What is Lapsang Souchong?
Lapsang Souchong is a black tea from China with a rich, piney taste and an aroma reminiscent of a campfire. Lapsang Souchong also has notes of burnt sugar, fine cigars, and wood smoke, and is sometimes also referred to as smoked tea or smoky tea. While this tea can be an acquired taste if you’re not yet used to the strong flavor, it has a devoted following of tea lovers all around the world. If you’re in the mood for a big, bold tea on a cool day, a cup of Lapsang is sure to hit the spot!
Lapsang Souchong History
Lapsang originated in the Wuyi mountains of the Fujian province of China, where it is still produced today. Like all Chinese black teas, Lapsang Souchong is produced from the leaves of the camellia sinensis plant. The name “souchong” refers to the fourth and fifth leaves of the tea plant, which are farther removed from the prized flowery pekoe bud at the tip, and are considered somewhat inferior in quality. When smoked and preserved as Lapsang, Souchong, however, these leaves become prized for their unique smoky flavor, and are highly sought-after all over the world.
While the true story of Lapsang’s origins have been lost to time, a variety of popular legends have sprung up around the tea. Some stories claim that it was created by accident during the 17th century, when the leaves were burned during a raid. Other tales suggest that war caused tea growers to abandon the usual drying process and use smoke to quickly dry the tea. Whatever the true origins of this pine smoked tea, it quickly became a popular commodity as a unique twist on a typical black tea.
Lapsang in the West
While it originated in China, by the mid-1800s Lapsang Souchong had become popular in tea rooms across Europe, particularly in countries like Russia and England. Lapsang Souchong was also a favorite tea of figures like politician Winston Churchill and writer and naturalist Gary Snyder. Lapsang’s distinctive taste and flavor profile sets it apart from other black teas, and is often compared to other smoky luxury goods like fine cigars and scotch whiskey. For all its popularity in the West, however, smoked tea is not typically consumed in China. Instead, Lapsang Souchong is viewed as a valuable export, and is produced primarily for sale in Europe and America.
How Lapsang Souchong is Made
Lapsang Souchong is made from the leaves of the camellia sinensis plant, which are harvested and dried. Unlike other black teas, which are usually withered and then steamed or fired, the leaves used to make Lapsang are smoke-dried over burning pinewood. This process imparts a distinctive flavor to the tea, with a smoky, campfire-like aroma and notes of pine and burnt sugar.
Lapsang Souchong is not for the faint of heart, and often inspires strong reactions among those who try it for the time. For those who love Lapsang, however, a cup with the earthy aroma, intense smoky flavor, and hint of sweetness of Lapsang Souchong is as comforting as curling up by a warm campfire on a chilly evening!
Lapsang Souchong and Russian Caravan Tea
Russian Caravan tea is a popular blend of tea made with equal parts of Lapsang Souchong and China Keemun black teas. Depending on the blend, Russian Caravan can also sometimes include oolong tea, Golden Yunnan black tea, or other black or pu-erh tea additions. Russian Caravan is characterized by the rich smokiness of Lapsang Souchong, along with a mellower character and light, malty sweetness provided by Chinese black tea.
While the teas used to create the Russian Caravan blend all originate from China, the blend is said to have been created along the trade routes between Russia and China in the 17th and 18th centuries. Some stories claim that the smoke from nearby campfires imparted a unique flavor to the tea being transported, which soon became beloved in Russia.
Today, many people are familiar with Russian Caravan tea even if they’ve never heard of Lapsang Souchong. For those who are interested in Lapsang but are looking for a milder and more approachable blend, Russian Caravan can be a great way to explore the world of smoky teas.
Lapsang Souchong Health Benefits
Like other black teas, Lapsang contains a wide variety of health benefits. Lapsang contains a moderate amount of caffeine, similar to other black teas and about half that of a cup of coffee. Lapsang contains a wealth of antioxidants, which help to protect the body against cancer and other degenerative diseases. Lapsang also contains a beneficial compound known as l-theanine, which helps to reduce anxiety and promote relaxation. Like all tea, Lapsang is a great source of proper hydration, and can help to improve the skin, hair, and more.
How to Prepare Lapsang Souchong
Lapsang Souchong has a similar preparation method as other hearty black teas. We recommend using one teaspoon of tea leaves for every six ounces of water, and heating the water until it reaches a full boil (approximately 212 degrees). Pour the water over the leaves and steep for three to four minutes.
If you’re a Lapsang fan or are looking for a smoky tea with a lighter, sweeter taste, we recommend enjoying Lapsang Souchong with a splash of milk and honey, which brings out the natural sweetness of the tea and nicely balances the strong smoky flavor. You can even used Lapsang Souchong to make a smoky tea latte by steeping the tea in hot milk, adding simple syrup and a dash of vanilla, and frothing the milk with an electric milk frother.
Although it can take a little getting used to, Lapsang Souchong is a popular tea with a dedicated following. While this tea is a treat all year round, we’re particularly fond of it on a snowy mid-winter afternoon, enjoyed after a brisk walk outdoors or while curled up in front of a crackling fire. Lapsang is a perfect compliment to all things cozy, and its rich, smoky, slightly sweet character will warm you from the inside out. However you like to take your Lapsang, we hope you enjoy this delightful and unique smoked tea!