15 September, 2010

2010 Essence of Tea "Zhengshan Xiaozhong"

Throughout my adult life, I have been on a tea-related quest, of sorts. 

I am in search of real lapsang souchong, of the kind that one finds in good hotels during afternoon tea.  "Lapsang" has a firm grip on the subconscious of my nation, being a charmingly smokey tea beloved of many good Englishmen throughout the years.  As a boy, I read that it was Tolkien's favourite tea, and I have consequently been hooked on it every since.

2010 Nada Lapsang
Our local arbitor of pinyin, Lew, would undoubtedly correct the vendor's spelling of "zhengshan"

It is a rare treat, because supermarket "lapsang" is simply low-grade hongcha scented with an artificial chemical.  It is much like Earl Grey, the charlatan of English teas, in that it is beloved, as far as I can tell, by people that enjoy watching actors from the Royal Shakespeare Company who should know better than to play space-captains in Star Trek.

Thus, we only get to drink good, real lapsang in hotels.  Lei and I sometimes head for a quiet session in our local (The Randolph), which provides afternoon tea in the manner of London's famous Savoy and Ritz.

I have bought lapsang from all manner of vendors, and all have been rough, chemically-scented affairs.  Where is my sweet, smokey favourite?  Does it even exist in retail vendors' stocks?

2010 Nada Lapsang
Beautiful hongcha leaves

I have long eyed the variety offered by Essence of Tea, and have been considering buying a small sample to see if it is "the real thing", though find myself pausing at the price.  By a stroke of luck, it seems that the network of Chinese wives have been sending one another tea, and so I found myself brewing this welcome treat immediately after its arrival. To Mrs. Nada, many thanks!  We are very grateful.  What follows are merely my own notes to myself, as recorded in my journal for information's sake - if you are the proprietor of Essence of Tea, or happen to be married to him, please feel free to stop reading at this point.

2010 Nada Lapsang

Anticipating a solid lapsang experience, I brought out our gaiwan, pictured above.  The result was a slick, mouthful of a brew, with a charmingly sweet hongcha aroma.  In character, it was similar: deliciously sweet, and elegantly delicate, as I find many of the teas from Essence of Tea.  

And therein, for me, lies the minor issue, as a man hunting for his long-lost lapsang.

2010 Nada Lapsang

This is a delicious hongcha, but it is not lapsang souchong.  Yes, I know that it was plucked by the thighs of young virgins from the finest tea-bushes in the Wuyi mountain range, and then was gently passed over the combusting branches of pine trees through which ambrosial scents whisper throughout the long, spring evenings.  It is an excellent "Zhengshan Xiaozhong".  It is first-class hongcha.

However, it is not lapsang souchong, as English culture has long appreciated it.  This is not to say that English culture has been raised on inferior product - merely that this particular variety is too light, not sufficiently pine-like, not sufficiently sweet-smokey, to be an Englishman's lapsang.

If I were to taste this in a line-up with, for example, a first-class Fujian "Bailin Gongfu", I don't think that I could tell the difference.  I really enjoy hongcha.  While I don't write about it very often, as I buy good quantities of it from Maliandao, which doesn't lend itself to interesting tea-articles, I spend quite some time with it.  This charming tea is, undoubtedly, just a hongcha, albeit a mighty fine one.

2010 Nada Lapsang
My hongcha pot (a Xishi from Teamasters) is my second-favourite pot, next to Zidu, my puer-pot

So, I retrieve our hongcha pot, and continue as if drinking Bailin Gongfu.  It lasts well, and provides much enjoyment, in its sweet, candylike, accomplished manner.

However, my quest for lapsang souchong continues...


五行雲子 said...

I know zero about authentic Lap Sou, my only experiences of the genre was from buying, and soon after disposing, Tescos' finest. So when Nada suggested we drank some I agreed but within I felt uneasy. I should of shown more trust as it was a very pleasent tea and I made a mental note that perhaps Lap Sou's are not all bad after all.

I do admit to being intrigued that there is a better experience to be had out there, perhaps I should investigate further.

Poor Mrs Nada though, I am sure she won't be offended, as long as you don't start plonking sachets of sugar into her tea, that makes her blood boil!

** sorry for the deleted post, my state school grammar gets the best of me **

Marlena said...

Oh boy, do I sympathize, about Lapsang, Prince of Wales, Earl Grey and Russian Caravan. Teas I remember having such good taste that now are chemicals instead of the real deal. A good thing my world of tea has expanded to other teas. However, I would like to taste them again.

tieguanyin said...

"People that enjoy watching actors from the Royal Shakespeare Company who should know better than to play space-captains in Star Trek."

What if these same actors are plying their craft in comic book-based superhero movies =D ?

Sounds to me like the hotels in the UK have a lock on decent lapsang. Have you inquired on where they source their tea?

Does the fellow who runs Postcard teas have anything? He seems to carry some UK'ish tea selections along with puerh and oolong?

Kort said...

TGY makes a good point. None of the fine hotels you frequent will divulge the source of their Lap Sou? I would be interested to know what their replies are when questioned.

Another enjoyable entry, thank you.

DK said...

I thought you were dismissive of British-style tea in general. Anyway, I enjoy reading reviews of non-pu'er tea, since that's what I drink almost all the time. (I don't yet understand why many Serious Tea People think hongcha is boring.)

I have some lapsang souchong from Fortnum & Mason that is not bad (to my unrefined palate), though presumably anything from them is overpriced. It's a few years old by now, and it seems to have improved with age.

Anonymous said...

Man, I don't think I'd ever confuse any lapsang for Bailin, not just because there isn't smoke, but because Bailin and lapsang have totally different fruit tastes. Mebbe that's just the Teaspring thing though. However, all lapsangs I've ever had are some variant of musk-grape/longan/litchee. Bailin tends to be more applish, and not very much musk.


Anonymous said...

Oops, forgot to mention...Perhaps you just need to pay attention to grade. When it comes to lungchings, many people prefer the more nutty lower grades to the elegant high grades.


Anonymous said...

Re: Oxford University

I very much enjoyed your recent post on university life.

Was your move to University, Balliol, or Merton college?

A colleague of mine is Dame Professor and Warden of Merton. At one time, we were both in museums, curators of Asian arts, she in London at the BM and I in Cambridge at Harvard.

All best wishes,

Hobbes said...

Dear all,

Thanks muchly for the comments. You know, I don't talk about it very much, but I really adore "English" tea. You just cannot beat Darjeeling in the early afternoon, or Lapsang Souchong later on. Assam in the morning and Ceylon for elevenses... everything has its place, and I usually have them several times per week during my trips to college. I don't write about them, but it's just part of the background.

My move was to a college a little newer than those original three... the clue is the black-and-white sketch in the post. We were founded by James I, which will give you a better idea of the date.

I do love Merton, however - your colleague oversaw the only college with a Real Tennis court, which is one of my favourite sports.



MarshalN said...

Maliandao should provide you with the lapsang you want. You just need to spend a few days there to find it. Go to any Wuyi tea store, and they will have lapsang -- then it's the luck of the draw.

Simeon ( Tofu Miso ) said...

Hi Hobbes , if you can stomach the cost , plus the fact that they are more than likely over priced jing tea .com - UK sell a couple of Wuyi Bohea Lapsang . I tried the Supreme grade about 18 months ago and enjoyed it . I would describe it as being a bigger , beefier , smokier version of Nada's with maybe not quite as much finesse . They also do a standard grade for about half the price of the Supreme . I don't know what that is like , I've not tried it . All the best !

Hobbes said...

Dear MarshalN and Tofu Miso,

Thanks muchly for the pointers - I still have the details of the Wuyi seller in Maliandao that you recommended last time (Madame Something?), whose yancha was excellent. I'll pursue some next time we're in town.

Regarding Jing of London, I have bought their (admittedly over-priced, but ultimately, not expensive in absolute terms) Rooibos several times, and tend to drink it in my office in the afternoons. I'll definitely order a batch of their Lapsang Souchong to see what it's like - from your description, it sounds exactly like that which I'm after :)



speakfreely said...

I'm interested to hear whether you find the Lap Sou of your dreams. I bought some "nonpareil" lapsang souchong from Dragon Tea House, but drinking it failed to transport me to Himalayan peaks, or anywhere else.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of Maliandao....I will be there in a few weeks and would like to hear your suggestions. Of course I have consulted MarshalN as well and will try to find XiaoMei's shop. If you would like to discuss pls ask MarshalN for TokyoB's email address.

Anonymous said...

Hi Hobbes, bought 2 samples of this tea for you this afternoon. Will send over next months with some puerh teas after my house renovation is done. Cheers! Keng.

Hobbes said...

Thanks, Keng! I've sent you an e-mail on a tea-related note, too.

All the best,


Brian said...


I have a quick question about your blog, do you think you could e-mail me?