Norfür said

Russian Caravan Experiment

So, to give some background, I’m writing cringey anime fanfiction. It just so happens that there are a few characters that are from fantasy counterparts of tea cultures. I wrote a scene involving a couple of Russian-adjacent politicians having tea. Before I knew it, I was going down the rabbit hole of Russian Caravan because of my desire to properly research authentic Russian tea culture.

Thanks to this lovely community, I gained the courage to start collecting and sipping. I’ve had various offerings from all three Darjeeling flushes, humble ‘kitchen-grade’ Uji matchas that knock out anything commercially available in my country. I’ve also had sencha, some Pu-ehrs, Hong Kong Oolongs, and simple milk tea-grade Assams. One Christmas, I splurged $30 on a small pot of Gyokuro at a TWG establishment. Just to see what the fuss was all about.

Which is to say, while I’m not super cultured, I do have some experience with tea. Thank you all for getting me started all those years ago! I still have some of Mandala Tea’s 2012 Heart of the Old Tree raw cake. I don’t know if it’s supposed to taste like shu now after 9.5 years, but I’ve always saved it for a special occasion, and it’s gotten really mellow compared to my original tasting notes.

BUT ANYWAY! For some reason, I decided on performing the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever done, and something I feel I am way out of my depth with: blend my own Russian Caravan, instead of buying some. I don’t know why. But here we are. I’m planning to use a 2:1:1 blend of the following:
This Keemun –

Da Hong Pao Oolong (Alleged, because as you can see, the price is ridiculously low) –

I would’ve gotten something cheaper, but all the Tieguanyins I could find were rolled up into balls and I imagine hard to blend while dry.

And this Lapsang Souchong –

Why did I pick this vendor? Because it’s available on Lazada, an online sales platform that’s big in my country and so takes my local currency. Also because I’ve gotten a couple of sheng cakes from them, and they taste alright.

I imagine I made some mistakes (not the least of which is impulse buying based on a cringey anime fanfic I’m writing. Talk about tooting my own horn). But hey, if I can get all these for an alright price, why not?

But what do you make of my proposed ratio? Is it alright? Is it ridiculous? Is it the furthest thing from Russian Caravan?

As always, your amazing knowledge and experience are very much appreciated!

9 Replies
AJ said

Hah, I love this. Given your lineup, I’m guessing you’re going for something more ‘historic’ or ‘traditional’. Addition of Assam, Darjeeling, and/or Ceylon can also brighten and add a bit more body to the base of the tea.

I wouldn’t go for Tiguanyin in this case; Da Hong Pao is a good choice. From a historic perspective, the ‘oolong’ mentioned in the blend would have been a darker roast and oxidation—like Da Hong Pao (or a more open-faced Taiwan oolong—DongFang MeiRen would do in that case). The modern Tiguanyin you’ll probably encounter has a much younger history, and is a lot greener/lighter in roast than it used to be. Perfectly good, but might not be the character you’re going for in this blend.

In this lineup (assuming you stick with just the three teas), you’d probably treat Keemun as your “base” tea, and use it to make up the majority of the blend. Lapsang and DaHongPao can be treated as ‘aroma teas’ and used in smaller quantities.

For Lapsang in particular—a little goes a LONG way. In my experience with Russian Caravan, the Lapsang doesn’t eclipse the other flavours, and is just sprinkled in there to enhance them. But this also depends on the level of smoke on the Lapsang, which definitely varies.

You also have Keemun which provides its own layer of ‘smoke’, and DaHongPao adds a solid roasted note, which might be too much. If you want a little more nuance, you could sub out DaHongPao for DongFang MeiRen, to add a different/lighter/sweeter profile.

Your proposed ratio’s the right idea—but you could probably go even further with 3:2:1, Keemun/Oolong/Lapsang and still get a healthy smoke. I’m assuming you’re measuring by weight. Trying to do so by volume would be tricky/difficult to reproduce consistently with different leaf sizes.

I tend to do a lot of mini test-batches; assuming 2.5 or 3g of tea for a cup, and breaking that down into the ratios to test (if you have a scale small enough; for 2.5g that’d be weighing out 1.5g/1g/0.5g Keemun/Oolong/Lapsang from my above ratio). You can also ‘wet blend’—brew up the same amount of each tea into three bowls, and spoon your liquid ratios together into one small cup to test, and keep adjusting until you like it.

Norfür said

Oh wow, now THIS is what I’m talking about! Thank you so much for your insight!

I didn’t realise how historical/traditional my proposed blend turned out to be. I was just looking around for an idea for what would make up a good Russian Caravan. Now that I’ve had time to think about it, though, yes, it would be great if I could get the traditional mix in! Thank you!

On the Tieguanyin, I see. I did notice that a lot of them tended to be greener than darker. I had no idea that the oolongs used for Russian Caravan were likely to be more oxidised. Talk about another nice bit of serendipity, hehe.

The recipe I found said to use 2 parts oolong, but I’m not quite sure why I decided to use the Keemun as the base. It might be because I looked it up and enjoyed the idea that it tasted malty and chocolatey. Good to know that it aligns with more knowledgeable suggestions.

I’ll be sure to keep the aroma teas in check and take your suggested ratio for a bigger base. I understand that Lapsang can be pretty strong, so I’ll keep that in mind. (On another note, would it be a good idea to steep some as “liquid smoke” in cooking, or should I just stick to smoked paprika?)

I’ll do some digging on Lazada for the DongFang MeiRen. If it’s not available there, I’ll probably just get it directly from HelloYoung, it wasn’t hard to find there. Any other suggestions you might have for Da Hong Pao alternatives? I’m suddenly wondering if I should play around with that element too. Have a different sort of Russian Caravan every now and then.

My kitchen scale is kind of busted, so I’ll have to get a new one, but yes, I was planning to blend them by weight. The wet blend idea sounds like a really good one for testing! I might just try it out if I get the chance!

Thanks again for all your help! I’ll share my findings as soon as I get them done!

AJ said

I’m partial for the rich, sweet, cocoa-y flavours Keemun often brings, but aroma-teas versus base-teas are all about what you’re trying to ‘highlight’ with each tea.

I’ve never cooked with it personally, but from what I understand Lapsang’s pretty common in cooking for a bit of smoke. Steeping it for a sauce.

Da Hong Pao (or any Wuyi), I think, is an interesting pair with Keemun. Alternatively, with Assam or Yunnan.

DongFang MeiRen I think could also pair with Keemun, or for something a little closer to its flavours, a Darjeeling second flush.

For something a little different—you could also try looking for a higher-roast Tie Guanyin on the site. Even just ‘roasted oolong’ and see what comes up—something that’s less green. That would definitely add a toasted, minerally, savoury element to a blend, though it might be tricky to balance it with your blacks (and the rolled oolongs might not visually blend super well with the other teas, but that’s more aesthetics).

The greener oolongs would also be an interesting direction, more experimental. But I’d suggest if you do play with them, cut back on the lapsang a little more, and introduce a little bit of gunpowder—a smoky green tea. I think that’d help bridge any differences in flavours. A smoky gunpowder might also help with roasted oolongs.

I’d love to hear what your experiments yield.

Norfür said

Thanks again! Idunno why, but I only got notified of your reply yesterday, so I apologise for answering late.

I just got informed that the first three teas will be arriving today. Probably this morning. So I should be able to give you an update soon!

Hoping my niece will be around to try it too. Her family started her off on tea, and I’ve been showing her some of the fancier things in my collection. They even bought her a little Japanese style set, hehe.

I checked, and you’re right, Lapsang is a pretty common smoke ingredient! I guess I’ll order more of it for that, then.

I’ll be sure to get these other recommendations. These definitely sound interesting. It’s been a while since I’ve had a Darjeeling. I do miss them.

I’ve heard of gunpowder. It’s definitely going to be interesting trying all these out!

Ah, actually they just arrived. Awesome.

Guess it’s time to work! Thank you again!

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ashmanra said

This sounds like a really neat and fun experiment! Keep us posted!

Norfür said

Oh for sure, I’ll keep you posted on this! Just gotta finish my shift first.

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Norfür said

So after several weeks of tasting and trying out the individual teas (and the blend), I’ve found quite a few interesting things.

1) The Keemun has a nice, flowery, maybe even fruity scent. It reminds me of an autumn flush Darjeeling, the first loose-leaf tea I’d ever gotten. Not quite the same, but definitely similar. It’s apparently a popular blend tea, so I might have tasted it elsewhere too.

2) The Da Hong Pao is giving me some roasted, dare I say dark chocolate notes. I like it. Definitely adds character. Warm vibes that I wouldn’t mind having with a nice afternoon dessert. I don’t know if it’s supposed to be expected from this sort of tea, though. Please let me know if this isn’t supposed to be part of its flavour profile.

3) The Lapsang Souchong by itself is actually curious. I was expecting it to be smokey, like liquid smoke, smoked paprika, or even BBQ sauce. I was actually hoping to blend it up and use it as a liquid smoke substitute. And yet it was the most surprising. It’s definitely got a strong taste, but that taste is more sweet than smokey. I guess that would be great for a sweet BBQ sauce, in place of honey? It’s really not what I expected, but I like it. Again, please let me know if this isn’t the sort of taste I should be expecting from real Lapsang Souchong.

I bought all these teas from a major Chinese mall (with an online service), and it’s my first time getting any of them. So I have no idea if they’re supposed to taste that way. If they shouldn’t, then I’d be disappointed that it wasn’t the real deal, but the tea itself is something I can enjoy. Probably not on the scale of a super legit high quality tea, but each one definitely has its own pleasant flavour.

Now, with that out of the way, let’s talk about the main subject.

Blended together, well… I mean I have no ‘legitimate’, non-DIY Russian Caravan blend that I can compare it to. But I like how these three strong-tasting teas play with each other. Keemun being the majority at 50%, the floral taste is the first I get out of it. After that, is an interesting sweet, chocolatey mix of the DHP and the LS. I’ll probably make some bigger batches of these two mixed up.

Overall, I’m glad I made the jump with this experiment. And again, if the teas with those labels aren’t supposed to taste in those particular ways, please let me know!

Inkling said

I’m not an expert, but it sounds like you may have purchased an unsmoked Lapsang Souchong? That would explain the lack of smoky flavor. Glad to hear you’ve enjoyed the process and results of this experiment so far!

ashmanra said

I was thinking the same thing as Inkling about the Lapsang.

One of the finest DHP I ever had was super chocolatey in the aroma, too, so that makes sense.And Keemun has such a range of flavors – Grace Rare Tea sells theirs under the name Winey Keemun so maybe the wine flavor is perceived as fruit sometimes.

Sounds like you had a fun experiment and you have some good teas to drink as well!

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