Of the dozen or so ripe samples I ordered recently from Yunnan Sourcing, this is one of the ones I was most excited to try. For a fair comparison, I used the same teaware as in my last two reviews: 160ml Yixing zini teapot accompanied by teacup and cha hai made from Jianshui clay. The amount of leaf was also near identical – half of my sample, in this case 13.1g.
For boutique ripes like this one I’ve recently abandoned flash rinses in favor of doing a longer 10–20s one and drinking it instead of discarding. This one was strong and flavorful for a ripe, immediately piquing my interest. It was sweet and bitter, with some berries present in the aftertaste, which was strong and stable. In the wet leaf aroma I could pick up currants, sour bread and some charcoal.
With the leaves primed, the first proper brew was strong indeed! Very bitter, in a good way. I could even taste the grapefruit note which alongside the notorious bitterness is one of the trademarks of Lao Man’e for me. Capital! As the infusions progress, the bitterness gradually fades a little, allowing the fruitiness to shine through and present a more balanced tea. While there’s more tartness than sweetness, there’s definitely some huigan to complement the bitterness, not too much though.
The body starts off good but not impressive. However, as you’d expect it does improve with extended brewing times. The texture is very smooth and the tea goes down easy. As the steeping times grow longer the soup becomes increasingly more oily. In the mid steeps I experienced some cooling sensation which is also where the tea was at its most refreshing.
As the infusions progress, the tea grows smoother and smoother, the seventh infusion actually being my favorite of the session, presenting the perfect balance between the bitterness and the zesty fruitiness while also being as smooth as can be. As the tea begins to lose steam, the texture starts becoming more chalky, resulting in at least the impression of it being slightly chocolaty as well. While the grapefruit doesn’t fade completely, the taste starts to become more earthy resembling a more typical shu. I may have picked up on some plums as well.
And there you have it. What a tea, what a tea! Those who have been following me for a while likely know that Lao Man’e is my favorite sheng pu’er production area and man did this tea deliver. It’s nearly everything I could hope for in a Lao Man’e ripe. I’m incredibly impressed at how this tea manages to retain most of the character of the young raws from this village while rounding off some of the harshest edge of the bitterness and offering you all that ripe pu’er goodness. The wet piling process has been truly immaculate.
This is without a doubt the fruitiest ripe pu’er I’ve ever had the pleasure of drinking and I have no idea how they accomplished that, especially given how incredibly dark this tea brews up. Great, pleasing bitterness is one of the most sought after qualities in a ripe pu’er for me and while this one isn’t perfect, I do enjoy the bitterness in this one a lot. I did manage to make the bitterness somewhat abrasive even by my standards by trying to push the tea a little bit harder in one of the middle steeps, so I would recommend paying attention while you brew.
The qi in this one is one that builds up over time. In typical Lao Man’e fashion it can make one feel a bit restless, but thankfully at least I didn’t find it to grow too potent over the course of the session even if it did start to get a bit heady toward the end. I was using a fairly large vessel for a single person, though, and a somewhat heavier ration than I typically would, so more sensible sessions will probably be fine.
For those who are curious about how this compares to the Hai Lang Hao ripe pu’er brick, I did review that one a couple years back and my thoughts on it back then were quite mixed. For a proper comparison I did order a sample of that tea as well and just finished drinking it right before beginning to write this review. I wasn’t a fan of it before and now I think I’m ready to say I don’t like that tea. The cha qi in it really doesn’t agree with me and for me the lack of sweetness or any other notable flavors besides the bitterness just kills that tea for me. That’s my short take on that, but obviously feel free to order samples of both teas if you are curious.
I’m going to hold off on making any purchase decisions until I’ve tasted my way through all the ripe samples I ordered, but I’m going to tell you right now that this tea immediately became my favorite ripe of all time. It’s that good. Unless there’s another really great tea among the samples I have, I’m likely going to be picking up at least two or three cakes of this one, if not more. While this is not a cheap tea, it’s priced really reasonably in my eyes relative to the quality.
If you’re not a fan of bitterness or single-origin teas, this one’s likely not for you. Otherwise I highly, highly recommend picking up a sample as this tea deserves to be experienced, even if you don’t end up loving it.
Flavors: Berries, Bitter, Chocolate, Earth, Grapefruit, Plum, Sweet, Tart