When I buy teas, I generally pick them out myself, going on scent alone – this is why so many of my ratings are clustered in the 80-90 range; I know what I’m going to like in the cup. When I procure tea in a different manner, though, anything can happen. For my latest Mariage Frères batch, I used reviews to put my list together. When I then smelled the actual teas, some of them were really surprising – the Marco Polo blends more than any other.
Overripe, boozy plums are what I get from the dry tea. This carries through into the cup, but not overwhelmingly so, and with a stronger addition of florals. Not well-behaved cutting flowers, however – cryptid, deceptively lovely plants alive only as rumours in the journals of long-dead explorers, maybe.
This really is a very tipsy blend. It’s walking around the orchard in the fall, trying not to crush fat, juiced-up wasps feasting on rotting fruit underfoot. It’s an autumnal tea, echoing that brief half-mesmerizing, half-terrifying time of year when the death throes of decaying summer are balanced perfectly by the crisp, clear freshness of impending fall.
Balance really is the key word here – this is a tea that could easily have gone wrong, in spite of all its velvety smoothness. But go wrong it doesn’t.
It’s exactly what it should be.
[Surreptitiously acquired from Mariage Frères in London, August 2013.]