Well, I think it’s about time to get back on the Lao Man E train and give Bitterleaf Teas’ 2019 The Bitter End a shot. The Bitter End is made with the “sweet” varietal of Lao Man E trees, as opposed to the “what the hell is wrong with you, who wants this?!” varietal that they make The Bitter End Xtra out of. Still, ever since my initial experience, just seeing the name “The Bitter End” sends shivers down my spine, so I have been putting off trying this for a while. I’m feeling brave this weekend and wanted to try it out, so lets get to it before I chicken out.
The Bitter End’s dry leaf aroma is inoffensive. It’s got a bit of floralness and a bit of fruitiness to it with not much else. After a rinse the leaves take on a delicious sweet and fruity smell that’s overwhelming. There is no harsh aspect to it at all – this is a scent I could bathe in.
For this session I am overleafing a bit, using 3.96 grams of tea in my 55ml gaiwan. Water temperature is 90C and after a quick rinse I am starting the session out with a five second infusion and increasing by five seconds each additional steeping (unless otherwise noted).
The Bitter End gives you a full body warming effect right from the very first sip, and the thick, broth-like liquor coats your mouth and leaves your tongue tingling. The flavour is already huge, with juicy fruits being the most up front note. The Asprin-like bitterness that I’ve come to associate with Lao Man E puerh is reserved for the aftertaste, and it is pretty calm so far. Infusion two gains medicinal notes and a light menthol-ish feeling. There is a little bit of bite, but it’s smooth and not at all harsh. Like the first steeping, the bitterness is really only in the aftertaste, but it gets you over and over. This tea is incredibly saliva inducing, then every time you swallow your spit you get a short lived but heavy bitter hit. Infusion three I way over steeped. Couldn’t get the damn gaiwan lid to sit properly for some reason so this steeping went for about 25 seconds – all the while as I am panicking, “ahhh too early, too early!!!” I was expecting this to be a total bitter bomb but it turned out to be the smoothest and least biting yet! There is something… dentist-y about it… Maybe a latex like taste? Can’t quite put my finger on it, but 100% for sure there is something here that reminds me of being at the dentist. As weird as it sounds, this is a positive note though. Not sure why, I’m just diggin’ it. Fruitiness is also up and some honey sweetness is starting to poke through. The mouthfeel is lovely and is taking on a more oily texture now.
Infusion four brings an all around increase to everything with no new notes. Bitterness is completely gone at the fifth steeping and this tea is simply delightful now. Still getting the clinical, dentist-y taste up front and now a bit of blueberry in the finish. Infusion five has a big increase in sweetness. The overall taste here is a bit undefined and hard to pick out distinct notes, but I am loving drinking it.
The seventh and eight infusions keep in line with the sixth – wonderful but all the notes are well melded together and difficult to distinguish. There’s a bit of peppery spice on occasion and at one point I wrote down “blackberries” but aside from a sip or two I couldn’t find that flavour in here again. Infusion nine sees a return of the Asprin-ish aftertaste, and I am welcoming it at this point. The tea was getting a bit too easy and this wakens the session up again. Infusion ten was another accidental way oversteep, this time due to mind wandering. Not sure where my head’s at today, maybe lack of sleep is starting to catch up with me. Again, I was surprised at how well this infusion turned out but I think the oversteep did it in, as the following infusions were dull. Had I been paying more attention I probably could have gotten at least a couple more solid cups out of the Bitter End, but here we are.
I’m not ashamed to say that The Bitter End scared me, but I am ashamed I let the fear kept me away so long. This tea is straight up the bomb. Had I tried it earlier I probably would have picked up a cake during Bitterleaf’s recent anniversary and Black Friday sales, but seeing as I missed out on that I suppose it’ll just move close to the top my my ever-growing “to buy” list.
This session also taught me that it’s difficult to really get into a tea when you go in with the mindset of disliking it. I had tried Crimson Lotus Tea’s Sweet Lao Man’E and enjoyed that, so I had a feeling I would like this one, but for the first half my session I kept expecting it to take a turn and become overly bitter and harsh. I was liking the tea, but having the idea in my head that at any point it’s going to go somewhere I’m not into made it difficult to commit. In the future I’ll do my best to check my expectations at the door, and I am really looking forward to my next session with The Bitter End.