Tea Review: Adagio Lapsang Souchong vs. Teavivre Lapsang Souchong

Ah, lapsang souchong. Like smoke in a glass. A campfire in a cup. The scotch of teas. Can you tell that I enjoy this type of tea?

Lapsang souchong is produced in the Fujian province of China, traditionally on Wuyi mountain. The leaves are smoke-dried over pine charcoal, which results in a very strong, smoky tea. For this reason, lapsang souchong is a divisive flavor- you may love it the first time, or you might need a few cups to enjoy it.

The good people at Teavivre were kind enough to send me a few tea samples to try, including lapsang souchong! I discovered Teavivre just recently- their website is fantastic! Along with their teas, they have lots of informative articles on tea types, traditions, and the teamaking process. You’ll find a wealth of information here. I’m also a big fan of how they list the steeping directions for both the western method and the traditional Chinese Gaiwan method.

I decided to compare Teavivre’s lapsang souchong to Adagio’s offering, which is at a similar price scale. I brewed both teas at 195 degrees Fahrenheit for 3 minutes, and a used a teaspoon of each tea per cup of water. Let the tea tasting begin!

Teavivre's lapsang souchong on the left and Adagio's on the right

On the left, Teavivre, on the right, Adagio

Teavivre

Teavivre’s lapsang souchong is grown on Wuyi Mountain. Fresh from the bag, Teavivre’s smoky smell is much more delicate than I had expected. When I poured out the leaves, I was pleased to see there was a mixture of leaves and the golden tips of the plant. Just by looking at the dry leaves, I knew I could expect a balanced flavor in the cup. The wet leaves have that tan color that signifies a good black tea, and you could probably get multiple flavorful infusions of this tea.

 

Before steeping

Before steeping

After steeping

After steeping

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The flavor was indeed balanced, and rather lighter than the full-bodied smokiness I’m used to in a lapsang souchong. The smokiness is apparent when you smell your tea as you drink, and it has a light, lingering smoky finish. I like a lapsang souchong tea that kicks you in the pants, so this tea would be best suited for those who are new to the distinctive taste.

Rating: 3/5 stars

Price: 10.90/3.5 oz

Where you can buy it: http://www.teavivre.com/smoky-lapsang-black-tea/

 

Adagio

Whereas Teavivre’s lapsang is more subtle, Adagio’s fulfills that kick-in-pants quality that I enjoy. When you smell the dry leaves, you get a strong woodsy, smoky flavor, almost reminiscent of a meat jerky (remember how I said that this tea isn’t for everyone?). The dry leaves are a lower quality than Teavivre’s- they’re more chopped up, which is going to make the flavor less mellow and a bit harsher. The wet leaves are also telling- they’re a dark color, almost black. This isn’t to say it’s a BAD tea, just that it’s a lower quality than Teavivre.

Before steeping

Before steeping

After steeping

After steeping

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The flavor, while not as balanced, has a fuller taste, the smokiness really coming through in the smell and the taste. I was surprised at that, considering that this tea brewed into a much lighter-colored brew. I had to double-check to make sure I was indeed tasting the Adagio lapsang! You really get transported to a campfire drinking this one, but I’m docking it a few stars for its quality.

Rating: 3/5 stars

Price: $8/3 oz

Where you can buy it: http://www.adagio.com/black/lapsang_souchong.html

I’m not done with Teavivre! I still have silver needle, keemun hao ya, tie guan yin Iron Goddess and luo chun to taste from them, so stay tuned!

 

 

So Moleskine sells a tea journal and it’s the BEST THING EVER.

I love journals and log books. I love making lists. Physically writing down records between the pages of a book seems to draw up more memories than creating a digital word document or an Excel spreadsheet, for whatever reason. I’ve kept a log of every book I’ve read since 2004, and it’s amazing to have ten years of reading history in a little Series of Unfortunate Events-themed blank book.

So you can imagine my excitement when I went into Teavana and saw that they sell a TEA JOURNAL. A MOLESKINE TEA JOURNAL. I bought the journal there and I don’t regret the purchase, but I since learned that you can get essentially the same journal from the Moleskine website for 7 bucks cheaper. The only difference in the Teavana-themed Perfectea Journal is the pretty orange cover and the Teavana-themed stickers in the back pocket. Fear not, though, there are stickers included in the plain black Moleskine version as well.

tea journal

Teavana Perfectea Journal

moleskine

Moleskine Passions Tea Journal

What I love about this journal is that it strikes the perfect balance between structure and freedom. There are structured pages for tea tasting notes, website reviews, and catalogues of your own collection, along with informational pages on tea tradition, history, and steeping instructions. But there are plenty of blank pages and checklists as well for your own notes or categories, allowing you to turn the journal into whatever suits you best.

Some of the information inside includes:

  • Tea processing
  • Tea classification and grading
  • Types and varieties of teas
  • A pull-out timeline of the history of tea, from 2737 BC to 2010
  • Tea tasting vocabulary glossary (This has been the most helpful information to me. What’s the difference between “bakey” and “biscuity” tastes? This glossary is a handy reference.)
  • Brewing methods
  • Tea etiquette

The journal has four built-in bookmarks in different colors, which my organizational self went nutso over. There are also five tabs that divide out the main sections of the journal:

  • Tastings – This includes the tasting vocabulary and about 40 pages devoted to tea tasting. On each page, you can record info about the tea, including its price, country of origin, steeping instructions, and the date of your tasting. You can then fill out information on the liquor’s color, body, aromas, flavors, and other notes. The most interesting feature here is a spider-web graph with different flavor points that you can mark. This creates a visual map of the tea’s taste profile. I like using these tasting pages to work on honing my palate.
tasting page

The journal’s tasting section

  • Teatime! – This section includes information on making tea and some brief notes on tea etiquette in Chinese and British culture. There are pages that allow you to make preparation notes on different teas. I found this section a bit redundant, since there’s already places to record very similar information in the Tasting and My Collection sections, so I’ve been using it to write down tea blends I’ve experimented with (I’m doing this project that involves making and photographing a tea blend for each of the nine existing Sherlock episodes. OMG OMG. I can’t wait to share that project when I’m done.) There are also many pages where you can write down teatime-related recipes. Too many pages, some would say.
  • Places – This serves as a space to organize and make notes on physical tea places, including shops, tea rooms, and cafes. Just as with the Tastings, Web, and My Collection tabs, you have the option of giving each place a rating between 1 and 5 stars. There’s a handy space to write the opening hours of the shop in question, which I thought was a nice touch.
  • Web – This allows you to organize and keep notes on websites. You can mark whether it’s a website, e-shop, or blog. There’s space for a brief description and for any categories or tags that will be helpful for you. I like this idea- it’s a good physical companion to a bookmarks folder on my browser.
  • My Collection – This section has a page on tea storage (GOOD. YAY. SO IMPORTANT.), and then space to write notes on teas that you own. You can write about three teas per page, making it a handy collection of “blurbs” about your tea collection, including where you bought it from, your rating, and when you should drink it by. I also adore the little space where you can write the page number that will take you to a tasting page of the tea.
  • A peek at some of my journal's My Collections pages

    A peek at some of my journal’s My Collections pages

OH, THAT’S ANOTHER THING. You know how journals are kind of a mishmash of things, and it’s hard to keep them organized, even with built-in tabs? Well, all of these pages are NUMBERED, and there’s a freaking index in the back that you can fill out, making it an organized reference for your notes. This makes me so very very happy. Whoever designed the Moleskine Passions journals knew what log- and journal-keepers love and need

Beyond the pre-printed tabs are four extra blank tabs, containing lined pages, blank pages, and pages designed for making checklists. Most excellent.

If you can’t tell, I’m a big fan of this product. If you like keeping a physical record of your teas, this is one of the best options out there.

How to Brew the Perfect Pu’erh

The first time I had a pu erh tea, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. It’s an interesting tea, and a bit of an anomaly, for several reasons:

  1. It’s the only tea (at least to my knowledge) in which letting it get old can be a good thing. You can age pu erh like wine, and, like wine, aging the pu erh brings out a more mature, complex flavor. Fascinating, right?
  2. It doesn’t grow bitter from oversteeping like most other teas. You can steep this for a few seconds or for several minutes and it won’t taste weak or bitter. 
  3. It can be pressed into cakes or bricks to be sold. This is a tradition that dates back to the days of trade caravans.

The first time I tasted pu erh, I was amazed by its dark, almost opaque liquor and its bold, earthy taste. But it had this almost…fishy note to it that was strange. Well, there was a reason it had tasted fishy. I had brewed it wrong.

The secret to a good cup of pu erh is to rinse the leaves before you actually brew it. Rinsing is very simple. If you’re making a Pu’erh in a glass or a ceramic pot (note to self: write a blog entry on Yixing clay pots. Or 12 entries.), just put your leaves in the pot or mug or Gaiwan, then put in enough boiling water to cover the leaves. Let this sit for a 2 or 3 seconds, then dump out the hot water. You might need to do a second rinse. This will clean the leaves and it will ensure that the tea you brew actually tastes like the pu erh leaves, instead of whatever stuff clung to the leaves during its aging process. You’ll get more of the pure tea taste after a good rinse.

You also don’t have to steep pu erh for nearly as long as I originally thought. While some websites said to let it steep for 5 minutes or more, others said to steep it for 20 to 30 seconds! This depends on the vessel you brew it in, and, most likely, your personal taste. The good thing about pu erh is, you can’t really mess it up. That is, you can’t brew it to the point of it tasting bitter and undrinkable, although certainly there are long traditions on the best way to make a cup of pu erh.

But the cardinal rule to pu erhs to come away with is to rinse before you infuse!