fine tea buds, with coins for scale (baht and penny)
In an earlier post I'd compared the taste profiles for these types of teas, and since I just bought both teas from Cindy Chen--do I even need to say it? my favorite Wuyishan tea farmer--it was a good chance to compare them directly. When I finally did my first thought was "I get it." The second was "this is going to be hard to describe." This could be a bit much for rambling but I'll try to put the experience of these two teas into words, and of course it doesn't really work as just a list of tastes.
At some level that flavors-list approach starts to break down, and adding description of feel or other indirect comparisons doesn't really get there either. So what's left, my emotive reaction to the tea? I'll mostly have to leave off at a taste review but I'll struggle to go a little further too.
Jin Jun Mei is a black tea, essentially, but made from only the buds of the tea, so nothing like a version made from leaves or leaves and buds. Invoking "conventional black tea" is too much to take on. I suppose that could mean the profile for an Assam or Ceylon, but those are different, and it's not fruitful to compare those broad categories. So back to tastes.
The Lapsang Souchong has an earthy aspect that grounds it closer to other black teas, or maybe in between earth and mineral, a complex, underlying taste range that almost serves as a context for the entire tea, if that makes any sense. To me the range is a bit like a very dark wood, shifting a little towards charcoal, with a touch of mineral, maybe like slate. This is probably a good place to add that I mean all that in a good way. The tea is still pleasant, complex, and approachable, it just doesn't work well to break down that complexity as description. It's really smoother and richer than this description might imply, with some dark molasses sweetness joining in to all the rest of that.
Maybe it doesn't sound like it but all that taste complexity comes across as simple, smooth, and well integrated. Jin Jun Mei overlaps with that set of tastes but lightens up a lot on some of the dark wood / mineral, with lots of added cocoa and malt filling in for that, still maybe "simpler" in a limited sense but with lots going on. Other flavor range reminds me of a nice rich cooked fruit, perhaps in between a cooked pumpkin and butternut squash, although it's a bit faint and blended in, so that could be described quite differently without being wrong. Yams and sweet potato flavors are close to those, and with a lot of malt and a bit of cocoa mixed in it gets hard to completely sort it.
With the Lapsang Souchong one needs to get the brewing right, not so much to bring out certain aspects, since that's sort of going to happen on it's own, but to get them to balance in the right way. It's not about narrowing down astringency, as for some other black tea types, but getting to a place where it all works the best. The Jin Jun Mei is so smooth and malty and rich, quite approachable, that some of the same applies but it really doesn't need to find much of a balance, it's more there as an aspect of the tea. It would work quite well very light or would still be ok relatively strong, maybe with individual preference leading somewhere in the middle.
The Jin Jun Mei does have a bit more uniqueness in terms of characteristics and those soft, rich, complex flavors, so I guess to some extent it seems a little more novel, surely "better" for some. And there's something catchy about the taste that the concepts of cocoa and malt doesn't capture.
A Chinatown vendor gave me a sample of their own Jin Jun Mei last year, a tea they didn't even sell, which would be nice to compare to this tea, but I drank all that. At first that tea had seemed nice, better than other Jin Jun Mei I've tried before then, but nothing that would be a favorite. After drinking it a couple of times I really started to crave it, and of course right about then I ran out. Cindy's version is so good that I can't imagine that it's not at least slightly better but it's hard to say that for sure based on taste memory.
Both were good versions, very refined, approachable, pleasant teas, a type I'd expect almost anyone would love. In some cases some black teas can seem a little too sweet to me, or a sweet-potato type element can come on a little strong, initiating a slight odd aftertaste, but this tea had great natural balance, with very clean and positive flavors. There is an unusual element that comes across as a trace of unusual rich feel to the tea but to me that's positive, a nice texture, just a unique expression of that.