117 Tasting Notes
I’m a big fan of the 2019 vintage of this tea and the 2021 harvest does not disappoint. Having already reviewed the (now sold out) 2019 version, most of the things I wrote there should also apply to this tea, so I will keep this short and sweet and not repeat myself here.
Like its predecessor, the 2021 Full Frontal is a strong tea with plenty of bite and great longevity. The soup is thick with a pleasing texture. While obviously still floral, I actually found the ’21 less of a flower bomb than the ’19 and instead it displayed some interesting hints of a cocktail of various fruity notes alongside the florals.
While it starts off sweet and gentle, the bitterness ramps up as the infusions progress and grow longer. While I virtually always brew my raws with freshly boiled water, this is one of the teas where I like to do two infusions before reboiling. I find Full Frontal to respond well to ~95°C water and alternating between 99°C and 95°C gives a fun insight into the more biting and slightly gentler facets of the tea. If you’re afraid of this tea being too intense, you can experiment with using less leaf and slightly cooler water. I would expect it to still perform well.
I’d regard Full Frontal ’21 to be just as good as the ’19. If you missed out on the original or have already drunk it all, this tea comes highly recommended. I remember considering this tea to be a good value, but upon checking the price on the website, I needed to do a double take when I was the price per gram. 22¢/g is ridiculously good value for this tea! I’d expect it to sell for at least 30¢/g and even 40¢ wouldn’t be unreasonable at all. I’m tempted to pick up a cake myself, because I don’t have that much Jingmai and this tea ticks all the boxes for me.
Flavors: Bitter, Floral, Fruity, Sweet, Thick
As a big fan of the 2016 Wild Purple Green Mark, Dizzy as another raw–ripe blend became a tea that I definitely wanted to try. I received my sample of it around a year ago and had a couple of sessions with it. I remember liking it and still have my tasting notes from one of the sessions jotted down on my phone, but I never got around to writing an actual review for it at the time. Today I dug up the last of my sample from the depths of my pumidor and here we are finally properly reviewing this bad boy.
After a brief rinse, Dizzy opens up quite earthy and surprisingly sweet. Perhaps a bit caramely or nutty. I’m reminded a lot of roasted wulongs, which is quite interesting. The mouthfeel is also surprisingly enjoyable for the first brew. The cha qi which I remember from the previous session is also kicking in already from the first steep. A very enjoyable opening.
The second brew presents a very multilayered flavor profile. We are still in the sweet, roasted, earthy spectrum, but the texture has picked up a little and become slightly sticky and coating. I also notice some active sensation in my mouth. Cha qi’s even more noticeable than before, but thankfully it’s a good type of qi. Very positive and vitalizing.
The third steep presents a big turning point for this tea. I’m greeted by an almost shockingly fresh and fruity taste. Very zesty, citrusy I’d say. I can’t overemphasize how fruity this tea is. The body has also thickened up and the soup actually feels heavy to swallow. The cha qi is possibly at its most potent, very heady. I wouldn’t consider this a casual brew. The aftertaste is strong. To me this is a quite superb tea.
Immediately after I say that, we head into steep four and experience a bit of a dip as the tea heads in a more sour direction, which I personally aren’t a big fan of, although sour teas have their fans out there. I’m getting a bit of a cola vide in the finish and as I keep drinking this steep I do actually end up liking it. The mouthfeel remains great and the tea very flavorful. For a tea with ripe mixed in, the freshness is quite uncanny. There’s a lot going on here and you aren’t getting just one singular taste. Dizzy is a very dynamic tea to session.
Infusion five is even thicker, even zestier. SO fruity. I get such good vibes from this tea. It’s so clean, so fresh. I’m getting a touch of cooling now. The flavor has shifted from citrus to white grapes together with the slightly earthy touch from their skin.
Unfortunately from infusion six onward the tea starts tapering off, big time. I remember having issued with longevity in the past and I really recommend beginning to push the tea hard once you notice it gets to this point. Steep six is pretty much a combination of a standard shu affair and a run-of-the-mill sheng in its twilight. Infusion seven is similar but has more of the fruity, zesty character. Both brews are still good, though. Very flavorful and enjoyable. But there’s a distinct “thinness” to the flavor – a lack of depth. And that ultimately makes these steeps lacking in satisfactions, at least for a person like me.
Steeps eight and nine are the last two, but fortunately present yet another chapter in the journey of Dizzy before we close the book. Both present an unexpected medicinal character, distantly similar to what I experience with Wild Purple Green Mark. In infusion eight I get a nice minty, camphory taste. We’ve also returned back to the sweet citrus. The closing brew on the other hand leans more toward licorice. I’m happy to say these last two brews elevated my opinion of this tea back up again.
So yes, I highly enjoyed Dizzy. I remember it being good a year ago, but even just a single year in storage has done wonders to this concoction. The experience is really unique and I recommend a sample to anyone who’s even a bit adventurous. If you’ve already tried raw–ripe blends in the past and didn’t like them or just find the idea of such teas sacrilege, then perhaps this is not the tea for you, but otherwise I highly, highly recommend picking up a sample next time you are putting together a Yunnan Sourcing order.
While I highly enjoy (the now sold-out) Wild Purple Green Mark, which I own a cake of, I think Dizzy easily surpasses it in my book. I don’t think the two teas used in WPGM by themselves are anything special. It’s really the combination of them together and the unique flavor profile that results that makes that tea better than the sum of its parts. Dizzy on the other hand shines in other areas besides just taste, which is key for me. And on top of that the flavor profile that is born is even more unique than what we get in WPGM. Granted, it is most similar to some roasted Taiwanese wulongs I’ve had, but at the fraction of the price and on top of that you get the body and cha qi which you often miss out on in many wulongs.
The only shortcoming is the longevity, which ultimately isn’t that poor all things considered, just a tad disappointing. It reflects the affordable price of this tea, which I would consider amazing value. I’m most definitely going to be grabbing a cake of this.
One final note, though. I would say the sheng is easily the main star here. If you are more of a shu drinker, this might not be the tea you are looking for. This baby might brew up dark, but the flavor as stated is very fresh and zesty after the first few steeps. And similarly if you are mainly a sheng drinker, don’t be put off by the inclusion of shu in here. The earthy, fermented spectrum really plays more of a supporting role here.
Flavors: Camphor, Caramel, Citrus, Cola, Earth, Licorice, Medicinal, Nutty, Roasted, Sour, Sweet, White Grapes
I got my second COVID shot today, so in honor of that I decided to Buckle Up. While apparently quite renowned in China, in the Western pu’er circles I feel like Xigui remains still somewhat obscure in the shadow of giants like Lao Ban Zhang and Bingdao. Even my own experience with tea from there remains fairly limited. I keep hearing talk of how it’s famous for its unique fragrance, but I’ve still yet to identify what that fragrance is. The characteristics that have seemed rather consistent from tea to tea are the very mineral-driven taste coupled with lightness and subtlety.
In its first infusion, Buckle Up offered just that. But that first impression betrays this tea, as from the second infusion onward it is a very different experience. The very sweet and mineral character is joined by a fruitiness that to me tastes distinctly like peach, complete with both the sweet, fruity character as well as the earthy, garden-like facet of it.
As the infusions progress, a pastry-like quality joins in along with some lemony notes. Together with a pleasant sourness characteristic of this tea, they produce something with an uncanny resemblance to a lemon-peach cheesecake. The body that keeps thickening as the steepings go on completes the picture.
Each infusion is different in terms of taste. There’s a lot of complexity and the session is rather dynamic. On the flip side, where Buckle Up shines in complexity, it perhaps loses out somewhat in terms of depth. But there’s a lot to like and overall this Xigui is rather refreshing and energizing. Bitterness and astringency start off low and continue to gradually build over the course of the session, but remain quite palatable even by the end. All in all Buckle Up is a very approachable tea.
While not even close to a budget tea, this one’s still somewhat more affordable than Xigui gushu, while still offering many of the qualities you’d expect from high-end old arbor. I quite like this tea; it’s rather unique. If someone served me this tea, I’d happily drink it. But at least for me it’s more of a tea that’s nice to sample and experience a couple of times, rather than something I’d cake. And that’s my recommendation for others as well: definitely buy a sample of this if you can and are interested; cake it if you really like it.
While different, this tea does remind me a lot of Naka. It’s probably the strong mineral vein running through both of these teas. I’m typically not a big fan of mineral-dominant teas, but these two areas seem to be the exception. Personally I do prefer Naka, though, and would probably rather grab a cake of OG Naka for essentially half the price(/double the tea). Both are great teas, though. I recommend grabbing a sample of both and doing some back-to-back or side-by-side comparisons.
Having now had my second session with this tea and finishing my sample, my opinion of it has elevated. Because it was the bottom of the bag, my ratio was slightly heavier than normal at around 7.2g/100ml. The tea could handle it with ease and seemed to respond well in fact, producing rich and flavorful brews.
I find the flavor profile of Buckle Up very enjoyable and unique. The lemon cheesecake taste is so delicious! Together with great mouthfeel and calming qi, this tea’s a winner. While it may not be cheap, I’m now going to be ordering a cake in Bitterleaf’s upcoming anniversary sale.
Flavors: Cheesecake, Citrus, Earth, Mineral, Pastries, Peach, Pleasantly Sour, Plum, Sweet
It took me a couple of years to warm up to Bitterleaf’s original 2018 Naka and by the time I started liking it it had appreciated so much in value that buying a bing wasn’t even a consideration. Now we finally have a follow-up and after some deliberation I decided to grab a cake of it blind (along with a sample). My very positive session with OG Naka only heightened my expectations for this tea. Now, with a couple of months under its belt, I could wait no longer.
From the first sip, this is one of those teas you just know to be good. And it puts a smile on your face. Or makes you say out loud to your drinking partner, “This tea is pretty f***ing good,” in my case. And like in the case of other teas of this caliber, trying to pin down what it is that makes it so amazing is quite elusive, and frankly you find yourself beyond caring.
Instead of trying to describe what it is that makes Eminence great, I’ll simply describe what it is like instead. …But since I don’t want to repeat myself, if you haven’t read my OG Naka review yet, I ask you to go do that, because pretty much everything I said about OG Naka applies to Eminence.
Then what’s different? Well, my expectation of Eminence being a much more subtle tea was totally mistaken. It somehow manages to be even more flavor-packed than OG Naka, which is saying something. Whereas I don’t recall OG Naka being particularly bitter, Eminence again surprises by being quite bitter indeed. Not in a bad way, I’d say, but not in a good way either. It could be a deal-breaker for some, though.
Of course the star is the yan yun, and it is absolutely massive! I didn’t think OG Naka could be so utterly beaten, but Eminence does just that. This goes hand in hand with the texture, which is where I felt OG Naka fell somewhat short. While also possessing a huge body, it is the texture that grabs my attention here. It is crunchy! It honestly (almost) feels like there are small crystals, small grains of salt, in the tea soup. After each cup my jaw feels a bit tired, like I’d just finished chewing something. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a soup so… physical.
But in terms of differences, that’s about it. The longevity is about the same. OG Naka might even have a slight edge. But then again Eminence brews up stronger, so they are pretty much even. Both carry a fragrance in the mouth, but I think Eminence more so. Honestly most things the big E takes just a step further.
But is the gushu worth more than twice the price of OG Naka? For me the answer is a resounding yes. But for you it might be more of a maybe. Eminence honestly shot directly up to one of my favorite teas. Granted, the first session is essentially the honeymoon period and things can change. But I don’t see that happening.
My recommendation is to try OG Naka first and move up to Eminence if you like it. Naka truly has a unique terroir worth experiencing. When you drink your tea, please remember to give thanks in your thoughts to the trees it came from, the people who produced it and people like Bitterleaf who make these teas available to us.
Flavors: Astringent, Bitter, Floral, Mineral, Sweet
Crimson Lotus might just be my favorite Western vendor when it comes to shu pu’er. Most of their ripes that I’ve tried I’ve really liked. The flip side of this is that I haven’t really been into the majority of their sheng offerings. Interestingly, most vendors do exhibit a certain “house taste” when it comes to their own pu’er pressings, even if they weren’t involved in the production of the tea and it’s not a blend. All of this is to say that when Crimson Lotus releases a new shu pu’er, I consider it a fairly safe blind purchase.
And that is exactly what I did with this tea. Even though I did take my time, I did finally order both a cake and a sample of this tea (so I don’t have to break into the cake immediately). The artwork is great (even if not exactly original) and the mention of some Lao Man’e being mixed in enough to make my ears perk up.
After letting the tea rest a few weeks, I had my first session with my cousin who is also a fan of tea, but much more casual compared to me the passionate teahead. Shu pu’er is his favorite and he has highly enjoyed some of CLT’s other ripes, so we were both pretty hyped for this tea.
We used a 140ml gaiwan with around 12g of leaf. The tea brews dark, bold and bitter. I don’t know how much Lao Man’e is in this and how similar the other teas are, but that profile seems to very much dominate the taste. It’s a good kind of bitterness though and doesn’t persist. Bitter dark chocolate is essentially the flavor profile I get from this and it doesn’t change all that much over the course of the session. Some steeps might have a hint of the characteristic grapefruit I get in good Lao Man’e, but I could be just imagining it knowing there’s some Lao Man’e in here.
Overall, the taste is nice – as long as you like ripes with some bite to them – but ultimately not dynamic enough to remain interesting. What makes up for that, however, is the mouthfeel. This tea brews up thick and in its prime steeps feels like pouring molten chocolate down your throat, coating everything in its wake. Not as good as Hai Lang Hao’s best ripes, but still very good. If you value texture and mouthfeel, this is your kind of ripe.
Another highlight of the first session was the cha qi. Me and my cousin are both more sensitive to cha qi than the average drinker, I wager, my cousin even more sensitive than me. This tea got us really wasted, swinging wildly from giggly to stoned over the course of the session and many things in between. It could very well have been just amplifying the emotions we were experiencing at that moment. Whatever the case, the cha qi together with the incredible texture made the session very memorable for us.
After returning home, I drank the rest of the sample (8.5g) in my 100ml Jianshui teapot just to check if the tea was in fact as good as the first session led to believe. In terms of flavor, the tea was very similar. I got a lot less chocolate and more of a typical shu profile (with the fast bitterness of course), but otherwise it tasted very much like the same tea. The texture on the other hand was interestingly not as great brewed in Jianshui. Maybe it was just a fluke, but I did get essentially the same experience, simply in somewhat weaker form.
As a side note, I’m thinking of discontinuing to use my Jianshui pot for future ripe reviews, because my Yixing zini pot performs much better. In cases where I don’t have quite enough leaf for a satisfying session in that teapot, I’ll use a gaiwan instead. The 100ml Jianshui is great for casual sessions where I do four brews in a row, stacking two in my cha hai and two in one of my bigger cups, but when evaluating teas I’d like to try to bring out the very best of them that I can.
Then we get to the elusive cha qi. I’m not sure if I got much in my second session. Maybe some but nothing major. Could simply be that the psychoactive effects weren’t as evident when not trying to hold up a conversation. I may add an edit to this review if I remember in regards to how my future sessions go in terms of cha qi.
Overall, I’m very happy with my purchase of this tea. Based on my first session with it I’d rank it among my favorite ripes to date. The second session while still good didn’t deliver quite on the same level, but hopefully that was just a fluke. The bitterness might be a deal-breaker for some, although this is not a tea I’d recommend buying because of its taste. To get the most out of it, I think one must absolutely value mouthfeel and texture. The cha qi – if you get it – is also a potential big bonus.
To compare The Way with Yunnan Sourcing’s 2019 Lao Man’e, I think The Way is overall higher quality. The longevity is much better and so is the texture. For me the YS wins in terms of taste. The first two or three infusions still bring a literal smile to my face every time I drink it. It’s that good. Shame the flavor goes from great to good and from good to average over the course of a session, whereas The Way holds up much steadier across the infusions and gives you more brews. I’ll need to experiment with leafing the YS harder to see if I can improve the longevity. I may also need to experiment with blending the two together. I would love the taste of the YS together with the mouthfeel and potential cha qi of The Way.
In closing, I highly recommend The Way. It is definitely worth a sample if it sounds like your type of tea. I’d consider the price quite reasonable relative to the quality. Mine is going to be saved for special occasions. While I’m short on space, I may even consider getting a second cake…
Oh, and to shamelessly plug my cousin who is a composer, you can find his music if you search for Markus Junnikkala. He mainly does orchestral music, but has also released dark ambient, electronic, etc.
Flavors: Bitter, Dark Chocolate, Grapefruit
I’m a fan of the Big Snow Mountain in Mengku, so I ended up picking up a cake of this blind. The price was reasonable and I’m close to finishing another 357g bing in my short-to-medium term shu box, so there was an opening. My experiences with Daxueshan have generally been very positive, so I had high expectations for this one.
Since I own a bing, I didn’t want to review this based on just one session, so I did two to get a better feel for it. For my first session I used 13g of leaf freshly broken off the cake, while setting aside 10.5g to wait for my next session three weeks later. My teapot of choice for the first session was my trusty 160ml Yixing zini while for the second I used a 100ml Jianshui. The resulting sessions were quite different. While the difference in leaf-to-water ratio is obviously a big factor, as can be the choice of clay, I’ve found that at least with sheng pu’er breaking off the leaves you are about to drink a couple of days in advance can make a shockingly big difference in the tea (although I haven’t done a more scientific A/B).
My first session was a bit of a mixed bag. While I enjoyed the tea, I also found it to have some underlying unpleasant qualities to it. I find a lot of Yunnan Sourcing ripes to exhibit this when they are young, but my experience with the cakes I’ve owned is that it tends to go away after a couple of years, so hopefully it’s just the youth of the tea speaking.
Even the black teas I’ve had from Daxueshan have exhibited rather potent cha qi, so I was expecting this tea to be more active than your average shu. And in the first brew it did show signs of that. The tea felt warming and I could sense some form of reaction in my body. But after that nothing. On the other hand my notes mark that the tea had good body and a nice, smooth texture.
In terms of taste, there’s a fleeting bitterness present in the first half of the session. later replaced by a growing sweetness in the finish. I dry woodiness is the main character I get from this, along with otherwise a fairly standard spectrum of shu flavors. Overall somewhat boring in terms of taste, though.
In my first session I experienced the tea starting to taper off around the seventh infusion and while I stopped at nine I could have probably squeezed in at least one more, but in all likelihood it probably wouldn’t have been great.
I don’t know if it’s the heavier leaf-to-water ratio or what, but my second session was more positive. The tea was notably stronger (as one would expect), but interestingly I found the body and texture somewhat lacking until I got to the later infusions where the brewing times were longer. There the body was still somewhat unsatisfying but the texture became very pleasing. Either this stems from the difference in clay or it’s just a product of the inconsistencies of tea.
Perhaps thanks to leafing harder, the effects of the tea were also more noticeable this time around. Nothing crazy, but I could still feel some slight throbbing in my upper back and a general warming sensation a few brews in. While I could still detect some slight underlying unpleasantness in the tea, the more abrasive nature of the first session was mostly gone.
In addition to stronger brews, leafing the tea heavier also improved its longevity by quite a bit and I was able to easily get eleven brews out of it with at least one more being a possibility. The late brews are actually probably where the tea peaked for me because of the improved texture. While still a fairly standard shu affair in terms of taste, the second session did have more character overall.
Overall I think this is a nice tea with potential to hopefully grow. Had I sampled it beforehand, I probably wouldn’t have caked it, but I don’t regret grabbing it as it’s going to serve its purpose. I think the price is fair for what you get. No standout features right now, but hopefully it’ll start to shine a few years down the road. I seemed to prefer it leafed quite hard, but feel free to experiment for yourself.
Flavors: Bitter, Dark Chocolate, Drying, Roasted, Sweet, Wood
Bingdao area ripes aren’t something you see on the market every day, so obviously I had to try it. I actually picked up a cake of this blind for aging and a sample for having a couple sessions with it now to get a feel for it and its potential trajectory. For this review I used the same teaware and tea-to-water ratio as I use for most of my ripe reviews for consistency. These consisted of 13g of tea in a 160ml Yixing zini teapot along with a cha hai and teacup both made from Jianshui clay.
5 Villages brews up really dark yet the wet leaves aren’t pitch black but brown, so the fermentation isn’t on the heavy side. Ripes can sometimes offer some of the richest aromas at least to my nose, but this one seems rather straightforward and typical for a shu with its mainly cherry-like aroma. Hopefully the aroma will develop with age.
Taking my first sip of the tea, my first impression of it is it being both very typical for a ripe yet fairly unique at the same time. The flavor profile is familiar yet the tea adds a small twist to it with its own unique character, which is not necessarily easy to pin down immediately. I’m tasting earthy tones and some typical berry sweetness. There’s a touch of bitterness, but it fades quickly and does not persist. The tea is certainly drinkable, but there’s a slightly unpleasant edge to it stemming from this being a young lighter fermentation ripe. Most Yunnan Sourcing ripes tend to have this, but it should diminish within a few years.
The second infusion is among the best. It is sweet, very sweet. I’m getting much more of a cherry/cola taste now, cola being a descriptor I’ve seen others using for ripes, but this being the first time I’ve found it apt myself. The soup is now full-bodied and the mouthfeel pleasing. The aftertaste is stronger and longer than with most shus and interestingly more sour than bitter or sweet. There’s also some cooling going on in my mouth.
The rest of the infusions end up varying in terms of body, from a tad light to about what you’d expect from a ripe, although the strength of the tea holds much more consistent. While the upfront flavors are fairly standard, the aftertaste is what makes this tea at least somewhat unique. It has hints of fruit with a bit of tartness and a touch of sour. The fruits could be something like sour cherries, although at times I also get something more citrusy and closer to something like grapefruit. I even pick up on somewhat of a green, leafy character.
My favorite steepings end up being two, four and seven. The tea grows more balanced as the infusions progress, before eventually simplifying to a fairly standard shu affair toward the tail end of the session. The tea holds up surprisingly well, though, and ends up having one of the best longevities I’ve encountered in a ripe.
Ultimately, an interesting tea to session, but still not necessarily the most engaging. And again, in terms of enjoyment, it’s a nice tea, but not exactly an instant favorite of mine. But the quality is good. Not something that screams high-end to me, but it’s up there in the upper midrange or perhaps entry level high-end. If I think back to ripes that did strike me as high-end, I think the luxurious, velvety, active and engaging mouthfeel is what sets those teas apart from this.
5 Villages has an interesting flavor profile, though. Hopefully with age the fruits will become more defined and pronounced. This is also one of the most cooling teas I’ve had. While that doesn’t really earn it any extra points, it’s still always something interesting to note.
So, is it a good tea? Yes. Is it worth the price? For most people probably not. Is it worth sampling? If you’ve already sampled other high-end teas like the ones offered by Hai Lang Hao. I don’t think the Bingdao name alone is reason enough to jump at this tea over other alternatives on the market. From Yunnan Sourcing’s own more premium ripe pressings I’d personally recommend sampling the 2019 Lao Man’e and 2019 Ba Wang alongside or over this one. I don’t think I reviewed it, but I recall the 2020 Bronze Label Peerless also being quite good.
So how do I feel about purchasing a cake of this blind? Any regrets? No, no regrets. Most Yunnan Sourcing brand shus I generally don’t like that much when they are young. Based on their cakes that I’ve happened to have in my own storage for a few years now, though, they do generally tend to improve noticeably with age. The lighter fermentation lends itself better to the medium and long term. This tea’s actually already pretty good as it is. I bought it for its aging potential, which does seem to be there. The novelty factor did obviously also play a big part for me, and no matter how it turns out, I’m simply curious to see how the tea ages.
Flavors: Autumn Leaf Pile, Cherry, Cola, Earth, Fruity, Sour, Sweet, Tart
Thelonious Monk is one of my all-time favorite jazz musicians, so I have a fondness for this tea’s choice of name. As a fan of Bulang as well, this blend of Hekai and Nanmo has at least on paper the ingredients for success.
Dropping the dragon ball in my preheated gaiwan, I’m greeted by an aroma that makes me think of lightly smoked fish. Not the most enticing aroma, but let’s not judge a book by its cover. The aroma of the wet leaves clears up a bit and interestingly continues to change throughout the session, presenting various facets of itself.
The rinse and first one or two infusions are rather disappointing in terms of body and the flavor is rather vague as well. But once the tea gets going, the body improves and you are greeted by the characteristic Bulang bitterness. There’s actually a lot that could be said about the flavor and bitterness especially in the early to mid steeps, but I feel like I lack the necessary association needed to properly describe them. I know people who can do it are out there.
What I can say is that the bitterness isn’t unpleasant and fades fairly quickly, at least most of it. If there’s sweetness, at least for me it was masked by the bitterness. The body reached maximum thickness around the mid point, which is where I also encountered some floral character. The latter half of the session is also where I started feeling increasingly hot and eventually even a bit unsteady. I don’t know if I’ve slowly built up a tolerance over the years or just been drinking the wrong teas, but it’s been rather rare for me to get tea drunk as of late, so this tea surprised me.
After a bit of a slow start, once the tea got going it ended up impressing me a lot more than I would have expected. I found it a really fun tea to session. The cha qi is lively, but not overbearing or aggressive like some Bulang teas can be. Perhaps not something you’d look for in a daily drinker, but nice for an occasional brew for when you are craving something a bit more energizing. If you are a fan of Bulang, Straight No Chaser is well worth trying. It’s ready to drink now, well-suited for aging and the quality matches the price.
So far I’ve been really surprised by Bitterleaf’s 2021 teas. Nearly all of the teas I’ve tried have been totally ready to drink this young, which has certainly not been my experience in previous years with most sheng. On top of that nearly all of them have been REALLY good. I know many of my reviews of Bitterleaf teas have been positive, but I’d like to note that there are a lot of their teas that I didn’t bother to review because I wasn’t that enthusiastic about them. I don’t think there have been any I truly disliked (which is fairly rare anyway), but many of their teas end up ranking as okay in my book. I mean, it’s like that for most vendors.
If we look at Bitterleaf’s raw pu’ers from 2020, unless I’m forgetting something, I believe the ones I’d personally recommend are Year of the Rat Yiwu, Drink Me and Little Mountain Bloom. Monsieur Lafleur also gets an honorable mention as a cheaper alternative to Bloom. Plum Beauty also carries an intriguing fragrance to it, but I honestly just aren’t that into Mengsong teas. All of the other teas are nice and I’m sure they have their fans, but I wouldn’t personally name them to someone asking me for recommendations.
But this year’s lineup… So far I’m really impressed. Maybe I started with all the good ones, but we’ll see. A bit of a tangent, but I wanted to bring it up somewhere since it was on my mind.
Flavors: Bitter, Floral
“Naka for the people,” as Bitterleaf calls it. I drank – and reviewed – Bitterleaf’s original Naka back in 2018. (Has it truly been three years?) I was lukewarm on it at the time and honestly probably ill-equipped to properly appreciate it – despite what the me back then may have thought. I’d only been drinking pu’er for maybe a year and a half at that point, which when looking back now equates to getting your toes wet.
Since then I’ve revisited the 2018 Naka twice. Once maybe a year after my first session and a second time some months back when the tea was close to three years old. My second session was more favorable than the first and the third one I actually enjoyed quite a bit. By that last session the tea had developed a lovely orange blossom note to it, which was my first time encountering it in a tea. Orange blossom happens to be perhaps my favorite note in perfumery, so that experience stood out to me for a special reason.
Authentic Naka is a scarce and often a high price ticket tea, but OG Naka finally offers a “budget” option for pu’er lovers everywhere. But at only 40% of the price of this year’s Eminence old tree Naka, does OG Naka offer the true Naka experience at a much more affordable price, or is it simply a too watered down version to live up to its name?
Well, let’s find out.
In terms of flavor, the tea is simple but enjoyable. I didn’t get much bitterness at all and astringency only really entered the picture in the longer later steeps. While it didn’t come across as a sweet tea to me overall, OG Naka actually has a fair amount of sweetness running through it, more than your average sheng I’d say. The tea makes your own saliva taste sweet in your mouth. There’s also already some fragrance present in the soup. I found it hard to identify at this point, but I felt like I could detect some hints of the aforementioned orange blossom already present in the tea. Perhaps I was just wanting to find it.
But the big thing that must be talked about is the yan yun, or “rock rhyme” if you will. It is something that many have found ever-elusive, but it is present here in spades, much more so than I have experienced even in high-end Wuyi yanchas brewed Chaozhou style. Everyone struggles to describe it and has their own definition for it, but what I experienced with this tea is a strong mineral dryness, like you’d just licked a rock. This is different from astringency and a more typical drying sensation you may have experienced with other teas. It doesn’t leave you thirsty in the same way and I think this tea actually may have a slightly salivating effect, actually making your mouth more moist than normal. The overall experience is surprisingly refreshing and hydrating, great for the summer.
The body is good and maintains itself well throughout the session. The texture starts out kinda rough, not necessarily in a bad way though, but smoothes out eventually. Definitely doesn’t compare with the smoothes of ancient arbor teas. The tea is very flavorful and I was able to go all the way to 3 and 5 minute steeps in my last infusions with them still being very enjoyable, so the longevity is there.
Overall a great, great tea. It was both memorable and enjoyable. I’ve yet to try this year’s Eminence, but at least compared to my memory of the 2018 Naka, OG Naka came across as the more flavorful and robust tea, whereas the 2018 was a much more subtle and textural affair. Between those two, I would see this one as being the more easily approachable one and one many might actually prefer despite it being considerably cheaper.
This is a tea I highly recommend if you’ve never experienced Naka, because it’s very unique. Not a cheap tea at $3 per dragon ball, but it’s an experience well worth it if you really love pu’er. Is it cake worthy? That depends. If you’re already a fan of Naka, but don’t have any in your collection because of the typically high price, I doubt you’ll be disappointed in this if you’ve been eyeballing it already. I think the quality is good. You are maybe paying a bit of Naka extra, 30¢/g would be a bit more reasonable I think, but I think the uniqueness of Naka is worth it in this case. For most people I would recommend getting a sample first, though. Bitterleaf has said they only got a small amount of this however, so you better act fast if you’re interested.
Flavors: Astringent, Drying, Floral, Mineral, Orange Blossom, Sweet
I’m a big fan of the 2020 vintage of Drink Me, I personally even prefer it to the more expensive Resistance from the same village, but unfortunately by the time I had my first session with it in fall 2020, the tea had already sold out. When I saw it was being featured again in the 2021 lineup, I didn’t hesitate to pull the trigger and order a cake blind. Even if it ended up not quite living up to the 2020 harvest, the original was such an exceptional value I saw no way I could go wrong with my purchase.
After two weeks in transit and letting the teas acclimatize in my pumidor for a week, here we are having my first taste of this tea. It’s quite early to be tasting a tea this young, but I wanted to get a review out early, so that others have a chance to jump on this tea if they so choose, while they still can.
I will start off by briefly describing my memory of the 2020 tea from when I last had it a few weeks ago and then proceed to discussing how the 2021 harvest compares to it. The 2020 Drink Me I recall being very thick with the consistency of that of plant based oil. Very floral with a gentle bitterness to it, although bitterness might not even be the best word to describe it. I even got some interesting milkiness in the early steeps. An excellent tea for the price.
Now jumping to the 2021 harvest, this year’s tea might actually have a stronger flavor to it than the previous year, although I don’t quite recall exactly how strong the 2020 spring was and don’t have any of it left to check. That being said, while I can’t quite put my finger on how I’d describe the fragrance of this tea, it struck me in its current state as much less floral than the 2020 harvest at one year of age. The tea is also noticeably more bitter than I recall its 2020 brethren being, but still gentle compared to many other Bulang teas. The bitterness does persist, though, which might be a deal-breaker for some. Longevity is good and I was able to still get a perfectly serviceable brew at 3 minutes and even the final 5 minute infusion was decent and not just plain sweet water. The thick and oily consistency has been carried over from last year. The effect of the tea is energizing, not too aggressive.
While the OG Drink Me was similar to the neighboring Hekai, it still had its own unique character. This year’s harvest I found much more similar to Hekai and a bit less distinct (in its current form). If you really love Hekai, that might be a good thing. If you are like me and are a bit lukewarm on Hekai, maybe you might enjoy the 2020 Drink Me a bit more. Most of those who enjoyed last year’s offering will probably like this year’s as well, but there might be some to whom the 2021 vintage doesn’t quite deliver what they loved about the 2020. With age the two teas will hopefully start to converge a bit more, while retaining some of their individual charm.
Overall still an excellent tea even before looking at the price tag and after doing so just a phenomenal value. If you are a fan of the original, Hekai teas, or just Bulang in general, I think this is a quite safe blind purchase if you haven’t ordered Bitterleaf’s 2021 dragon ball sampler yet. At 13.5¢/g the value is nuts. I think this tea is perfectly ready to drink right now, but will only get better in the next couple years as I witnessed with the original. Only the bitterness could be a turnoff for some, but those individuals probably shouldn’t be eyeballing a Bulang tea in the first place. I recall the original being friendlier in that regard, but unfortunately that ship has sailed. In any case, if you are at all interested, I would act fast just in case history repeats itself and this tea remains as popular as it turned out last year.
Flavors: Bitter, Floral, Sweet