Let’s start with a simple introduction for the rookies: Lapsang Souchong is a pinewood (or pine needle)-smoked black tea, originally hailing from Fujian province, China. I’ve waxed manly-melodic about Lapsang Souchong (originally known as Zhen Shan Xiao Zhong) on two different blogs. Several, several times. And I’ve even paid homage to the li’l UNESCO protected village that created the smoky brew – Tong Mu. In more recent years, I also lamented that said village cut back its production of it in favor of a more profitable product; Jin Jun Mei.
That all said – even with the rarity of running into the true single origin smoky stuff – I’ve managed to do just that. On two different occasions. What’s even funnier is that I found the really rare Tong Mu produced stuff from two vendors . . . in the same state.
What. Are. The odds?
The first was a dude I’d had many dealings with, based in Dallas – one Greg Glancy of Norbu Tea Company. We got along because his tea predilections were very similar to mine. Nerdy.
“Is it weird? Is it rare? Great, I’ll take ALL it!” I sometimes imagined that’s how his mind worked.
He acquired some Tong Mu produced stuff just shy of Jin Jun Mei’s rise to prominence, around 2012. I didn’t inquire about his offering, though, until roughly two years after that. And . . . didn’t dip into it until well after that.
Around that same time – probably summer of 2014 – I made the acquaintance of another lad by the name of So Han Fan. He was based in Austin, which was the one blue ink blot in a mostly-red state. There, he was the proprietor of a start-up called West China Tea Company, and it’s pseudo-brick-‘n-mortar location – The Tea Spot.
I have no other way to describe the guy other than . . . he looks like Tea Jesus. (Teasus?)
So Han actually acquired his 2014 Lapsang straight from the source. And – to this day – I’ve only heard a fragment of the story of how that happened. Something to do with “white tea girls” and clandestine rendezvous with hidden tea masters. For some reason, I keep imagining an Indiana Jones-ish scenario involving gaiwans and forest fires. But moving on . . .
I found it curious that such a coincidence came to pass. How could two Texas-based tea traffickers carry Tong Mu Lapsang Souchong? Was it all by chance, or did it have something to do with . . . uh . . . Flavor Fates? (If that was even a thing?)
The only way to find out was to dive in:
Norbu Tea’s 2012 Zhen Shan Xiao Zhong
The leaves for this batch were far small-cut. However, there were gold-tipped pieces in the fray – giving it the appearance of a quickie Keemun.
Of course, any such impression of other black teas was thrown right out the window on smell. It was straight smoke, but not any smoke, mind you. I’m really not sure what happened in the three years since its plucking, whether or not post-oxidation played a roll, or whatever. I thought some age would either mellow out the smokiness or turn it to dust. This, though?
This smelled like smoked steak. Straight up. And, no, that’s not a negative critique.
For brewing, I can’t say I treated it with a whole lot of delicacy. That might’ve been because of said steak scent. I “think” I brewed it for four minutes in a gaiwan filled with boiling water. I think; I’m not sure. Might’ve been five. Oh well.
The liquor brewed the color of angsty rust – bold red with a dark underpinning. The scent it gave off was all sagebrush fire and screaming cattle. The tasted echoed my nostrils’ conclusions. It was chewy on the tongue the moment I sipped, and it didn’t let up until the aftertaste dissipated . . . when it felt like it. I can’t say it wasn’t a mellow experience – it was. About as mellow as looking out on a cornfield, boots kicked up, while chewing on a piece of wheat.
West China Tea Company’s 2014 Zhen Shan Xiao Zhong
What surprised me about this particular Lapsang was…well…everything.
The leaves were longer, more twisty, and varying a bit in color from soot black to redwood. The pinesmoked fragrance I was expecting was also a bit on the more understated side, imparting a subtle Cavendish-esque waft without overpowering. This wasn’t my usual run-of-the-mill hickory campfire Lapsang, nor was it the understated, wet pinewood-smoked variety. This was somewhere in the majestic middle.
As for brewing, I will admit, I wasn’t paying close attention. I stuck about a teaspoon of leaves in a steeper cup, poured boiling water in, and then let it do its thing. I didn’t keep track of time close enough, but guesstimated about four minutes or so. The results?
Surprisingly lighter than I anticipated, as far as liquor color goes. The tea itself darkened only about midway to (what I would call) “oolong level” – a fair amber at best. The aroma was toasty, only slightly smoky, with additional hints of malt and…stone fruit? The finish was like pleasantly exhaling smooth pipe smoke and taking a sip of a well-aged scotch. A very comfortable (and manly) ride.
Why do I have a sudden urge to purchase a tweed smoking jacket?
It wasn’t until sipped both side-by-side that I truly understood.
The 2012, due to its advanced years, was like having a smoked steak dinner. Following that up with the 2014 was like smoking a post-supper pipe on the back porch – looking at one lone star. Maybe the Texan draw to Tong Mu was coincidental, but the resulting brews were pure heartland.
All I know is that they inevitably landed in my cup, and I’m a richer man for it.
What a crazy, unique sounding tea. Not sure how into “smokey” flavors in tea I am but that would be fun to try. Also, beautiful photos!
Thanks on all counts. Believe it or not, Lapsang Souchong (or “Bohea”, as it was then referred to) was the first black tea Europeans were introduced to.
Tea Jesus!! Hahaha that is awesome. He does look like that for sure. I love the softness of your photos as well- makes me want to brew myself some tea right now.
Thank you, and yes, do!
OK, confession: LS is a tea that I actively avoid. Perhaps it’s because the aroma makes me want to retch. Now having said that, I’m sure that I’ve never had the real deal. So maybe I need to go to Texas (another thing I actively avoid). 🙂
I know of one Lapsang out there that’d be up your alley.
It is well known that everyone in Texas is smoking something, so Lapsang Souchong from there are no surprise 😉
Yep, I think there’s scientific proof.
Thanks to you, I decided to drink a Lapsang Souchong.
That might need to be a blog post.