Lapsang Souchong tea has a smoky flavour and originates from the Fujian province of China. The flavour arises from the withering of the tea leaves over cypress or pine wood fires after being plucked and rolled. Next they are placed in wooden barrels until their pleasant aroma starts to come through. Finally, the leaves are placed in bamboo baskets and hung on racks over smoky pine fires where they dry, soaking up some essence which gives the leaves their distinct taste. The finished tea leaves are thick and black.
The best Lapsang is produced in a nature preserve located in the Wuyi mountains. The high mountains are covered in thick pine forests and are shrouded in a heavy mist which helps provide the ideal environment for growing top quality tea.
As with so many things Chinese, there is legend surrounding the origins. In the case of Lapsang Souchong, the legend claims that the smoking process was discovered entirely by accident. During the Qing dynasty, an army unit was apparently passing through Xingcun (Star Village) in which they set up camp in a tea factory filled with fresh leaves which were awaiting processing. After the soldiers had left and the workers could get back into the factory, they realised that there was no time to dry the leaves in the usual way if they were to get the tea to the market in time. So they lit open fires of pine wood to hasten the drying. Not only did the tea reach the market in time, but the smoked pine flavour created a sensation, not least when this rich blend was finally imported into Western Europe.
Drinking a Cup of Lapsang Souchong
When brewed in hot water the black leaves produce a bright reddish-orange cup of tea. It has a very strong flavour and therefore appeals to those looking for a bold cup of tea1; the difference in strength between Lapsang Souchong and normal tea bags is comparable to the difference between a house white wine and a fine rich port.
Lapsang Souchong has had a recent resurgence in popularity and is available in most major supermarkets. It is often the favourite tea of those who also appreciate the subtle yet powerful flavours of single-malt Scotch whisky and fine cigars, the strong flavour being somewhat akin and complimentary to the depth and strength of these luxuriant items. Once upon a time it was almost exclusively a man's tea but more and more women are drinking it as well.
As it does have a strong taste you will probably want to drink it with milk (adding just lemon is pointless as the lemon would only get drowned in the tea's natural aroma). And unless you are a chain cigar-smoking whisky drinker whose tastebuds are neutered by years of abuse you probably won't be able to face it black.
Lapsang Souchong combines well with spicy or salty dishes and also with a mixed cheese board. It is a wonderful drink for outdoors, especially after intense activity or during a long hike, as it invigorates. You can also experiment by adding a pinch of Lapsang Souchong to milder blends if you a prefer a slightly stronger tea without the risk of stewing2 your brew.