This year I wanted to go all out trying bitter teas, but after trying my first Lao Man E, I started to second guess my life choices a little bit. After giving my taste buds a couple months to recover, I decided to give another Lao Man’E puerh a shot. Tea from this region comes in two different varietals, one being sweet and the other bitter. These names might be a bit misleading, though. To quote Crimson Lotus, “they’re both bitter, but the bitterness in the sweet variety melts into a memorable throat sweetness.” To me, this reads like vendor speak for “it’s gonna hurt, but you’ll still like it,” so I’m bracing myself for a bit of pain, but keeping my mind open.
The dry leaves are fragrant – big fruity aroma, with a little bit of harsh top end, and a soft sweetness in the back. After a rinse the leaves take a hard turn and attack your senses. It’s nondescript but pungent, a little bit acrid and powerful.
For this session I am using 90°C water, and after one quick rinse starting my session with a five second steep and increasing by five seconds for each subsequent infusion.
After bracing for the worst, I am pleasantly surprised to report that the first infusion wasn’t that bad! There is a tiny little bit of the crushed Aspirin taste I was expecting, but it quickly changes to an strong sweet and fruity aftertaste. Infusion two has an overwhelming feeling of power but not much in terms of tasting notes. I don’t really know how to describe it – there is a lack of flavour but it doesn’t *feel* like it’s lacking, if that makes any sense at all. The texture is thick and it leaves you salivating for minutes after your last sip. The third infusion gets some traction on the flavour front and a bit of plum starts to peak it’s head out. It’s light, but definitely there. The aftertaste and salivation are huge at the end of this first section and it leaves me wanting more, which I can honestly say I wasn’t expecting.
Just as I start to get lulled into a false sense of security, the fourth infusion arrives. This steeping is smooth in taste but harsh in feelings. The tea grabs onto the back of your throat and makes you want to cough. It makes my tongue tingle but more in the “what is happening right now?” way than the fun “awakening your senses” way. Infusion five is closer to the softer beginner infusions, and the sixth is again harsh and with a huge Aspirin taste. This tea is definitely one that keeps you on your toes!
The seventh infusion softens back up and this is the end of the hash aspects. We are back to the sensations of the first steeping, with the interesting lack of taste thing. This continues for the remainder of the session as the tea slowly winds down. Each infusion has a little bit less than the previous, and as this happens sweetness increases, both in the forefront and the aftertaste. Through this time the texture also increases and holds strong long after everything else has disappeared. By the twelfth steeping any flavour has gone and the aftertaste has all but faded away, but still the texture remains thick. I didn’t actually brew this tea out entirely, stopping at the sixteenth because I had to get on with my day. I would have liked to see how long this could have kept up for, so I’ll make a note of it next time I come back to this tea.
Crimson Lotus Tea’s Sweet Lao Man’E is definitely an interesting tea. I liked it, but I don’t think I can articulate why. Even when there are aspects of it that I find to be unpleasant, I still enjoyed it. The sensations and texture are great but on paper not enough for me to like it as much as I did; there is just something indescribably lovely about it. This tea can be purchased by itself in a 50 gram box for $45, or in a little sampler with 8 grams of this along with 8 grams of the bitter varietal for $20. I think this sampler is a good way to introduce people to this puerh region. It’s definitely not for everyone and I wouldn’t blame anybody who can’t stomach it. But if this review has piqued your interest at all I’d recommend biting the bullet and giving it a shot. I’d love to compare notes with somebody on this, so if you do try it please let me know what you think!