Learning to like smoky flavor
The Teavivre Keemun that many of us are currently reviewing is smoky. All the ratings (so far) comment on loving the smokiness, except mine. I liked this tea a lot but wasn’t as impressed as others because of the smokiness. How do I learn to appreciate it and even learn to grade it? Hope the question makes sense.
I began (quite a few years ago) with a strong dislike for smoky flavors in a tea. It started with my first sampling of a Lapsang Souchong. I disliked the smell produced by brewing the tea so much that I couldn’t bear to lift the cup to my lips to even taste it. I didn’t want to bring the cup that close to my nose!
Since that time, I’ve learned to appreciate the smoky tones and I even drink Lapsang Souchong on occasion, although it will never be a favorite of mine.
I can’t really explain how I got to this point where I’m able to appreciate it now… so all I can offer is some advice. I would suggest being patient and not trying to force yourself to enjoy it or appreciate it. Trying light smoky flavors at the start can help you build your appreciation. The Keemun from Teavivre is a bit stronger with the smoky tones than some other Keemun teas I’ve tried… perhaps start there?
I’d recommend maybe starting with a tea that has some Keemun in it, like the Scottish Breakfast from Culinary Teas. Then try moving on to something like the Grand Keemun from Tea Licious which I found to be a bit lighter in the smoky flavor than the Teavivre Keemun.
Or, perhaps another way to go about appreciating it is by experimenting with blends with some Lapsang Souchong in it without trying Lapsang straight up. A Russian Caravan might come off a bit too smoky, but maybe something with a touch of Lapsang in it … immediately what comes to my mind is the Alberta Street Chai from Townshend’s Tea. This is a blend of both Lapsang Souchong and roasted and unroasted mate. And… if my recollection is correct, it was one of the first Lapsang Souchong blends that I tried that I really LIKED.
I hope this helps.
In doing a Google search I happened upon your blog reviews, which along with the above do help. My previous experience with Keemun has been in blends. Never noticed smoky in any of them. I just realized the wuyi I drink has been labeled as smelling like bad pot due to its smokiness so I guess I am making progress. I will conquor this…. eventually.
I’m not really a fan of the smoked teas either. I like them in blends (like my Toasted Marshmallow). It’s been a slow acceptance, but I’m working on it too. K S: you aren’t alone! :)
For me, it helps to step back and think about the differences you might appreciate if you grill meat or vegetables with any sort of regularity. Depending on what’s used to fire the smoke, it makes the food taste “fruity” or “carmelized” or “tobacco-ey” or “piney.” The same happens with tea.
Lapsangs tend to be very straight-up campfire smoke. It’s not a tea you’d prepare at the office for your mug on your desk if you wanted to keep friends. And then there are senchas smoked with pine woods that literally impart a “sap” taste, like you’ve been chopping pine in the Alaskan tundra. More subtle, more fresh than the other.
With Keemuns, though, I think sometimes the orchid notes the really good grades have get confused as being smoky.
Very interesting question, K S!
I’ll keep the smoked food idea in mind. I try not to read the reviews before tasting a tea to avoid preconceptions. In this case it might have helped as I would have expected the smoke. Because it surprised me I wasn’t detectiing the other things going on. I will be prepared on the next tasting.
Haha, I shared an office with a guy who loved Lapsangs… he drank his “smoky tea” all the time! Other people in the department would notice because you could smell it through the halls. Luckily he had an understanding, tea-loving (if not Lapsang-loving) office mate.
I totally agree with most of what has been said. Additionally, I have noticed that I’m far pickier abot brewing strength with the smokey teas than I am with other teas. It seems like the smokey taste gets too ‘tree-like’ and has a bitter, vegitative taste when steeped for too long. I have grown to really love a strong, smokey lapsang as long as the smoke isn’t overshadowed by odd, overbrewing undertones.
I think it is a matter of taste. You either like it or don’t like it.
I liked the suggestion with food and grilling them; yet I am reminded of things like licorice, malts, A&W’s, Beers, all taste with strong likes or dislikes; not sure it can be acquired.
I am not looking to hurt feelings. I don’t like licorice, anise, or Jasmine since I had one bad tea box of Jasmine tea. I have yet to try another, but i am hoping to get past that one day since Jasmine tea is so highly recommended. But anything with licorice or anise or that Goya malt flavor is a no no.
I am sorry. Who was it that said: “A man has got to know his limits”? man/person, his/her limits.
I disagree. I did not like pu-erh when I first tried it. I have now found many that I quite enjoyed. The same is true for strong smoky teas such as Lapsang Souchong … I couldn’t even bear to have Lapsang Souchong in my house for a good long while, but now, I can enjoy it. The same is true of Dragon Well, I did not like Dragon Well the first time I tasted it, now I quite like it.
Further, not all Lapsang Souchong teas are alike, as is true with Pu-erh. We all have our likes and dislikes, sure, but, we can also learn to appreciate something that we previously found distasteful. One can acquire a flavor for things previously disliked.
Not everyone is going to like certain flavors and not everybody should like every flavor out there… it’s part of being individual and what makes the world go ’round. However, if someone notices something that they dislike about a tea (in the case of the original post, the smoky flavor of the Keemun from Teavivre), and they want to learn to appreciate it, it is possible to do.
I haven’t had much experience with smoky teas. I still remember my first (and only) cup of Lapsang Souchong when I was a teenager. How it didn’t turn me off of tea for good is, quite frankly, a bit of a mystery. I could barely choke it down, and that memory still lives with me. I haven’t tried any teas since that have a really strong, smoky flavor. I keep meaning to, maybe a Russian Caravan type tea to see if it is still as unpleasant as I remember it.
But as far as learning to like something, I think tea is the same as kids and vegetables. It takes multiple exposures to really develop a taste for some foods. The more exposures you have, the more likely you are to learn to like (or tolerate) a particular flavor. The question then is, is it worth trying to learn to like a new flavor, when there are so many teas out there to try that don’t have that flavor element? Only you can decide that one.
If you’re looking for a blend with some Lapsang in it, I’d recommend “Baker Street Afternoon Blend” from Upton Tea Imports. They have sample-sized little packets and tins so you wouldn’t be out much if you didn’t like it.
Personally, I like it a lot. I got a small tin of it in their British Sampler pack and went nuts for it. I tried a straight Lapsang after that and loved that too, so I guess I’ve got the smoky tea bug. Planning to get a larger tin of both on my next order.
I like some kinds of smoky, but not all. Oak smoke, campfire, smoked bacon, cherry pipe tobacco smoke, all these are great in tea for me, but I had one that just smelled like stale ashtray and I couldn’t get past that. I love love Upton tea Baker Street Afternoon Blend, and my youngest daughter is addicted to it. It seems so strange to me for a child to like smoky tea, but my little geek sure does! KS, maybe I should also send you a wee bit of this Hubei province golden tips by Upton soon. Youngest likes that one a lot, too. It is very mild and might be a good way to start developing that taste, or it could be that smoke just isn’t going to be your thing! And thre is nothing wrong with that! :)