Monday, April 17, 2017
Yunomi Japanese Whisky Barrel Wood Smoked Black Tea
Sounds interesting, doesn't it? This is my first experience with this type of tea, of course, what seems to more or less be a Japanese take on Lapsang Souchong. The tea is as the title says, with a full name Kaneroku Matsumoto Tea Garden: Whisky Barrel Wood Smoked Black Tea, sold by Yunomi (provided by them for review purposes).
The vendor information lists this:
Name: Smoked Black Tea
Japanese name: 燻製紅茶
Ingredients: Black tea
Region: Shimada, Shizuoka
Notes: No flavorings or additives used. Smoked with wood from Japanese whisky barrels
I'm not at all familiar with Japanese black tea from that region, or tea regions in Japan for that matter, and that's all that is listed about the tea and smoking input, so on to review.
The smoke stands out, making the first impression. It changes effect as you drink the tea, tasting different initially than as you taste the liquid, then remaining as an aftertaste. It seems to shift in character all through that cycle, still like smoke, but a different in effect at those different times.
The initial effect is shock; this tea tastes like smoke. Maybe if I was drinking more smoked Lapsang Souchong I'd experience that differently. I just tried an awful version earlier this year, quite likely based on chemical smoke input, but this is for sure the real thing, actual smoke. It's in a decent balance for the tea flavor, so it works, provided that someone likes smoked black tea.
I've only ever tried one Japanese black tea and that didn't go so well. It was probably not a great version, a good example of what's out there, so there isn't much more to add about that. That other tea was light, and a bit odd, maybe slightly sour, or something along those lines. This tea is definitely just a little sour too, or maybe it would seem more sour than that to someone with little experience or tolerance for that in teas. I'd imagine the smoke is adding that aspect but it's hard to be sure.
I'll go lighter on the second infusion and see what that changes. The first was brewed at relatively normal strength for a black tea, or maybe slightly strong, using a brewing approach and proportion of tea to water really in between Gongfu brewing and typical Western. That's atypical in general, for most people, but how I generally prefer black teas prepared.
Of course it occurred to me to use a very standard Western approach, the typical proportion and timing, but I really do prefer the effect from using a higher proportion and shorter times, even within Western brewing scope. It offers the option to shift timing and strength over those multiple infusions. Where Western brewing will provide maybe three consistent infusions using a higher proportion of tea to water, or a light version of Gongfu brewing, would at least double that, depending on that proportion and timing.
It's nicer on the second infusion, mellowing a bit, still full of flavor even for using a pretty short infusion time, on the order of sixty seconds. Brewed lightly the different flavors are easier to pick up, and the smoke balances at a level that makes more sense. It's hard to know if it would naturally transition to that across multiple infusions anyway, if the first infusion of a Western approach wouldn't be as nice, but I'm guessing it's more about the tea working better a little lighter, or weaker, however one puts that.
I can pick up some malt in the black tea. Sweetness is an element, and the black tea is not astringent, a bit soft instead, with a light feel to it, not so much structure. I would expect that given the smoothness, sweetness, touch of malt, complexity, and clean flavors this tea would show other aspect range better without any flavoring, maybe some type of fruit. The smoke contribution that seemed sour drops off, and there's still plenty of smoke aspect, now coming across as warm and earthy. Brewed appropriately for the tea this is a really nice tea, although I suppose it makes all the difference to be sympathetic to smoked Lapsang Souchong-like teas.
The input of the whisky is still hard to place. There is a trace of complexity that does remind me of that range, familiar ground from the whisky drinking days in my youth. There's only so much to pick up, and it's layered in with smoke and black tea. I could imagine another reviewer saying the tea tastes just like whisky, mostly like that, since expectations really do shift impressions. Whisky tends to pick up a woodiness from barrel aging, overlapping a little in range of some teas, so beyond that distinctive flavor range some of the rest may mix with the tea character.
On the next infusion, fourth, I think this is, the smoke effect has softened a lot and wood tones pick up, so the balance is even nicer. There is no sourness at all to experience, and the smoke only lends a hint of dryness. It would be nice if I could explain that "smoke" aspect better, compare it to something. If I'd been eating a lot of smoked foods I might place it better related to wood type.
Lapsang Souchong is supposed to be pine smoked (per my understanding--I suppose that might well vary), and the unusual taste range from that, almost extending towards an astringency, is comparable to this effect. Back in my childhood it was common to smoke foods with hardwoods like hickory or cherry, venison sausage or jerky, or fish, or maybe cheese, whatever seemed likely to work. That sharpness and shift towards dryness doesn't seem to match those quite as well, but then it's a stretch to review a taste against something from another food type from another earlier part of one's life. It probably is a hardwood; it would just seem to make sense to age whisky in a barrel made of one.
All in all the tea worked for me. I'm not so used to flavored teas these days, and this is tea flavored with smoke, but in the past I've liked that. My preferences tend to shift a little but it seems I still do.
It's hard to pick up the aspects in the tea itself for it tasting a good bit like smoke and a little like whisky but that range is the point. It seems like it probably was pretty good tea to begin with. Even for the flavoring being off in any way probably would've stood out, although something like a thin spot in the overall profile may not have, or a lack of balance. I've said before that the right balance for level of smoke in Lapsang Souchong is either none or as strong as it can be without it completely taking over, and that's is right where this is; a bit strong, but it allowed to tea aspects to show through too.