The Smoky Allure of Lapsang SouchongTea

Lapsang souchong tea leaves

Lapsang souchong is a striking black tea from the Fujian province of China with a distinctive flavor profile. As an experienced tea drinker on a quest to taste new varieties from around the world, lapsang souchong stands out for its truly unique smoking method that results in a rich, woody aroma and taste.

lapsang tea in a cup

Lapsang Production

Unlike most black teas, lapsang souchong utilizes a specialized production method that incorporates smoking. After the tea leaves have withered, they are rolled, and fully oxidized and traditionally smoked over Pinewood fires for up to a week. This smoke impedes the enzymatic process, rapidly drying out the leaves, and infusing its distinctive smoky essence and lingering aroma of campfires. The tea consists of longer, twisted leaves that are a beautiful mix of black and brown.

The origins of lapsang souchong’s unique processing are a little mysterious, but some records date back to the early 1800s in Fujian province. The most popular tale involves rebel Chinese armies during the Qing dynasty who dried their tea supply over smoldering fires to accelerate the drying process as they fled attacks, inadvertently flavoring the leaves. The name “lapsang souchong” translates to “smoky (pine-soot) kind of tea” which sufficiently captures its legacy.

Complex Flavors

That first sip of lapsang souchong can seem intense, but once you acclimate to its smokiness, many complex flavors emerge. The initial hit of smoke gives way to undertones of dried longan fruit, black tea maltiness, and touches of spice and bitterness due to the high leaf proportion. The finish is quite mineral and salty due to the coastal growing region, followed by an aftertaste of lingering smoke. It’s incredibly dynamic on the palate.

Lapsang makes for a perfect wake-me-up breakfast companion or digestif after an evening meal due to its evolving flavor profile. The intensity pairs well with sweet and savory dishes alike. Smoked Russian black bread and grilled meats beautifully complement the tea.

Potential Health Benefits

In addition to being a treat for the tastebuds, Lapsang Souchong holds several potential health benefits, though more studies are needed. However, like other black teas, lapsang souchong contains antioxidants and polyphenols that are linked to better immune function and heart health with regular consumption. These beneficial plant compounds extract well from the hot water. If you gravitate towards black teas for health reasons, incorporating lapsang souchong makes sense.

Cultural Significance

While indigenous to the Chinese province of Fujian, lapsang souchong has developed a worldwide appeal, especially with European and Russian tea drinkers. However, in China, it is viewed as a speciality “niche” tea due to its polarizing love-it-or-hate-it flavor. It’s often gifted and consumed during Chinese New Year celebrations, which represent new beginnings—a fitting alignment given Lapsang Souchong’s own origin story involving change and mishaps. The tea represents ingenuity, perseverance, and transformation into something uniquely positive.

The aroma of lapsang souchong once turned me off from trying it, assuming it would simply taste overly smoked. But upon my first sample, it has truly grown close to my heart as a tea I now share with fellow tea enthusiasts.