Steep Stories

of the Lazy Literatus

Tag: Fujian province

Fujian Face-Off! Lapsang Souchong Vs. Jin Jun Mei

I think I’ve made my point rather clear that I love Lapsang Souchong. Many of my blogs here, or on my manlier Devotea-backed side-project – Beasts of Brewdom – have extolled its virtues (and lack of subtlety). Maybe it was the campfire taste, or the trail of forest-fire it left on my tongue in its wake. Whatever the reason, it appealed to a side of me that – while small – was wholly testosteronal. Imagine my dismay when, after reading a blog by the estimable Austin Hodge, I learned that the pinewood-smoked black tea . . . was an endangered species.

Well, not entirely true. Anyone can smoke tea leaves (no, not that way), but it can’t be considered true Lapsang Souchong unless it’s grown and processed on Mount Wuyi in Fujian province, China. Of even greater value is Lapsang from the original village that invented it – Tong Mu. However, in recent years, production at the original site has dwindled. The reason? A newer, more marketable upstart – Jin Jun Mei.

Lapsang Souchong itself doesn’t fetch a high price in bulk. While it has an interesting story, and an even more fascinating processing style, it is considered a low-grade tea. In most circles, smoking tea leaves is a method for hiding any flaws the potential brew might have. It’s much harder to judge the quality of a leaf that is heavily smoked. Hence the reason the price per yield is much lower.

Jin Jun Mei, while a newer cousin to Lapsang Souchong, utilizes higher grade leaves. They tend to be younger and gold-tipped (as the “Jin” in the name implies). One could even compare the processing style to that of a gold-tipped Yunnan Dian Hong. I vaguely remember trying Jin Jun Mei several years ago, but it barely made an impression on me. Since then, the price per pound has sky-rocketed, and traditional Lapsang Souchong took a back seat.

A young, upstart tea nudging out one of my personal favorites? Not on my damn watch! It was high-time I gave this little gold weasel the brew-beating it deserved. As luck would have it, the wonderful company, Wild Tea Qi, sent me two teas to do exactly that.

It was time for a good ol’-fashioned . . .

In the right corner was a Wild Lapsang Souchong. In the left corner: A Tong Mu-produced Jin Jun Mei.

The “wild” in the Lapsang Souchong meant that the leaves were plucked from plants that were left to grow without much cutting. It, however, was not from Tong Mu.

The wild leaves were surprisingly thin, small and twisty – typical for a tea of its type, but there was something missing. The smell of smoke! Okay, not entirely true, it was sorta there but faint. It made me think back to another Lapsang that was smoked over wet pinewood instead of dry. Very similar aroma – woody, slightly sweet and malty.

The Jin Jun Mei? What the hell?! Okay . . . I know for a fact that it’s considered part of the “Souchong” family, but I was under the impression that it wasn’t smoked over pinewood – wet or dry. Its close sibling, Yin Jun Mei was. Heck, I’ve had it. But this?!

I digress.

When I tore open the bag, I was expecting tippy, young leaves – typical of a “gold” tea – but the ones I got here were darker and difficult to describe. Sure, there were gold-tippy pieces in the thin, twisty mini-pile of dry leaves. But here’s the thing . . . the aroma. Damn it, the aroma! It was smokier than the Wild Lapsang! How was that f**king possible?!

Calming down.

This required some background review of each tea’s profile. Wild Tea Qi said nothing about their Wild Lapsang Souchong being smoked. In point of fact, all they said was that it was “dried” over pine, then lightly fried. No smokeage. By contrast, their Jin Jun Mei was smoked, which went against everything I knew about the tea. (Granted, which wasn’t much.)

It was like I was about to brew up in a bizarro universe. All I needed was a goatee. I approached both teas the same way – a teaspoon of leaves in 6oz. steeper cups, infused for three minutes.

Wild Lapsang Souchong . . .

It brewed to a dark cherry wood liquor color with an unusually sweet aroma. Seriously, it reminded me of a chocolate bar melted on firewood. Taste-wise, the introduction was bitter, but it mellowed out quickly to a weird, almost floral middle before ending on a note of leather and ash. Just what I would expect a Lapsang to do, only with less burning.

Jin Jun Mei . . .

Holy crap! I mean, seriously. What the hell did I just taste? No, I’m not dissing it; quite the opposite. The liquor brewed up the same as the Wild Lapsang, but the aroma was fruitier – berry-ish, even. Also like the Lapsang, the flavor profile began the same way. The initial sip was smoke, which immediately transitioned to . . . cherries and honey dipped in burnt chocolate.

The winner? Damn it. I really didn’t want to say this . . . Jin Jun Mei.

It hit all the right marks, threw me for a loop in all the right ways. I loved the Wild Lapsang, but I adored the Jun Mei just a little bit more. This was seriously not how I thought this brewing session would turn out.

I don’t know what to believe anymore.

White Tea Cakes – Old versus New

White Tea Week, Day 6: “White Tea Cakes – Old versus New”

Well…this was a first.

Being contacted by companies is not a new experience for me. For some reason, tea vendors look at my quixotic li’l corner of the Internet and say, “Hey, we’d be a nice fit here.” I, then, twizzle my nonexistent mustache and go to work. Can’t say anyone had ever contacted me based on other posts I’d written, though.

Conceptteas had done just that. One of their co-founders had taken the initiative, after seeing my feature on JalamTeas Nan Nuo pu-erh. A good piece, if I do say so myself – humbly. Not only did they find my tea site, but they also sought my contact information from my other website. I should – perhaps – link those two together better. I don’t make it easy to get in touch with me. Old hermit habits.

This newer Swedish-Chinese company (yes, you read that right) focused mostly on white teas – Silver Needle, White Peony, and white tea cakes, to be precise. Fuding, Fujian province-produced teas in specific. Also available were pomelo-scented black tea and Bai Lin Gong Fu. Wait a minute. Let’s rewind a moment. White tea. Cakes?!

Eddie Izzard sprang to mind again.

Untitled

They had two on hand that particularly caught my eye. One was a newborn 2013 cake made from – by the looks of it – White Peony leaves, and an older version dating back to 2009. My gears were already turning. I had, back in my review days, compared a white tea and a 20-year-aged version of it – a Shou Mei pairing. However, I had yet to compare two white tea cakes! of differing ages.

Old Willis/New Willis

Less than two weeks later, I had the teas for palate-related playtime. I expected only slivers from the white tea cakes, and from the ’09, that’s exactly what I got. Just enough to experiment with – all I needed. The full cake looks like this:

Aged white tea cake (2009 autumn)

To my surprise, for the 2013 sample…they sent the entire cake.

Look at it. Simply behold its majesty.

white tea cake!

I almost wanted to gnaw a piece off of it with my teeth. It even smelled fresh, spry and ready for munching.

Er…I mean…

The ’09 cake and 2013 cake didn’t really differ in visual presentation. Both looked like White Peony leaves and silver buds that’d been compressed until ready. Young, downy fur still existed on the old cake, as well as the new. The only real difference in appearance was the greater presence of browner leafy pieces in the old, which was to be expected. Also, the old seemed more settled into the cake compression than its younger counterpart, like it found a very comfy couch to nap on.

Comfortable Couch

Real differences didn’t emerge until I put my nose to either samples. Where the 2013 smelled fresh, young and ready for college, the old had a more distinguished “air” about it. Not exactly “get-off-my-lawn!” old, but definitely a more regal fragrance – woodsier.

cake comparison

For brewing, Conceptteas recommended 90-95 degrees Celcius for water temperature and a three-minute steep. The amount of tea leaves per 8oz. serving – 3-to-5 grams. Oh, Celcius, my old nemesis, we meet again. For us ‘Mericans, that’s about 203F – fresh off the boil. Just what I wanted to hear. When I brewed this, it was late…and I was tired.

Following the brewing temp wasn’t a problem. Cutting off the exact grams needed? Not so easy. I guestimated. Tea brewing is an art.

The first difference I noticed between the liquors was the color. As expected, the color for the ’09 white was considerably darker than the ’13. One was brass while the other was still on the side of yellow. The second – and even more obvious – was the aroma. Where the new still smelled like a white tea – all fresh-cut lemongrass and wilderness – the older one smelled like an aged oolong. There was a strange, roasty quality to the ’09 that I couldn’t quite pinpoint by nose alone. It reminded me vaguely of Da Hong Pao.

cake comparison 2

The 2013 was exquisite on first sip, giving off all the trademark white tea taster notes and then some. Melons: Check. Grass: Check. Citrus tickle: Check. But there was also something else at play, a bit of a medicinal quality rearing its head. Not unlike a young sheng pu-erh learning to flap its fermented wings.

The ’09, though.

No other way to put it. I was transported. Generals boomed orders from the mountain tops in Mandarin bravado. Buddhist chants echoed in the distance. Giant, serpentine dragons blanketed the sky in fire.

Okay, maybe a little far-fetched.

Discord

Put in more earthly terms, this did what many an aged oolong had done to me on first sip. It wasn’t always just about the taste with those teas. Sometimes it was about the experience. On first sip with this aged white, I was tea drunk. Instantly. A toasty quality introduced iself, followed closely by a fungal/fermented lean at the base, the climb to the top note culminated in a fruity sensation, and the trail-off was an exercise in bliss.

In short, the best white tea I’ve ever had. I mean, yes, I’ve had a lot of perfect white teas – five this week, actually – and this raised the bar. It was already a pretty freakin’ high bar! The 2013 white tea cake was on its way there. The 2009 was already there on the hill, banner held high.

This all came to pass on what was a very stressful day. I was almost late to work this morning because of a plumber’s van blocking my garage. I spilled tea on my work station, drenching my paperwork in Oriental Beauty. I was operating on only about five hours of sleep. And, yet, it was all worth it. Because it all led to this; this moment. This…blissful…moment.

I have nothing else to add. The 2013 is a gifted youngster. The ’09 is Stephen freakin’ Hawking with superpowers.

mighty stephen hawking

I’m out.

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