really hit its stride around steep six as well. A great balance of bitterness and sweetness. There is just a touch of mouth-drying going on, but not too bad at all. I tasted fruity and light aromatic woody notes in the tea. This flavor carried on through another eight or more steeps – so I got a decent amount out of that little 4g sample!
I can see why people were excited about this tea – it’s definitely a good one. Very balanced flavors and hard-hitting qi. Hopefully Mandala makes it back online soon, though I’m fairly certain this tea was already gone beforehand.
Flavors: Fruity, Smoke, Sweet, Wood
Randomly pulled this out of the stash and rinsed it nicely and noticed it had a strong aroma. Rinsed it a second time just because I am use to really smooth sheng at this point.
First steep was rough. Second steep was harsh. Third steep was me wondering why I’m so forgiving.
Ended it there. Quite bitter for a 4 year old tea since this is from 2012.Mine came right off of the cake too so either I am realllly spoiled with sheng or this is just a punch in the mouth and I’m not a masochist.
Pulled a small sample of this out of the Puerh TTB when it was here. This tea is awesome. I can see how some people would not be a fan, but I certainly enjoyed it. The dry leaf had a bit of a sour raisin smell with a bit of a floral lean to the aroma. After a rinse, I smelled just a lick of smoke along with spiced fruit bread.
This tea is BITTER, but hot damn is is a good bitter. Probably one of the most bitter teas I’ve tasted – it was a strong and “clean” bitterness – I didn’t find it astringent or unpleasant. A little surprising at first, sure, but fantastic once I was expecting it. I’d describe it as an herbal or mineral, or perhaps medicinal bitterness. Maybe reminiscent of quinine really. Of course the bitterness wasn’t all this tea had going for it either. After that sharp tang of the bitterness left the mouth, the tea had a rather sweet fruity finish, eventually tasting a bit like peach, but more the rind than the fruit. If I increased the steep times too quickly, it got a bit of an off flavor, but doing flash steeps for most of the session lets this tea go a good 15 steeps or so, which is pretty awesome. The bitter note that I really liked was basically omnipresent in this tea – only started to fade as the tea itself was on its last legs.
This is a great tea for those who like bitter flavors – if you don’t like bitterness, this one would probably be awful to you.
Flavors: Bitter, Fruity, Peach
Great thermos. Unfortunately I broke mine recently. Really my own fault. Dropped the darn thing on a tile floor. Bought a silly replacement and I now appreciate how great the mandala one was. With my new one I get a lot of tea buildup around the ‘strainer’ (not sure if that’s the real name for it) as it’s slanted inwards. Never had this issue with my mandala thermos. I had a few colleagues at work that enjoyed tea or I turned onto tea and they were constantly asking to borrow it simply as a brewing vessel. Great quality, just don’t drop it like I did! Price was high from mandala, but I’d rather pay that again than be stuck with the one I have now!
I thoroughly enjoyed this tea. I steeped it western style with 5g of tea and about 8 ounces of water. After an initial rinse I steeped each infusion for about a minute. The aroma was very reminiscent of warm compost and dirt. The taste is of sweet dirt. The second infusion brought the slightest astringency and bite in the mouth.
You know those people that are like, “Oh, tea is just like softly flavored water, I’m a real MANLY MAN and I like my coffee dark and my beer double-hopped and your wussy tea stuff will never be enough for me?”
Give them this. Maybe it will mellow out with time. But right now this stuff is for those times when a triple-IPA is not quite enough, when you need that quinine-bitter to hammer straight into your skull. Also, underneath the brutal, browbeating bitter: like, increasing with more steeps: clearly a dry-aged raw meat thing.
When you want to have your skull smashed into a concrete curb by a swaggering beast of a tea: there is Wild Monk for you.
I’m glad I have a cake.
Starts off sweet, not too much bitter or astringent for a young sheng at all despite the description. Very drinkable with some nice hay, fragrant body, and a hint of capsicum of some sort. Nice way to start your day, it is a light chugger that didn’t do much amazing for me, but doesn’t do you any wrong either and has a nice, gently uplifting feeling to it. Very clean sort of taste as well, if that’s your thing.
Flavors: Floral, Green Pepper, Hay
Thanks so much, JakeB! One serving of this one left… so sipdown! And yes… I’m steeping a Mandala tea Western style again, though I realized a while ago they should be steeped Gong Fu. A tiny bundled, dark green oolong. I swear the dried leaves had the scent of peaches and I was really hoping the flavor would be the same, but no. Sadly, only roastedness from the leaves is revealed in the flavor. And maybe some sweetness. To me, Jin Xuan should be the natural milk oolong, but I wasn’t noticing that at all. All steeps were the same. None of them seems oversteeped. Not special enough for me. If any oolong has any roastiness at all, I’m usually not very interested, especially if it’s the only characteristic of an oolong. I’m happy I tried it though!
Steep #1 // 1 teaspoon for a full mug// rinse // 10 minutes after boiling // 1 minute steep
Steep #2 // 10 minutes after boiling // 2 minute steep
Steep #3 // just boiled // 3 minute steep
While the notes of this tea are already accurate, I’d like to weigh in as I have drank this 3x at work in the morning.
The term bitter and chocolate does apply, but not in the sense of a bittersweet dark chocolate. This is more like the astringency of an Assam tea but a chocolate taste you would get from some leftover chocolate powder used in a mixture that happened to be on your fingertips. Not that strong, quite dry, but noticeable. I prefer my golden needle dianhong to this due to the bitterness that makes it hard to enjoy fruits right away in the morning.
Well this is pretty interesting. Rice scented puerh. As soon as the hot water hits the mini tuo, there is a mushroom-y rice scent that wafts up. After a ten second rinse, I steeped it for 30 seconds. Someone who reviewed this mentioned that it tasted like the mushrooms from a basmatti rice, or something to that effect. And I 100% agree. That is the best way I can describe this. I get some white button mushrooms as well as a little wilder flavor of a morel. And it tastes like they’ve been boiled in the water that you will use to cook the rice and then you cook the rice and if that mushroom rice was liquefied, you’d have this. Or, you could pour off some of the water before it is all absorbed into the rice. Either way. Mushroom rice.
Fascinating for sure. Not sure that it is something I am 100% into. I don’t know why I shouldn’t be. I mean, I like rice and I adore mushrooms. But for some reason it is kind of weirding me out. I could see using this in cooking though. Maybe it will grow on me.
The second steep I only let go for 15 seconds as it got much darker much quicker. Same basic flavor though maybe the mushroom flavor is slightly amped up. Just a very unique experience here. I don’t know what to make of it.
So, what can be said of this is that it has longevity. I’ve been steeping it on and off all day long. The flavor is holding up quite nicely as is the color. It has certainly grown on me and after about 4 or 5 steeps a slight sweetness comes out to play with the mushroom rice flavor. I’m ticking up the rating a bit.
Flavors: Earth, Mushrooms, Rice
Clearly this tea comes with a pedigree. When tea masters and discriminating connoisseurs Redford and SkyBlu immortalise your tea in song, you know you’ve made it. Well done Mandala.
I am not yet at the level of these esteemed sommaliers of Chinese tea, however, as I do not believe I have the capacity to enjoy this tea every day, as they have reported doing. It is a remarkably smooth drinker, yet with enough punchiness to retain interest, it’s true. But their refined palates must be grasping nuances beyond the ken of a beginner such as myself, to lead them to imbibe this on the daily. I do not think it could hold my interest at that frequency, though the fault is surely mine.
Yes, I will just come out and admit it. At best, I’d be shufflin’ monthly.