Thank you so much to both David Duckler and Master Bi for this opportunity!
This is one incredible tea. I must admit that I have never had a Lapsang Souchong before this tea, as I always had the assumption I would dislike the smokiness. I occasionally like the hint of “smoke” flavors in some higher roast oolongs or pu’ers, but the smell of actual thick smoke has me gagging. This tea, though, has shown me what Lapsang Souchong can really be all about. It is the Truth of flavored teas. The smoke enhancements are so well integrated into the leaves’ flavor profile here that it is impossible to tell where the tea ends and the flavoring begins. They seem one and the same. The flavors are so well enmeshed and it produces this savory, textural beauty of taste. And it certainly is a taste like no other. I’ll take you through my gong fu session, but the images and descriptions I use to convey this tea I will admit that I would have been confused and possibly even turned off by them if someone had described them to me when discussing a tea. Yet, somehow, this tea manages to turn this unlikely flavor profile into something incredible.
I use about 2 grams of dry leaf in my 100 mL gaiwan, a bit less than a quarter full. I first came up with this ratio because I was being stingy and wanted to make this small sample last forever, but [thankfully!] it turned out to work quite well. While I’m on the topic, I’ll mention that they look a great deal like a heavily roasted mi lan xiang’s dry leaves.
Wash: 3 +/-1 seconds
Steep 1 (4"): Based on the smell of the wet leaves, and especially the dry leaves (and also my [incorrect] perception of what smoked tea was), I expected the first sip to assault me with deep, smoky flavors and a drying texture. Psht! This was nothing like that. This is juicy. It’s savory. It certainly is thick, but has the most brilliant, clear amber liquor to juxtapose it. I think the best way to describe this taste is to attempt to call to mind a perfectly barbecued pork brisket. Yes, that’s correct. Imagine a succulent, moist brisket seasoned with a humble spread of salt and a dry rub of natural spices allowed to slow cook for hours in a smoker with natural hickory or mesquite wood. Perhaps add a touch of citrus zest when it’s finished. Yup. That’s this tea to me, who has lived in the southern US his whole life, and grown well-accustomed to the flavors of awesome barbecue.
Steep 2 (10"): Oh yeah, so if you could tell by the last steep’s description, the whole “smoky” taste wasn’t that overbearing. In fact, it wasn’t until this steep that I was actually made well aware of it at the top of each sip. Like I mentioned before, this tea isn’t boasting it’s smoky flavor. Instead, the smoke intensifies and draws out the depth and interesting notes of the tea leaves, putting a slight spin on them. The savory goodness and salty/spiciness also increases here, all coming together with the meaty flavors, rounding out the body and creating a very deep complexity. The mouthfeel becomes thicker and spicier, and with the increased “meaty” flavors, becomes almost “chewy.” There is also a tingling felt all over the surface of the tongue. This is also the first point where I can really tell that this is tea. That “pure” black tea flavor becomes very prominent, and one can pick out the inherent tea leaf sweetness brought into this steep.
Steep 3 (20"): At this point, all the flavor nuances kind of meet in the middle, creating an even deeper, thicker body than before. The liquor’s appearance becomes a darker golden brown to match, although none of the clarity is lost. The sweetness is also much stronger in this steep. It almost seems like a nice honey glaze on the brisket I mentioned above. Ohhhhh it’s good.
As a side note, while I was impatiently waiting for the next steep to do it’s thing, I took a sip of the still-warm wash and was astounded. Relatively speaking, it’s the best wash I’ve tasted for a tea. It’s like a reallyyyy weak version of steep 1, but twice as sweet. I’m pretty sure the next time I taste this I’m going to forget the wash…
Steep 4 (30"): So at this point the smoke becomes less powerful, actually allowing other flavors to rise above it. In this and the next steep, that sweet glaze-like flavor I mentioned from the last steep is most prominent. In the next, a honey sweetness is most apparent. This steep is very similar to the last, besides a slight apple-y flavor. Hmmmm… applewood-smoked bacon, anyone? Actually, the aroma of the wet leaves becomes very reminiscent of this, especially after the first few steeps and the smoky aromas begin to fade.
At this point, I’ll mention the aftertaste, which is thick, tangy, and smoky. The most amazing flavors really come out on the exhale after every sip.
Steep 5 (40"): From most to least expressive: honey, smoke, spice (and lots of it), meat, savory, apple, salt. The mouthfeel at this point is very spicy and lingers longgg after a sip. The insides of my cheeks and roof of mouth are left nice and tingly.
Steep 6 (1’): At this point the tea starts fading, although the same basic flavor profile as the last steep is displayed. I think I took this tea to a few more steeps the first time I tried it, but I didn’t have anything noteworthy on them.
So, all in all, this tea is a game changer. It has completely redefined what I perceive flavored or scented teas to be. There is a hand-rolled jasmine sample that came in my David’s Choice box as well, and I’m itching to try that one now that I’ve had this, just to see how the scenting has been transcended. At any rate, this Lapsang Souchong is a masterful work of art. I wish I had had something to compare it to previously, as it seems now that any Lapsang Souchong that I consume after this point will seem monotonous and dull. Ah well. Such is tea. :)