The change of the seasons is always an exciting time of the year. For many of us, the weather gets cooler, sometimes uncomfortably so, and people everywhere are filled with holiday cheer, eager to enjoy their favorite pies, stews, chilies, roasts, and teas…how can we forget the teas?
A lot of tea drinkers may notice a shift in preferences at this time of the year. That craving for a light, crisp, refreshing tea, like White Peony (Bai Mu Dan) white tea or Huang Shan Mao Feng green tea, gives way to desires to quench that tea thirst with black teas, oolongs, and darker pu erhs.
A seasonal favorite of ours is always something with a hint of dried fruit, and there’s nothing better in that regard than Xinhui Ripen Mandarin (Da Hong Gan) black tea and 2007 Xinhui Mandarin Gongting puerh, both of which are packed into a dried, authentic mandarin shell that imparts this wonderful citrus flavor that complements the black tea and pu erh, respectively.
Most know this tea as that smoky, campfire tea, and some people even find it offputtingly aggressive in its flavor, as if one were drinking a cup of charcoal. While this can be true of inferior, commercial grade Lapsang, true, authentic Lapsang from Tong Mu Guan village couldn’t be more different.
To be sure, Lapsang is a smoked tea, but there’s an art to pulling this off, one rooted in a long and storied tradition that began more than 400 years ago. Imitators outside of Tong Mu Guan have failed to capture the results, and part of this is due to the fact that it is difficult to make this tea, often leaving tea masters with dry, even damaged eyes and respiratory problems. They persist, however, because they have a true passion for making this tea and making it well, and they want to share the tradition with you. Anyone can set tea leaves over a fire and wait until they’re a step or two away from becoming ash, but it takes true commitment and love to make proper Lapsang.
It takes not only experience, it also takes access to the right materials. What good is a house if you’re going to make it out of straw?
Recall that terroir plays a vital role in how teas will ultimately taste. Dragonwell (Long Jing) green tea grown near the site of its origin at West Lake in Huangzhou will taste different from Dragonwell grown elsewhere. Everything from the local climate and nutrient profile of the soil to the mineral content of the water and surrounding vegetation will affect the final result, resulting in very different kinds of tea. This is no less true of Lapsang, which traces its origins back to Tong Mu Guan.
But if Lapsang is so good, why smoke it? Is it not true that smoking is a technique used to hide the deficiencies of lower-quality, poor tasting tea leaves?
In many cases, this is true, but not in the case of authentic Lapsang. The goal of a tea master is never to hide the flavors of the tea; he merely wishes to complement the natural flavors.
You see, what makes the smoking of authentic Lapsang different is that the tea leaves are not charred to a crisp; they are lightly smoked over local pinewood, resulting in this wonderful balance of sweet, fruity notes with a touch of pinewood smokiness, creating an elevated tea drinking experience that can be enjoyed among more places than just a campfire. Everything in balance—that’s the mantra; that’s the goal.So if you’ve sampled Lapsang before, chances are good that you haven’t yet tried true, single origin Lapsang Souchong, and there’s no better season to warm up to it than the fall! And if you’ve already had the pleasure of enjoying real Lapsang, then it should go without saying that it’s about that time of the year to sip it some more!