I did not have high hopes for this tea after getting a migraine from the smoke of Upton’s LS Imperial. At best I thought it would be less overwhelming, at worst I thought it would be watered down and shallow, boy was I wrong. The smell of the leaves are more hickory than campfire, it is pleasantly strong but not overwhelming. I tried not to inhale the scent from the cup after getting dizzy from the imperial, but there was definitely smoke just more toned down and not filled with as many sensory memories. I thought perhaps steeping it for only 3 mins was a mistake, fist sip was smokey but palatable though I thought it lacked complexity. Then I got a scratchy burn in my throat like smoking and I was reminded of ash trays and cannabis (mind you I do not smoke anything) but still watered down so I decided to toss it and resteep stronger. But in my last sip before I poured it out I tasted something new, something spicy, and I thought this is promising.
So I resteeped the full 4 mins. The fist sip was mild and I thought perhaps it wouldn’t translate. This was less smokey for sure but something more was coming through, the tea leaves, I could taste the tea and not just the process (well actually I’m sure I was tasting other parts of the process, not just the pine needle firing). Then a very familiar taste came through, at first subtle then growing stronger, a tangy high note that reminds me of wine. It may be what connoisseurs refer to as muscatel, all I know is I’ve tasted it in Oriental Beauty, Dan Cong and Big Red Robe. The tea gained a smooth body in the cup and my mouth and I was quite pleased, so I actually sat back and enjoyed.
Third steep had the least amount of smoke, revealed more wine notes that turned quite sweet. The body evolved and turned buttery, yes buttery, I was in love and all thoughts of blending this tea with a smooth oolong left, it so doesnt need it. I think I actually like this better than my oriental beauty, the tea that inspired me to seek beyond Teavana, the muscatel notes are a little less pungent here, but I need to try a third infusion of that one again.
So I went for a fourth steep at 5 mins and thought surely this one will be too watered down and while it doesn’t have as much body, this one actually has a bit more smoke but still a nice sweetness. I decided to brew a fifth infusion while cooking up bacon, eggs and potatoes. I went to polish off my mug figuring I may have to toss it since its cooled off (and cold LS are icky). I was shocked at the sweetness I tasted. Had someone slipped sugar in my cup? No, the toddler is downstairs and it’s not a sugary taste really, but boy is it sweet!
I poured the fifth pot, again expecting blandness, the liquor was noticeably lighter but no this tea continues to delight, the sweetness reminds me a bit of anise in a thai ice tea kind of way. I am soooo in love! I want this to become my morning tea. Never thought I’d get to this point, especially after so much anxiety yesterday with the Imperial but I’m going to try a sixth steep. This cup smelled like something herbal, chamomile? And a bit of spearmint? Similar to the fifth steep, still sweet but more subtle and very comforting.
Seventh steep has more pepper and a hint of smoke, but my sense are being obscured by the soap on my toddler’s hands, so I’m going to end here for today. Soap smell aside, it tastes like the rinse water of the smoke process, so I think I’ll stick to six steeps, far more than I thought I would get with this tea. The third is definitely my favorite, being the most buttery.I would like to order a Heritage Lapsang, to try the tea leaves unsmoked, I’m hoping they will bear some similarity to this. But this is definitely a tea I want in my cupboard. I would recommend folks try multiple infusions. This tea surprised, delighted and comforted me at every turn, it has so much more to offer than smoke.