I’d been on a hiatus from black teas for a while when drinking this for about a week straight. Long enough where I screwed up the steeping the first couple of days so much that my tasting notes would have been “cigarette ash w/ a hint of city dirt”. I made some adjustments, stumbled onto a good cheese pairing with it, and so luckily all of the shoe bottom associations were fleeting. Steeping too long seemed to be the biggest demon. I found 3 to 3.5 mins to be the sweet spot, going down to 2.5 would certainly work, and anything 4 or more gets pretty unpalatable for me. The temperature worked best between 205F and 212F.
Life is happier when the tea is steeped right. There isn’t any sweetness to the tea at all. The flavor has the fruitiness (minus the sweetness) of dried raisins with lots of seeds in them, tobacco, dried apple (minus the sweetness), and clove. The body is medium, actually a bit thinner than I expected.
Life is happiest when the tea was eaten with brie! In general, the right fats will balance the flavor of this tea (butter, egg yolk, bacon grease.) But this Assam also helped to transform the flavor of the cheese. All Bries have a tart flavor (the further from the rind you get) when they’re young. With better Bries this often means a well rounded citrusy flavor, but with lower quality ones it tends to be a less pleasant sour bite that doesn’t fade as much as it should with age. I happened to be eating a lower quality brie (T.J.‘s double creme Brie) and the tea was able to transform that sour bite into a smoother orange flavor. The bitter elements of the tannin and the cheese rind canceled each other out, leaving a nice mushroom flavor (from the rind.) In addition to the orange flavors created from the pairing, notes of bitter chocolate (along the lines of something that I would expect from a Keemun) and maltiness were uncovered.
I also tried a very simple cheddar, 3.5 yr Parmigianno Reggiano, and 3 yr Gouda with it. They didn’t interact with each other much (no positive or negative, flavors stayed individual rather than combing to make new ones) with the exception being that very close to the Gouda rind gave it a little bit of a caramel latte flavor, but the rest of the cheese was hardly effected by the pairing.
Overall a good quality tea that probably seems more complex (its medium, if there were to be a scale for such things) than it actually is from this review. It just took me so long to get right that I was paying closer attention to details and taking better notes, and possibly getting more caffeinated in the process!
Happy pairing, enjoy!