Thursday, October 6, 2016

Wild unsmoked Lapsang Souchong from Cindy

Back to one of my favorite experiences in tea, new samples sent by Cindy Chen, my favorite tea farmer and tea maker.  I've reviewed a Dan Cong from her recently (she also has family in that area), with other black teas in this set.  No oolongs this round, but I'll get back to those at some point.  I reviewed another unsmoked Lapsang Souchong from her family not so long ago but this tea was something else altogether, really unique.

I've mentioned her so often this could get repetitious, but you can hear more about making tea in her own blog, or see more images of tea growing or being made on Instagram, or talk to her on Facebook.  Of course her activity level on those varies with the demands of making or shipping tea.  On to review!

The dry tea scent is intriguing, a very complex profile for a black tea.  A sweet maltiness hits you first, followed by an impression of the complexity, a sweetness, an orange-zest element, layers of smooth earthy scents.

The taste is like that; clean, pleasant, rich, and complex.  I'm brewing the tea Gongfu style on this first try, but it would work well brewed lots of different ways, it's just better to be careful with a tea this good no matter how you make it.

Sometimes a tea being suitable to being brewed different ways means that you can draw out different aspects or shift the profile, true to a limited extent for this one.  But for this tea type when you get the optimum down it goes from a great tea to a unique experience, at least for the best versions, so it's about it all really clicking if you get it just right.  

The sweetness in the scent shows up nicely in the flavors.  An orange element also present, not completely unrelated to Darjeeling muscatel but at the same time nothing like that, more like orange zest.  There is essentially no edge of astringency, no bite or dryness at all, but then brewing the tea lightly would minimize the feel aspect of what is there.


The other layers of flavors aren't so easy to take in and process as a list, and I don't think a list of flavors and aspects would do the experience justice.  But here goes.  After a rinse and an infusion the flavors move off citrus a little into a stone fruit (peach / apricot), or even butternut squash range, but definitely not vegetal, sweet and rich and very clean in effect.

A light malt is present as a context for that but it's a far different presentation than in lots of black teas, nothing like that strong, sharp, imposing flavor aspect found in Assamica type black teas, and not exactly like malted milk balls or a milkshake, but closer to the latter.  It works to say cocoa is present, but it layers in with a light, mild earthiness as a background in a way that makes distinction more difficult.

I went a little longer to try the tea as a stronger flavor profile and it changed things.  The sweetness, a trace of orange, and the fruit is still present but the mineral tones picked up.  It leans a little towards that complex set of flavors people mean when they say "it tastes like tea," just nothing like the tea-bag blended black tea version they would be referring to.

The feel is nice, not full related to what that description means for lots of teas, but the effect is definitely not that of being thin either.  You know how Dan Cong can get an oddly full feel, while at the same time not being heavy or thick at all, with a trace of oiliness that totally works?  It's like that.  Some of these aspects are somewhat unique, mixing fruit and citrus in a light, mild black tea like that, or the feel, but the most novel thing is the way it all comes together.  

There is a freshness to it that reminds me of Darjeeling, the way unconventional processing lets teas that are sort of black teas, and sort of not, span a range of unique aspects.  The aspects profile overlaps a little with those but it's different.  And I don't even think I'm close to optimizing brewing for this tea just yet.  After a half dozen infusions the tea isn't transitioning much, but staying in that same nice range.  Mineral tones are more pronounced related to using longer infusions to brew to the same level, but astringency doesn't pick up.

I tried the tea made Western style the next day, really using a modified version of it, a proportion of tea to water in between the two approaches (the most typical versions).  It was nice that way too, and different.  Of course the tea works well at different strengths but the feel and flavor aspects profile both changed.

The feel thickened,  towards that unusual and pleasant texture some Chinese black teas get, especially Jin Jun Mei and Dian Hong.  Those are quite different teas, with much different flavor profiles, but some versions can have a feel aspect in common.  Amanda of Rambling Butterflies tea blog calls it resinous, and it would be hard to describe better, even if that would really only be meaningful to people already familiar with it.

The taste was earthier, even extending into a rosemary (pine) aspect.  The flavor elements weren't completely different but they had shifted.  I've mostly noticed a pronounced rosemary element in good Wuyi Yancha teas that are getting close to completely brewed out, drawn out by a much longer infusion process, but in this case that set in earlier in the brewing.  I love rosemary, so it was nice, especially combined with sweetness, clean and light earthiness, and fruit.

Cindy also sent samples of a Qi Lan and three Jin Jun Mei.  Those last are related to this tea type, technically a type of Lapsang Sounchong, but different, made of mostly buds or only buds.  All of those should be interesting, or even amazing if anything like this tea.

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