Friday, November 14, 2014

Tale of Ten Lapsang Souchongs Part I

Ever since Jakub turned me onto good LS, I have ditched Yunnan dianhong for the charms of that wonderfully subtly smoked tea from Fujian. Although lapsang souchong was once an elevated drink for European royals and their court, I'm a lucky commoner to enjoy it almost daily with my pork laden breakfast.  I normally keep at least two leaf grades at home- a higher grade leaf for guests and for chocolate pairings and a more robust leaf for casual and mindless morning brewing.

I'm quite happy with Chawangshop's offerings but Honza often sells out of his AA+ and he doesn't carry Zhengshan Xiaozhong currently. I kick myself for not hoarding a few kilos of his fabulous ZX then as LS is good for at least three years. Chawangshop holds the sweet spot of quality vs price, but a girl can look around from time to time... Can't she?

Top on my mind- is it worth the extra premium to buy the original Zhengshan LS from Tongmu village or is the surrounding regions(Waishan meaning outer mountain) produce tea just as good? Are two or three year old LS better than current year LS? If your LS is vacuum sealed, can you age LS for longer?  Lastly, what are reasonable prices for a quality LS? To solve some of these riddles,  I assembled a Zhengshan vs Waishan standoff:

2012 Zhengshan Xiaozhong AA $12(? cannot remember)/100g tin (shown right)
2012 Fujian Waishan Xiaozhong AA  $8/100g
2013 Late Spring Fujian Waishan Xiaozhong AA+ 
2014 Fujian Lapsang Souchong AA 

From jkteashop - all Zhengshan/Tongmu

2014 Spring Mingqian Jin Jun Mei  15g/$6.50 or $40/100g tin
2014 Spring Organic Imperial Traditional 100g/tin $20.00 (shown center)
2014 Spring Organic Premium Traditional 15g/US$2.40 or 
$16/100g tin

The above photo lineup is incomplete- three other samples I excluded for the following reasons:
  1. Organic "authentic" LS from an American vendor was so shockingly smoky and undrinkable,  I've banished the offending tea from the house.  I would probably advise tea drinkers to skip buying LS stateside. 
  2. LS from ebay advertised as LS but the tea was clearly just another type of hongcha. It was a decent hong cha that guests have enjoyed but not the LS I crave.
  3. Vicony's LS via Hobbes- I want to buy more from them as they have a diverse selection of LS including laozong or leaves from older bushes. However they are a wholesale outfit and  I'm not quite ready to buy a kilo as a minimum order.
I normally eschew formal tea tastings because a lack of discipline on my part. Also the tea drinking becomes too much like homework.  My tastebuds get fatigued easily so I rarely do more than three teas at one sitting so today I picked a Waishan and two Zhengshans.  

Before the big reveal, I thought I would leave the reader with some guessing.  In the three types of leaf below (1. Top left, 2. bottom left, and 3. right ), can you guess
  • for each- which leaf grade is it - Jinjunmei, Imperial, AA+, AA, Premium? 
  • for each, is it Zhengshan or Waishan? 


  1. hmm, I've never had Lapsang. maybe I should fix that when I order from Chawang. have you tried any of their oolong/cheap sheng?

    1. Dear Jake,

      A oolong man like yourself might find LS as a genre much too coarse. I've tried a few Chawang shop sheng- the 90s Jin Gua Gong Cha is good and worth a sample but it is dry stored.