Where does Lapsang Souchong tea come from?

Lapsang Souchong tea

The history of scented teas can be traced back to the Ming Dynasty  (1368 – 1644 ), a period which conjures up images of intricate floral vases, aptly reflecting the obsession with flora and aroma during that time in Chinese culture. Jasmine tea still remains a most favorite tea in china, and is easily the most popular scented tea in the world. Other scented teas that were developed during this time in China include osmanthus, orchid, rose and lichee scented teas.

Although the Chinese themselves consume almost no black teas, most black teas are produced in China for export to the West. This has been the case ever since the first Portuguese trading post was set up on the island of Macao in the early 16th century.

Lapsang Souchong is also a scented tea, although its aroma is anything but delicate and floral in character. Reminiscent of a campfire or smoked meats, this tea is cured with pinewood smoke, making its leaves blacker than black and its aroma rich and unmistakable in character. In his book “New Tea Lover’s Treasury” James Norwood Pratt notes “That great lover of Lapsang Souchong, Sir Winston Churchill, always added Scotch to his.”

The discovery of Lapsang Souchong came during the Qing dynasty (1644 – 1911), and as the story goes, was made by accident. While waiting for fresh tea leaves picked in the Wuyi mountains to dry before taking them to market, workers dried the leaves over a pinewood fire so the tea would dry more rapidly. To their surprise, the tea sold at market far better than the workers had anticipated. The intense smoky flavor created an immediate sensation, and the tea quickly became known as a Fujian province specialty. The Wuyi mountains region of Fujian is best known for its oolong and black teas.

Lapsang Souchong is a highly oxidized black tea, with a heavily smoky aroma and a deep, rich liquor. The tea leaves are first withered over pine root fires, then panfried, rolled and oxidized. The leaves are finally placed in bamboo baskets and hung on wooden racks over smoking pinewood fires to dry and absorb the smoke. This results in a powerfully smoky aroma coupled with a smooth taste. Steeping time is 3-5 minutes, depending on taste. This is a tea that really requires some personalization with respect to the amount of leaf and steeping time, for two reasons: because of its large leaves, and because it’s so heavily smoked.

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