Alright, it’s time to break into a cake that I have been fearfully looking forward to for some time – Bitterleaf Tea’s 2019 Bitter End Xtra Bitter. This is my first time trying a Lao Man E sheng puerh and based on all my reading I’m pretty sure I’m going to dislike it. As the name implies, these teas are known to be pretty “over the top” bitter. It’s a tea I’m very curious about though, and when purchasing Bitterleaf’s new 2019 puerhs it’s one that I felt was important for me to grab a cake of instead of just a sample. Just like puerh changes over time, so do peoples’ taste buds. So while I’m pretty sure this tea will not be up my alley now, I do know lots of people enjoy it. I’m curious to come back to it over the years and see if as I get more experienced with puerh if I gain a new appreciation for it. Of course it is also possible that I could enjoy it right off the hop. I don’t really know what to expect here, so let’s dive in and see.
Please keep in mind that this puerh was only pressed a few months ago, and will likely undergo some pretty rapid changes for the next while. As such, this isn’t intended to be a full review but instead just a snapshot of where the tea currently is sitting. I will update again down the line.
Breaking the Cake
The dry leaves smells bright and fruity, with a clear and potent cherry note. After a rinse the wet leaves are dark and strong but there is nothing too distinct about it. Generally speaking, I’m really not a fan of 100 gram cakes, but this one doesn’t seem like it’s too compressed.
For this session I am using 3.85 grams in my 55ml gaiwan, 90°C water, and a quick rinse followed by a five second infusion with five seconds added each additional steeping.
The first infusion of Bitter End Xtra is bright and light in taste. It’s not bitter yet, but it has an un-coated Tylenol like taste to it that builds each sip. There is a little bit of fruitiness behind that, but it’s faint. Infusion two sees an increase both in fruitiness and the Tylenol taste, but much more of the latter than the former. The fruitiness is plum but it’s faint, like it’s fighting the be seen. Then the moment you catch a glimpse of it, it gets taken over by the Tylenol flavour. It’s actually not too rough when the liquor is in your mouth, but once you swallow and think “Hey, that wasn’t so bad!” it hits you and claws all the way down your throat. Infusion three is just pure pain. No fruitiness or niceness here, just hurt.
Infusion four actually seems to take a little step back in bitterness and a slight increase in a plummy flavour. This still isn’t a friendly tea, but maybe it’s moving in that direction. I’m also noticing now that I have full body sheng sweats going on. Not sure how long that’s been happening and if I was just too distracted to notice, or if it’s new. The fifth infusion moves the same way again – little more fruit, little less pain. Infusion six gains a light sweetness. The sweetness comes in right at the beginning and lulls you into a false sense of security before quickly fading away and being overcome by the strongest bitterness that I have felt in the session so far.
For infusions seven and eight all sweetness and fruity flavours are gone and it’s strictly punishment. I feel like the tea will probably wind down from here, so I may as well experiment a little bit and for the ninth steeping I did a flash infusion. Oddly enough, there doesn’t seem to be much of a difference between the last 40 second steeping and this 5 second done. The mouthfeel is more watered down, but it’s just as powerful as the longer infusion. Oh well, I tried. Back on to the normal steeping times. Despite being so freshly pressed this tea really has some longevity. From the ninth infusion on it starts to fade out but continues going until the fourteenth. No new things pop out over this time, it just slowly winds down.
I think for where Bitter End Xtra current is, it is strictly an “experience drink”. Drink this if you want to test your body and see just how much you can put it through, because it comes on strong and doesn’t ever let up. For the first half of the session you are kind of playing peek-a-boo with some layers and complexity. Behind the bitterness there is some sweetness and fruitier notes that try to come through, but they are pretty heavily masked and are gone by the tail end of the mid section. If these continue to develop over time then I could see this being an interesting tea. Maybe not one that I reach for often, but it could move to a more enjoyable place. As of today I don’t think is has enough going on underneath the bitterness to make it a pleasant experience.
I am definitely going to update back on this tea before a year is through, but I’m probably going to give it a good amount of rest time before checking in again. In the meantime, I’ve got a few more Lao Man E and general bitter puerhs in the pumidor, so I’ll be exploring the region more over the next while.