Lapsang Souchong is a Chinese black tea that is sometimes also referred to as “Smoked Tea”, because the leaves are smoke-dried over pinewood fires. This give it a strong, smoky flavor, reminiscent of a campfire or a barbeque. Some people love this; others hate it.
Where To Buy Lapsang Souchong
This tea can be found in most specialty tea shops or through many online vendors. If you are unsure where to begin, you can check out some of my recommendations below.
How To Prepare Lapsang Souchong Tea
The preparation instructions given here are for loose leaf teas. For tea bags, you can just follow the instructions given on the box.
Unlike most black teas, this one can be brewed at a variety of temperatures, depending on individual tastes. For the first cup, I’d begin by using boiling water, which you can heat using any type of stove-top kettle.
If you plan on trying a lot of varieties of tea and/or coffee it might be worth it to invest in a water boiler/warmer/dispenser or an electric kettle with a variable temperature setting. Personally, I recommend this Cuisinart kettle, because it has presets for every type of tea, so you always get the perfect temperature:
Like other Chinese black teas, this one can be brewed in a variety of vessels, from a teapot to a traditional gaiwan, to a simple glass. For these instructions, I will use a gaiwan.
- Fill your gaiwan (or glass) about halfway with hot water to pre-heat it. Tilt the cup a bit so that the water creeps up the side and then rotate it so the inside gets wet all the way around. Then pour the water out.
- Put approximately 1 teaspoon of tea leaves into the gaiwan. If using a different vessel, use about 1 teaspoon for every 100 to 150 ml (or for ever 5 oz. or so) of water.
- Fill the gaiwan with boiling water.
- Place the lid on the gaiwan and let the tea steep for 2 minutes.
- Pour the tea from the gaiwan into the teacup, using the lid to hold back the leaves. Enjoy your tea!
- You can get 3-5 infusions out of most varieties. Increase the steeping time 30 seconds for each infusion. How many infusions you do depends entirely on your taste. Experiment.
Use the amounts given in these instructions as a rough guide. If you find the resulting tea too weak, add more tea leaves; if it is too strong, reduce the amount of leaves used. Similarly, try increasing or decreasing the steeping times.
You can also reduce the temperature of the water. Boiling water will give you a harder, smokier and more astringent tea, while slightly cooler water (80-90°C or 176-194°F) will give you a milder, fruitier flavor.
The video below shows another brewing method, called the gongfu style, which uses more tea leaves and a much shorter steeping time. Using this method, you can get 6-8 infusions out of your leaves. A tea press (like these) is used in the video, but the gongfu method is traditionally employed with an yixing or a gaiwan.
Many people already have an account with Amazon.com so it is probably the easiest place to buy tea online. They have a large selection of Lapsang Souchong, but most of them are not very good. I recommend the one from Stash Tea.
My favorite online option is this Lapsang Souchong from Teavivre. It’s an excellent quality tea at an affordable price.
If you prefer your tea smokey, this offering from California Tea House will probably be right up your alley. The quality isn’t as high as the one from Teavivre, but it costs less.
More Information On Lapsang Souchong
Lapsang Souchong is actually the first black tea in history (it dates back even before Keemun tea). The name tells about its location and the leaves used to make it.
It is based on an older method of transcribing Chinese sounds into the western alphabet. Using today’s prefered method (called Pinyin), the name of the tea would be spelled Zhèngshān Xiǎozhǒng.
Zhenshan is the area surrounding Tong Mu Guan village in the Wuyi region of Fujian province where the tea originates. Xiaozhong refers to the leaves on the plant that are used to make this tea. They are the larger and more mature leaves further down on the bush.
Generally the younger leaves are preferred, but the unique production method of Zhengshan Xiaozhong turns these otherwise undesirable leaves into something special.
Because the tea leaves are smoked instead of fried or steamed, this black tea variety has an entirely unique flavor. It resembles the flavor of dried longan. It is strong and smoky and remind of a campfire or a certain kind of pipe tobacco. Some drinkers note a hint of whiskey.
Growers actually stumbled on the processing method by accident (more below in the section on history) in the 17th century and they use that same process today.
As mentioned above, the larger and more mature leaves are used for this tea. They are picked in the second week of May due to lower temperatures in this mountainous region.
The leaves are withered over a pinewood fire to soften them up. Once soft enough, they are rolled into tight strips.
The rolled leaves are oxidized in wooden barrels until they reach the perfect amount of oxidation. At that point they are fried in a pan to avoid further oxidation.
The leaves are rolled tightly once more, before they are dried in a bamboo basket over a pinewood fire with pine resin. Toward the end of the drying process, growers smother the fire to produce a large amount of smoke and really give the leaves that smoky flavor.
How did local growers come up with the idea to smoke their tea leaves? Completely by accident, as it turns out.
The Wuyi area is actually famous for oolong tea, not black tea. One day, as farmers were in the middle of producing their tea for the year, an army passed through the area. This delayed processing and meant they would lose some of their crop and not get the rest to market on time.
They decided to speed up the process, by drying the leaves over a pinewood fire, instead of letting them air dry as was the usual procedure.
When they tried the resulting tea, they were surprised at how much the smoke had changed the smell and flavor of the tea leaves. As a result, they continued to smoke their tea leaves from that point on.
This is the most told version of the story, but other versions are fairly similar. The most believable is that the army was actually going to steal the tea, so the growers sped up the process to finish it and sell it before the army had a chance to take it.
Any story that puts the military in a bad light is frowned upon by the Chinese government, so I can very much believe they would have altered it to make sure the army is not seen as the bad guy.