Back in April, a few of us in the Tea Twitterverse bestowed the rank of “manliest tea” (oft-considered a contradiction) on Lapsang Souchong. We even postulated on effects said smoked tea had on the unwitting imbiber. The Chuck Norissian dialogue that ensued was also the source of inspiration for my first foray into “tea fiction” – The Legend of Lapsang. I won’t pretend it was a good story by any manly measure, but it got the point across.
Lapsang Souchong – in Fukienese, “smoky sub-variety” – is a black tea from Mount Wuyi, Fujian province, China. The region is mostly known for producing high-grade, high-altitude oolongs. The black tea is made from the “Bohea” leaf cultivar, but its true uniqueness comes from the way it’s processed during drying. There are several origin stories of how this technique came about; whichever one is true, the effect is the same. The tea leaves are placed on pinewood fires and smoked. The result is a tea with a smell of hickory and a taste of campfire. In short, a very MANLY taste…but enough of the Tea 101.
I was inspired by a post made by the “teaviants” over at The Tea Blag to do an experiment with Lapsang Souchong and alcohol – my fifth of this sort. I had fused tea concentrates with beer on a few occasions and even wrote about two of the most successful attempts. I’m not sure what brought about this brainfart, but it was high-time to do another. For this round, I meant to combine a smoked porter with the infamous smoked tea.
Finding the beer I needed didn’t take long thanks to the Almighty Google. Stone Brewing was an op out of my old haunt of San Diego, CA. I never visited their actual HQ, but their products were quite known to me – particularly the delicious Arrogant Bastard ale. Among their wares was a Smoked Porter, and they described it as, “dark, smooth and complex, with rich chocolate and coffee flavors balanced by a subtle smokiness.” Sounded like a perfect match for what I had in mind.
I brewed the concentrate like I always did for tea-beers and/or iced tea – 2 tsp. worth of leaves in 8oz of water, Russian zavarka-style. The porter was kept on ice until the tea had about five minutes of steep under its leather-scented belt. It didn’t quite darken as much as I thought it would; Lapsang Souchong usually took on the color of crimson and “quantum singularity”. One could see their soul practically disappear into the brew. I wondered if it’d be strong enough to handle the porter.
Lastly, I whipped out a pint glass and poured the Stone Smoked Porter into half of it. When the tea was done fermenting its death brew, I plopped my ailing/aging Teavana steeper cup above the pint glass to drain. (Sidenote: That very steeper committed seppuku a week later.) Alchemy commenced as the contents collided. The void-black liquor didn’t water down or dissipate at all on splashdown. It was like staring into an alcoholic abyss.
To my surprise, the mixture didn’t bubble up on contact like with other tea-beer fusions. The porter’s foamy head remained as thick and even as it had before the tea inclusion. The concoction did threaten to envelop the spoon I used to stir the drink o’ damnation. I felt like an apothecary over a cauldron in some long-winded sci-fantasy novel.
Now, to taste…
The first thing I noticed when I put lips to glass was how lukewarm it was. Tea-beer experiences of past attempts yielded a brew with an average temperature of 150F-160F. That was one of the best parts of the combination, a warm beer that was still foamy and nowhere-near-flat. While this certainly wasn’t flat, it was maybe room temperature at best. Not exactly a bad thing. Dark beers were great at room temperature.
Secondly, the palette and palate; it was as black as night. I expected the porter to dominate the tea addition by a fair margin. Holy Hell, was I ever wrong! The mahogany, robust chocolaty notes of the porter were present only – and I do mean, only – on the initial sip. The rest – from top note to finish – tasted like charcoal, brimstone aftermath, death-by-Armageddon, post-war campfire, and nuclear fallout…with a floral finish.
I cocked an eyebrow, then the other. I think I twitched a little. My throat felt cold “burning”. The sensation trailed down to my stomach. Gurgling could be heard and felt. Some semblance of unrest was a-brewing deep within my abdomen. I pictured smoke-billowing hellhounds wreaking havoc on my intestines. I asked myself, Do I need to take a dump?
Before answering the questionable call of the wild, I coaxed my brother into trying the hellish hybrid. He sipped, he pursed his lips, and he pondered. Then he froze.
“It tastes like…ash,” he said flatly.
And after that second opinion, I entertained the “number two” that demanded my immediate attention. Once that was done, I came to the conclusion that this was perhaps too much manliness for one drink to possess. Either that or my sensibilities were far too delicate to handle the sheer potency of so firestormy a fusion. From a connoisseur’s critical tongue, it tasted awful. From a testosteronal standpoint, it was a necessary trial by fire.
I will say this. After finishing the last of the pint, I did feel like I could wrestle a bear. Unfortunately, one was not present. There was, however, a Saint Bernard puppy nearby. Close enough.