When I first became a tea convert in the late 1990s, my essential teas were Twining’s Earl Grey, Prince of Wales, Irish Breakfast, Ceylon Orange Pekoe and Russian Caravan. I would only drink tea with milk as I found black tea to astringent and ‘coppery’; it was only in the last year or so I have enjoyed tea served black as I have gradually explored teas from different origins and experimented with serving sizes and steeping times. Unfortunately, Twinings just didn’t make the grade anymore but I still carried a sentimental soft spot for good old Russian Caravan which was grandfather’s drink of choice. I had picked up two Russian Caravan samples by Adore Tea – one ‘traditional’ (whatever that means) and one smoky to compare, and in the figurative game of heads-or-tails tonight, the smoky blend won.
The aroma from the tea pot is immediately and unmistakably identifiable as a lapsang souchong blend. I brewed this for three minutes rather than the usual four or five minutes for a milder taste. I have a love-hate relationship with smoked teas – sometimes I enjoy the intensity but other times I find it bothersome and I get rather fed up with the smoky taste I can’t get out of my mouth. I haven’t had a cup of LS for about six months at least.
The colour is a deep, reddish-bronze and I am drinking the tea black. One thing that has slipped my mind is how smooth a good-quality smoked tea can be. Perhaps smoking the tea leaves reduces the tannins somehow? I would estimate the Lapsang Souchong to be about 10-15% of the blend but there is no escaping the smokiness that overwhelms any nuances that may be present in the tea. Having said that, it is debatable whether anyone would actually use top quality tea to for a Lapsang Souchong or any other smoked tea in the first place. At any rate, I’m not sure how I feel about this tea. It’s not “bad” by any means, but I will have to try this several times over the course of a few months.
From what I understand, Russian Caravan was originally marketed as a complementary blend to Prince of Wales tea – whereas PoW was a blend of Keemun teas with Assam, RC was a blend of Keemun with Yunnan. I am sure that the ‘smoke’ is a recent modification.
For the second cup, I try this with soy milk, which for some purists is a heresy akin to Catharism. It’s a beautiful colour and has a lovely, smooth and creamy texture. The smokiness is still present in the foreground, but somewhat tempered with notes of chocolate and hazelnuts. I think I could actually quite get a liking for this although I don’t really care for the lingering smokiness. The after-taste continues to tingle on the tongue and I’m not sure if I like that aspect of it.
On balance, thumbs up for old smokey served with milk. Undecided for black.