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.