I can remember so clearly my first experience of Lapsang Souchong in 1999 at the tender age of 20. Although I vaguely recall Twinings Tins with a smoky aroma in my grandparents’ pantry, I can’t say I knew anyone that drank it. After discovering tea in early 1999, when I moved house later in the year I had purchased all of the Twinings loose leaf range at the time in the cute little multi-coloured boxes and after a few weeks got round to LS. The smell itself was revolting and I couldn’t bring myself to drink it, and the description of “a unique tarry flavour” with its images of newly laid roads or damned souls in hell submerged in pitch didn’t help matters. Finally, my flatmates and I forced ourselves to try it, but I threw away the contents of cup after a few mouthfuls. I didn’t try it again until about six years later when literally the only Twinings tea my neighbour at the time would drink was LS. This was in tea-bag form and although I appreciate that tastes change as you get older, this was totally different to how I remembered LS that I am sure Twinings had reformulated their blend. Living in London, I began to enjoy a regular cup of LS served with milk in the colder months but some friends of mine couldn’t be anywhere near when I did as they found the smell revolting.
Then about last year, I started to experiment with more traditional-style LS that was intense and smoky and definitely an acquired taste. I like how it is the polar opposite of the more meditative white teas like Pai Mu Tan or Silver Needles and I don’t know anyone that actually likes it.
It’s been several months since I last had a Lapsang Souchong. Partly because smoked or spiced teas aren’t really appropriate for the sweltering Australian summers, but partly because my last experience of Lapsang Souchong in November had turned me off LS. All I could taste in my cup was smoke and char and this lingered on my tongue for days to the extent that everything I ate tasted revolting.
So it was with some trepidation I am trying it again, hjaving just arrived back from an evening walk. I live in a valley, and the moon was almost full and the valley suitably heavy with fog for autumn and I found myself looking forward to my old smoky friend.
As soon as I poured the hot water into the tea, those familiar smoky fumes filled the kitchen, and also the study when I served the tea. Served black, this particular LS is lighter in colour than previous blends I have tried but the smell is unmistakable. This is not as ‘tarry’ as some blends which is a matter of taste, but after a few moments I get that tingly smokiness and also notes of citrus and pine. I’m sure I would enjoy the odd cup of tarry LS but a lighter cup is more enjoyable I think. The citrus becomes stronger with subsequent sips to the extent that I am wondering if there is actually lemon in the blend.
So far, this is the best LS I have tried but I should also point out that I have only tried a few different brands over the years, and I am sure there are better blends out there. I could easily imagine this being a regular cup during the Autumn and Winter months.