117 Tasting Notes

With the growing prices of pu’er, huang pian has been gaining popularity over the past few years. Most western-facing vendors have been focusing on offering much more affordable versions of material coming from highly revered areas and old tree material, but Go Big or Go Home while hailing from Yiwu breaks this trend by being an even more affordable alternative to an already very affordable tea.

I received a free sample of this with an order and now having finished the bag I can say that I’m a fan. As you’d expect from an Yiwu, the tea is sweet, honied, maybe a bit fruity, with perhaps hints of vanilla and a woodiness that appears in the later steeps. Bitterness is virtually nonexistent. Depending on the water you’re using, brewing temperature, how broken your leaf is and how hard you’re pushing the tea, you can start to get some dryness and astringency in the later infusions, but overall the tea is very forgiving to brew.

While simple and easygoing, the tea is not lacking in strength, body or longevity, nor did I find it boring. I think for the price Go Big or Go Home performs really well; better than many teas costing several times more that I’ve tried. Ultimately a daily drinker as you’d expect, but I liked it enough to buy two bricks as presents.

Flavors: Drying, Fruity, Honey, Sweet, Vanilla, Wood

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

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Lao Man’e is my favorite pu’er producing area, so I always jump at the opportunity to try a new production from there. Last year Bitterleaf only offered this bitter varietal loose; this time they’ve gone ahead and pressed it into cakes. I used my standard parameters: seven grams, 100ml gaiwan, freshly boiled water, sub-five-second rinse, five-minute rest. As expected, the wash was strong, hella strong. Mineral, creamy. I followed up with a dozen infusions, the timing for these 5s, 4s, 5s 8s, 8s, 8s, 10s, 12s, 18s, 30s, 50s and 75s. The tea could have easily kept going, but I was well hydrated by that point and decided to call it there.

As you’d expect from a Lao Man’e, the tea is strong, with the characteristic grapefruit note present. There is certainly bitterness, but it does not persist and typically only last for a matter of seconds. Honestly, I would hardly describe this tea as bitter, while many factory productions, etc., I’d certainly characterize as hella bitter. But I might have a very different tolerance and affinity for bitterness than most, so you can certainly take that statement with a grain of salt.

This is one of the fruitier Lao Man’e I’ve tried, with minimal dryness or astringency and instead a juicy, salivating effect. While it is a very good representation of your typical Lao Man’e, it is at the same time one of the more unique ones I’ve had. It is both a lot creamier in the early steeps than I’m used to, later revealing a strong earthiness in the mid-to-late steeps. The bitterness does become increasingly prominent as the infusions progress, but this is countered by sweetness, creating an enjoyable dynamic.

The overall experience is surprisingly smooth for a Lao Man’e, having unexpected parallels to the Crimson Lotus “Danger Zone” which I reviewed recently. I finished up my sample at work and can say that this tea would make for a nice daily driver for me were it not for the price. And I say that as someone who does not like drinking the same tea more than once every month or two at most. The cha qi is also positive in nature, helping to energize you without being aggressive or too overbearing.

For a bitter varietal Lao Man’e, this one has a surprising amount of depth and isn’t boring or one dimensional like many of them can be. The bitterness is playful but not abrasive, which is exactly what you want to see. All in all a tea I can recommend and one that is in my view a vast improvement over last year’s Bitter End Xtra.

Flavors: Bitter, Creamy, Earth, Fruity, Grapefruit, Sweet

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

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drank Canopy Flasher by Mei Leaf
117 tasting notes

This is the last of the Mei Leaf pu’er samples I had in my stash. Two five gram sample packs totaled eleven grams, so once again it was time to bust out my 165ml silver gaiwan which is the perfect size. I did a brief flash rinse, followed by a few minutes of rest while I sipped the wash. It was strong, citric and piny/foresty with a rich aftertaste.

I followed up with eleven infusions, the timing for these 7s, 7s, 7s, 10s, 15s, 20s, 30s, 45s, 80s, 2 min. and 3 min. Canopy Flasher started off strong, thick and coating. The taste was citric, creamy. The mouthfeel was great, very full. There was plenty of aroma permeating in my mouth and nose, which is always a good sign. From the second infusion on, the tea gets bitter. Overall, I’m very much reminded of the Crimson Lotus Tea “Danger Zone”. Both are incredibly thick and creamy, the differences being Canopy Flasher is much more higher noted and the citric and bitter characteristics were absent in Danger Zone.

All in all, Canopy Flasher isn’t the most dynamic or exciting of teas. That is not to say that it is totally boring either. The strength and bitterness are definitely its defining characteristics, with the latter varying from fleeting to intense to one that transforms quickly to sweetness. The tea is very energizing, one that makes you feel awake. It is not just ridiculously thick, but the mouthfeel is great as well. Your mouth will feel numb whilst being flooded by the sugary sweet aftertaste. If you are a fan of intense teas and Nannuo teas in particular, this one might be for you. Personally I prefer the (more expensive) CLT Danger Zone, even though I complained about it not being nearly bitter enough. The material here is clearly good — one of the better Nannuo teas I’ve had — but after trying several teas from this area, young and aged, none have ever grabbed me and this tea was no exception. I think it’s starting to feel safe to say Nannuo isn’t my cup of tea.

Flavors: Bitter, Citrus, Creamy, Pine, Sweet

Boiling 0 min, 15 sec 11 g 6 OZ / 165 ML

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He Kai is one of those areas I’ve always been interested in, but never really gotten around to exploring proper. When Crimson Lotus came out with this tea, I was immediately interested to try it. The gorgeous artwork also helped.

I brewed this tea in my standard manner: seven grams in a 100ml gaiwan. The aroma of the dry leaf in a preheated gaiwan is surprisingly pungent. In contrast, the rinsed leaves present very little in terms of aroma. The wash itself was very strong, very pungent, quite creamy. After a few minutes of rest, I followed up with twelve proper infusions, the timing for these 7s, 7s, 5s, 7s, 10s, 15s, 20s, 30s, 45s, 75s, 2 min. and 3 min.

Right out of the gate, Danger Zone starts off with a big body and a really rich but balanced flavor. The aftertaste is also quite strong. The first several steeps are like this, growing thicker and thicker with each infusion, presenting a very dense and rich but also smooth and balanced taste. While the soup is packed full of minerals, strength and plant matter goodness, there is no one single characteristic that ever starts to dominate the tea. The tea can be quite sweet at times, also presenting some playful kuwei here and there, but avoiding any real harsh character throughout the session.

At its thickest, the He Kai gets absolutely ridiculous with its brothy goodness which becomes almost difficult to swallow. The soup is oily and coating, with a hint of bitterness and citrus in the finish. The word I keep coming back to is ‘smooth’. Despite the infusions having strength to them, the tea never even begins to approach becoming overpowering or dominated by any singular characteristic. The bitterness and astringency do start building up toward the end of the session, but they are always playing off of the sweetness.

Overall, I was very pleased with Danger Zone. The material is clearly high quality and it has a unique character that sets it apart from your typical generic sheng offerings. For a high-end tea, the He Kai is much more flavor-focused than most, albeit still not a tea where the flavor profile is the main attraction, like with other types of tea like most hong cha and wulong.

The thickness is totally nuts and the strength very deceptive due to the tea’s smoothness and balance. There were only really two areas where the He Kai fell a bit short. The first one was the aromatics. Aerating the tea in my mouth presented me with virtually nothing to play with. Since this is still a very young tea that hasn’t necessarily had time to develop aroma, I’m willing to give it a pass for now. The other area is more of a personal preference, but for my tastes the tea was a bit lacking in bitterness. As a fan of Bulang teas, extremely spicy food, etc., I do prefer some more backbone to my teas, but overall Danger Zone was still a tea that I find very easy to recommend. The fact that I ended up ordering a cake after the session should speak for that.

Flavors: Astringent, Bitter, Citrus, Creamy, Olive Oil, Sweet, Tart, Vegetal

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

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drank Night Forest Muse by Mei Leaf
117 tasting notes

My hit rate with Mei Leaf teas hasn’t been the greatest. The teas I like from them I’ve really liked, but the majority of them have been rather disappointing and lackluster. Although there have been a few exceptions, generally speaking nearly all of their teas have also been rather overpriced. That might have to do with the British pound and them being based in London rather than China. I wasn’t planning on ordering any new teas from them, but as I ended up ordering some teaware from them, it made sense to throw some pu’er samples in my cart as the shipping was rather expensive and my goods not so much. This tea was one of them.

Supposedly from Bing Dao and gushu material no less (make of that what you will), I believe this is the most expensive sheng they are currently offering, although I could be wrong on that. Mei Leaf offers 5g samples of their pu’ers, and since that is a bit light for a proper session for the teaware I like to use, I ended up ordering two sample packs. My largest gaiwan is a silver lined one that’s 165ml. Ten grams would be a bit light for that, but weighing my samples I was very happy to see the first one contained 5.5g and the second 5.4g. That’s just about ideal. All tea vendors should take note: the first step in making me a happy customer is being generous with your samples. Small sign of good will can go a long way.

While transporting the samples from home to where I was actually having the tea with some company, I had them in a small ziplock bag, and while the leaves themselves outside the bag didn’t really seem to have that smell, smelling the empty bag itself at my destination I was smelling straight up strawberry marshmallows. That’s pretty rad. I rinsed the leaves briefly for five seconds, giving them a few minutes to soak up the moisture while I sipped the rinse. Since the sample was essentially in loose form, the wash was already quite strong. The notes were leaning toward dark and foresty, with your typical young sheng creamy hay notes present in the finish.

I proceeded to do a total of eleven infusions, the timing for these 6s, 6s, 8s, 10s, 15s, 20s, 30s, 45s, 75s, 2 min. and 3 min. respectively. Night Forest Muse starts off dark and mossy, subtle yet potent. This tea is a true depth bomb. The experience is extremely layered, without any clear distinctive flavors you can pick out. While no flavors jump out at you, the tea is very potent and the body thick. The aftertaste is long and stable, with cooling noticeable in the airways.

The strength continues to build up with subsequent infusions along with the body and mouthfeel, with the tea becoming very full and expansive in the mouth. Despite its strength, the tea never becomes overbearing, always remaining palatable. The enigmatic nature does not lift and Night Forest Muse remains a subtle and nuanced affair. At times the tea does develop some edge to it in the form of some acidity and astringency, but this never grows to a level where it starts to detract from the experience and in fact at times contributing to it.

In the mid steeps the tea soup is so viscous in the cha hai that shaking it sharply from side to side, the tea liquor moves in one direction, a little bit in the other and then comes to an immediate stop. It feels really heavy. It is in these mid steeps that you also start experiencing the huigan. People in the west often use the term very loosely and it can mean different things to different people. What I’m describing here is the closest thing to how I understand the term — a literal returning flavor, distinct from any other type of sweetness, originating from the throat and the back of the mouth. Some people seem to describe nearly every tea as having huigan, for me it’s a rare thing.

After a few more steeps, the tea develops an immediate upfront sweetness as well, which lasted up till the point where I stopped. Like with most teas, the other flavors started tapering off around this point, with some harshness accompanying the sweetness, but never beginning to dominate the tea. At the point which I stopped the tea was still going, but I was feeling pretty bloated so I decided to call it there.

All in all Night Forest Muse was a capital tea! One of the best teas I’ve had in recent memory. I wasn’t expecting that, given my track record with Mei Leaf teas. This is a tea that’s very hard to try to put into words as it really is more of an experience than anything else. This was only further confirmation that I should be focusing more on Lincang and Mengku specifically as I’ve always loved teas from there. Alongside Bulang it is definitely one of my two favorite regions.

As for the price… $0.77/g. Perfectly reasonable to me. This definitely falls in the $0.5/g to $1/g bracket and smack in the middle sounds about right. Even though my pumidor is short on space, I ordered a bing right after the session, so yeah, this tea is worth it for me.

Flavors: Astringent, Hay, Moss, Olive Oil, Sweet, Tart

Boiling 0 min, 15 sec 11 g 6 OZ / 165 ML

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drank 2012 Song Song Cha by Denong Tea
117 tasting notes

I received a sample of this with a free tin of black tea I received from Denong for answering a survey (had to pay for international shipping though, which at USPS rates was equivalent to the price of the tea itself). The sample bag read 3g (woo…), but when I weighed it, my scale said 2.8g, some of it pure dust. Only thing worse than receiving a sample of less than 5g is not even receiving the amount stated on the label. Fortunately Bitterleaf Teas was recently giving away 50ml gaiwans to those who ordered dancong, so I at least had a vessel suitable for such an amount.

I gave the leaves a brief rinse for under ten seconds, with no rest in between before brewing. I did ten steeps, the timing for these 8s, 8s, 10s, 12s, 15s, 18s, 25s, 35s, 45s and 60s, drinking from a silver cup.

The Song Song Cha starts off surprisingly strong right off the bat with a massive body in the early steeps. I don’t know if the silver played any part in this, but the tea is very flavorful for a shu. The flavors are very clean and crisp, being conveyed without anything obscuring them. The tea has a very prominent camphor note running through it, accompanied by cooling as you’d expect along with herbaceous notes.

As we transition from the early steeps to the middle ones, we sadly lose the body but gain some sweetness, one that I’d label as a berry sweetness. The taste becomes extremely clean — and frankly cleansing — like the purest of spring waters. The tea is devoid of any dankness or earthiness and simply tastes like the cleanest, purest of waters, with fresh, herbaceous notes to it accompanied by slight berry sweetness. The overall presentation is fairly subtle and over-brewing just ruins the experience — I know because I tried. The clarity this tea has in its mid-steeps is unrivaled. One infusion had a slightly oceanic vibe to it and this together with the other notes conjured up the image of enjoying aromatherapy in Greece, somewhere by the mediterranean.

Unfortunately as we enter the late steeps, growing dryness starts to get introduced and infusion ten actually caused a persisting burning sensation in my mouth, which made me want to end the session there.

Overall the Song Song Cha is an extremely clean tasting shu for its age. Coupled with the camphor and herbaceous notes it very much makes me think of a dry stored ripe from the ‘90s. Now in my book that is not exactly a compliment. While I’m not a fan of dank or overly earthy teas, ultra clean shus are also a bit of a turnoff for me. My personal preference tends to veer toward younger, light to medium fermented teas with preferably some bitterness to them when pushed a little. Somewhere in the age between 2-10 years. Too much older than that and we start risking the tea becoming a bit too clean for me. Of course that’s just a generalization and obviously simply my personal preference. I don’t mind some earthiness as long as it’s not excessive.

The tea has good strength, but the roughness toward the end impacted the longevity. I’m not sure if you could brew past that, but I wasn’t willing to find out. All in all an interesting tea to try. Fans of ultra clean shus with herbaceous or medicinal notes might find something of interest here, but otherwise I wouldn’t go out of my way to seek it out. I realize now I haven’t checked the price point so let me go do that.


Oh. So this tea is $85 for 50g. Don’t know if that makes this the most expensive ripe I’ve ever had, but it’s certainly up there. At that price, I certainly can’t recommend this tea. Drinking it, I did not get the impression it was an ultra-premium ripe at all. It was certainly thick in the early steeps, but at anything past 30¢/g I’d be looking for a luxurious, rewarding mouthfeel, incredible aromatics and a long-lasting finish. This tea did not offer that. It’s good, clean, well processed, but not even close to being worth that kind of price.

Flavors: Berries, Camphor, Drying, Herbaceous, Sweet, Tart

Boiling 0 min, 15 sec 3 g 2 OZ / 50 ML

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Those who know me know that I love Lao Man’e. It is my favorite pu’er producing area. I own a bing of Hai Lang Hao’s absolutely stupid priced 2016 Lao Man’e, that’s how much I love this stuff. This year Crimson Lotus released both the sweet and bitter varietals as mao cha alongside blending the two into a limited number of cakes. Blending the two has always made sense to me: the sweet varietal lacks the kick that I look for in a proper Lao Man’e while also often having only average longevity, whereas the bitter varietal can often end up being a bit too one dimensional. Together the two complement one another nicely.

I ended up ordering one of each of their single sessions and blending the two together for this session in a 60:40 ratio of sweet versus bitter, totaling eight grams in a 100ml gaiwan. This was a casual session I did not expect to be reviewing, so did not take notes. I did an unknown number of steeps over the course of two to three hours, using up approx. 1.5 to 2 liters of water in the process. For the first countless steeps I kept the steeping times to a flash, until finally starting to lengthen them in my standard manner, ultimately stopping at the 3 minute mark.

For me the tea is a bit too green still. The rinsed leaves have a distinct asparagus smell to them, which comes across in the cup too. Some very green teas like green teas and jade wulongs have the bitter asparagus note and I’m personally not a fan. I’m not a fan of greener teas in general. The first few infusions are rather strange in general. All of Crimson Lotus’s mao cha that I’ve tried recently have suffered from this. I don’t know if it’s a storage thing or maybe a mao cha thing. I’ve never been a huge fan of mao cha; I’ve always felt pressed raws taste way, way better. Regardless, the weird funk does clear up after a few brews and the expected bitterness ramps up as well.

There’s definitely sweetness, but it only comes to the forefront after the bitterness has had its time in the limelight in the early to early mid brews. I found this tea somewhat atypical of Lao Man’e, which I suppose is a good thing as the teas can taste a bit too similar to one another. It could have to do with the young age or the tea being loose, but regardless it’s a welcome change even if I did miss some of the more classic attributes, which might develop later. For me the highlights of this tea were the extremely consistent robust body and the enjoyable, energizing cha qi. I’m used to Lao Man’e teas being rather aggressive generally, so the more pleasant energy was definitely welcomed. For a young tea there is already a good amount of fragrance going on and aerating the tea in my mouth I could tell in an instant that this is a great tea.

The quality is honestly top notch, and as someone having tasted many, many teas in the $1/g region, this is one of the few that is actually worth it, or let’s say it’s one of the teas most worth its price point. For those seeking to figure out how to discern true old tree material, I think this is one of the best and clearest examples I have come across. I have no doubts about this material being old arbor and the leaves look stunning both in dry form and brewed.

Before the session I was absolutely not in the market for buying a second cake of Lao Man’e, and despite that by the end of the session I’d placed an order for the blended cake. I highly, highly recommend sampling this tea, both for a Lao Man’e novice as well as a veteran. Despite being unsure how I felt about the tea at first, it eventually won me over and it is an impeccable tea. If you want to recreate the blending experiment I did but are not fully on board with the full-on bitterness of Lao Man’e, you can increase the ratio even further, something like 2:1 could work nicely. I’m tempted to blend the rest of the mao cha I have with the Honeymoon sheng I reviewed previously and see how that works out. Might be a waste of expensive tea, but you never know before you try.

Flavors: Asparagus, Bitter, Citrus, Sweet

Boiling 0 min, 15 sec 8 g 3 OZ / 100 ML

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I received 20g of this tea as a freebie with an order. I’ve read up on CLT’s 2018 teas when they came out, but since then the details have slipped from my mind and blended together. For this session I decided not to check the description or the price to go in mostly blind. All I remember is that this one is a blend, but nothing more.

I used 7g in a 100ml gaiwan. The dry leaf has an uncanny smell of fruit candies. Unmistakably Yiwu if you were to ask me. Quick 5s rinse, followed by a 5 min. rest while I sipped the wash. The taste was sweet, mineral, touch creamy. I was also picking up on some tobacco and leather which is rather rare. I proceeded to do a total of ten infusions, the timing for these 5s, 5s, 7s, 10s, 15s, 20s, 30s, 45s, 75s and 2 min.

Honeymoon starts off sweet, fruity, fresh and refreshing, with a distinct pineapple note to it. The fruitiness is prevalent throughout most of the session, only dropping off briefly in the early late steeps before coming back later on. From the second infusion onward the tea develops a nice texture to it, which like the fruitiness persists for most of the session. Underneath this very approachable exterior, there is definite underlying sheng strength to be found as well, without it ever completely taking over the tea.

Contrary to most raws I typically drink, Honeymoon feels very cooling in the body, with some minor cooling to be found in the throat as well in the mid steeps. The tea does develop some oiliness and in the mid steeps where the tea peaks the raw character does come to the forefront briefly, revealing a very pure, clean character to this tea. Only toward the very end does the unmistakable characteristic Yiwu sweetness reveal itself, joining the fruit.

All in all I enjoyed this tea a hell of a lot more than I expected to. First off, while I’m quite fond of the shu pu’ers Crimson Lotus offers, their house taste for selecting sheng pu’ers – typically leaning toward fairly safe and inoffensive teas – have never really appealed to me. Secondly, those who know me may know that I don’t really do blends. They just aren’t what I’m looking for in tea. In the past I would have said shu pu’er was an exception to this as it made sense there, but since tasting some incredible single-origin old tree ripes, I’ve reversed my stance on that.

Honeymoon is a very enjoyable, clearly high-quality tea. I would suspect that it is predominantly made up of Yiwu material, if not exclusively so. While I’ve tasted a very limited number of blended shengs, Honeymoon is likely the best one out of them. Ironically, though, I think most of that comes down it having many qualities that closely resemble single-origin teas. With all the praise though, it’s not a tea I’d be looking to purchase. It’s perfectly drinkable now, in fact I’d be unsure if there’s much benefit to aging it. Astringency and bitterness are fairly minimal, and while there’s also a good amount of strength to the tea as well, I’d be wary of the tea potentially mellowing out too much in the longterm. For me the tea is a bit too safe and I’ve grown quite tired of most Yiwu teas because of the high focus most western vendors have on it.

After revisiting the product description after the session, this tea having a Manzhuan base makes perfect sense, as in my limited experience most raws I’ve tried from Manzhuan have been very fruity. The description leaves unclear to me if this is a blend of material exclusively from Manzhuan or if the base material is Manzhuan with smaller amounts of other regions thrown in as well. Pure Manzhuan would explain the very single-origin quality I got from this tea.

Looking at the price surprised me a little. I recalled most of Crimson Lotus’s blended cakes being in the $60 to $80 region, so seeing this one going for quite a bit more I wasn’t sure if I considered that a bit steep or simply more than I was expecting to see. The material is certainly good and I’ve tasted teas more expensive than this that impressed me less. That being said I’ve also tasted teas that blew me away at this price point, something this tea didn’t do. There’s definitely a lot of competition around this price, so a sample is something I can easily recommend, but a cake something you should decide after trying the tea for yourself. Overall, thumbs up to Honeymoon, though. A pleasant surprise.

Edit: I’ve since finished my sample. Please see the comment I’ve posted to this review.

Flavors: Fruity, Mineral, Pineapple, Sweet

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

I recently had two more sessions with this tea to finish off my sample and I just wanted to report that both times I got no fruitiness and no notable sweetness to speak of. Instead the tea was leaning more toward savory, if I had to pick a descriptor, but overall both session were very unremarkable and forgettable. The change could always have to do with my storage, but other samples that I’ve had for a similar length of time seem fine, so I think it’s just the tea aging and changing. At around eighteen months it seems a bit premature, but my sample at least seems to have entered its awkward phase, and if you’re looking for a tea to drink now, I’d get a sample first before dropping money on a full cake.

I’m leaving my original rating at recommended, because the first session was a really nice experience, even if I wasn’t able to replicate it afterward.


Oh, that’s interesting: I’ve just finally tried my sample for the first time, which has been sitting around for a year now since I got it. Mine definitely resembles your original review: very sweet with creamy mouthfeel. Sweetness is tip of the tongue rather than throat.


As a follow-up, I think water temperature is the difference (or one factor, at least). I continued the session today and the sweetness wasn’t coming through with just-boiled water. I keep my water in a 1l Thermos, so it doesn’t cool fast – an hour later it was still plenty hot, but my tea was back to the previous characteristics.

Yesterday I’d started with it after having a couple of steeps of the end of my previous tea, so the water again wasn’t just-boiled.

TJ Elite

Flavor ranks close to the bottom as far as my personal tea appreciation goes these days, so I’m not too fussed about being able to achieve a specific kind of flavor profile or replicate a past session. If a tea has nothing else going for it, well, you obviously have to judge it by those merits then. In the past, I didn’t use to value aroma much at all, but more recently to my surprise it has far surpassed flavor, with the two essentially swapping places. Of course flavor in itself gets divided into returning taste, aftertaste, finish, upfront flavor and more, personally being ranked roughly in that order, with upfront flavor representing just about the bottom of the barrel. A tea with divine taste while in the mouth but absolutely zero finish after you swallow is a big zero in my book.

I’ve experimented with brewing the same sheng side by side with boiling and 90C water and the 90C steeps made me cry. None of the things I look for in my sessions were there. Surprisingly the tea started tasting quite disgusting in the mid-steeps and it actually had much less longevity than the one steeped in freshly boiled. Even upping the temperature did not save and revitalize it.

In contrast, I’ve recently switched from steeping large-leaf hong cha in 95C and small-leaf in 90C to brewing both at 80–85C, leafing them a bit heavier and extending the brewing times a little. I find this preserves a lot more of the aromatics, which as mentioned above is highly appreciated. My drinking is 90% pu’er, though, with quality dancong being next best thing.

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Bitterleaf deciding to call this tea simply Naka tells you something about the prestige the area has garnered. I tried this tea last summer right after it had come out, but like many other teas from that spring, I ended up coming to the conclusion that it needed more time. I’m trying not to repeat the same mistake with this spring’s teas, and as I wait for my Bitterleaf ’19 teas to tighten up a little, I’m starting off with a few samples from last year that I reordered to revisit them. This tea is one of them.

Placing the dragon ball in a pre-heated gaiwan, I’m smelling chocolate chip oatmeal cookies. That’s rad! I’ve never smelled anything like that coming from a tea. My standard 30s rinse for a dragon ball. Sadly the cookie aroma is gone now and replaced by a much more standard sheng aroma. The wash has a great, oily body. Great vegetal sweetness. Very aromatic in the mouth and nose. Aftertaste is prominent, very floral. Already my breathing is beginning to grow slightly labored and the back of my head is starting to prickle. With a few minutes having passed, I proceed with the infusions, the leaves now properly soaked up.

I did a total of fourteen infusions, the timing for these 20s, 8s, 8s, 6s, 6s, 8s, 10s, 12s, 15s, 20s, 30s, 45s, 75s and 2 min. respectively. Naka starts off light and subtle, but with a heady qi right out of the gate. The flavors are mostly sweet and mineral in the early steeps, developing more into the vegetal and green territory in the middle steeps with a touch of astringency. Once I helped the ball come undone after the third steep, the strength increased notably as one would expect and I was able to stick to sub-ten second infusions for the first half a dozen brews.

The body stayed on the thick side throughout the session, never really faltering, but there wasn’t really much going on texturally apart from some occasional oiliness. What I’ve already said about the flavor pretty much covers it, so really the main focus here is the qi. It was very noticeable and on the aggressive side, albeit not as unfriendly as some Bulang teas for example. Toward the end I was feeling quite intoxicated and giggly, with my muscles aching all over. Driving my car a couple hours later I was still feeling quite high and not fully grounded.

All in all an interesting experience. I should note that flavor-wise I recall my previous session last year being quite similar. I’m thinking the body was probably less pronounced, but I don’t really have a clear recollection. Interestingly I got no qi whatsoever, which is why that first session was ultimately quite underwhelming. I’m saying this to those interested in buying this for the qi and potential tea drunkenness: There are never any guarantees when it comes to cha qi. With some teas I get it, with some sessions I get it, other times I don’t. Everyone experiences these things differently and even you yourself will experience the same tea differently each time. That being said, this tea hit me pretty hard. Not as hard as some others, but harder than anything I’ve had recently.

While the flavors are straightforward and subtle, the longevity is excellent and this seems like one of those teas that could resteep for the rest of the day as long as you’re happy with the brews. Toward the point where I stopped, Naka had gotten somewhat refreshing and fairly smooth overall, with most of the harshness gone. There’s some huigan, but I didn’t get a crazy amount. The astringency does build slightly in the late steeps, but at least for someone like me who’s quite accustomed to it as a mainly sheng and dancong drinker, it never got too harsh.

I’m not sure I’d ever buy a tea just for the qi, and this tea is no exception. While certainly a quality tea which is reflected in the price, I’d rather pick something more textural and dynamic. Can’t wait to get to tasting spring 2019 sheng!

Flavors: Astringent, Floral, Mineral, Sweet, Vegetal

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

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Many are familiar with Lao Shan in Shandong, famous for its green tea, but this tea hails from Lao Shan in Malipo County, Yunnan, near the Vietnam border. It is off the beaten path as far as pu’er goes and comes as part of a set of two teas from this mountain: one spring, one autumn. Albeit from the same mountain and year, they do come from different farmers from different parts of the mountain, so this is not a direct comparison between seasons, more of a single region sampler. This is the autumn.

While these teas were pressed into cakes, the production was small and the teas are only sold as 2×50g samples, not full cakes. You will receive a single large piece of the bing though, with some shake to round out the weight. Why press this tea into cakes if it’s going to be broken up anyway? Well, smaller volume and ease of transport are one factor, but the actual steaming and pressing process have a real immediate impact on the tea as well as how it will age, develop and maintain its flavors and aroma.

What I received was indeed a single large chunk of the cake and I did my best to try to maintain leaf integrity since the bing seems to have been pressed with care and the large autumn leaves are largely intact. I measured 7.3g into a thick-walled 135ml gaiwan which I only filled up to around the 100ml mark though. That’s somewhat on the heavier side than usual for me, but this is autumn which tends to brew weaker than spring so I figured it would be fine.

Placing the leaves in the preheated gaiwan, my nose is filled with the smell of barnyard. Not offensive, but didn’t necessarily get my hopes up for this tea. Rinse for just a tad over five seconds. Normally I drink the rinse on young sheng, but because of the dry leaf aroma and this being a new vendor for me I decided to forgo the wash this time. The aroma of the wet leaf is much better and more familiar territory. Very creamy. Five minute rest, followed by a total of twelve infusions, the timing for these 6s, 6s, 8s, 10s, 15s, 20s, 30s, 45s, 75s, 2 min., 3 min. and 5 min.

The first few infusions, the first one especially, are quite light. Mineral earth is the dominant flavor here. The first two steeps have some creaminess to them as well. I won’t say there’s no sweetness, but this isn’t an overly sweet tea at any point. Body and texture stay quite light throughout the session. There’s some to be found, but neither is a highlight of this tea. Steep four is quite metallic for some reason, which I wasn’t particularly fond of, but after this the tea starts to hit its stride, becoming stronger but also displaying its green and slightly astringent side. Aftertaste is not a huge focus as far as I noticed, but it was definitely present in the best steeps, holding very stable albeit usually not crazy strong in terms of strength.

At times I can pick up on aromatic components permeating in the mouth, which speak to the tea’s autumnal nature, setting it apart from spring. I get touches of savory and even vanilla in isolated brews and around the eighth steep I finally noticed the qi which made me just a tad tipsy. Once it enters its late steeps, the Lao Shan starts tasting mainly sweet, green and a touch astringent, changing very little from steep to steep. The longevity seems great for an autumn tea, as by the twelfth infusion where I stopped it was still going.

After a not so favorable first impression, the Lao Shan turned out to be a fairly standard but enjoyable pu’er session. This tea reminds me probably most of teas from the Jinggu area, along with certain Lincang teas maybe. It lacks any distinct character that sets it apart and makes it memorable, but the tea is still fairly young at eight months or so, so that may still well develop with time. I found no bitterness and while there was some astringency, this was very palatable and expected of most autumn teas to some degree. As far as price, these two teas are sold as a bundle of 2×50g for $20, so it’s hard to evaluate the price per gram directly. Usually autumn teas tend to be about the half of spring in terms of price, sometimes a bit less, sometimes more. If we assume this one is somewhere around there, that would place it in the 10–15¢/g category, which feels appropriate. A nice casual brew that’s fairly forgiving in terms of brewing as long as you have some familiarity with sheng.

Flavors: Astringent, Creamy, Earth, Green, Metallic, Mineral, Sweet, Vanilla

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

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I’ve been drinking loose leaf tea since around 2014 if I remember correctly, but the summer of 2016 is when I really became passionate about tea and I started brewing gong fu style at the start of 2017. While oolongs were my first love, I drink mostly pu’er these days. I do drink other types of tea with varying degrees of regularity as well, so I don’t discriminate.

I only review pu’er and don’t designate scores to any of the teas to encourage people to actually read the reviews and not just look at the scores. I tend to be thorough, so my reviews can run quite long, but I do try to always gather my thoughts at the end. These tasting notes are as much a record for myself for future reference as they are a review of the tea, so the format is something that’s geared to satisfy both.

You can follow my adventures on Instagram as tujukki.



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