Chinese black tea dried over wood fires for a unique, smoky flavour.
The story behind the unique flavour of Lapsang Souchong is that an army once commandeered a tea factory for barracks in 17th century China, and when they cleared off the tea makers did not have enough time for the slow and patient drying process needed to prepare the tea leaves for market.
To speed things along, they put the tea over wood fires, whereby the smoky flavour found its way into the tea. Like any patch-up job, it was a risk, it could have all gone badly wrong, and yet when they got to market, customers found the unique taste a revelation. But we suspect somehow that the reception was not uniform; some no doubt spat it out, saying “Ptooey! No, this isn’t my kind of thing at all.” For Lapsang Souchong has always divided opinion.
To make Lapsang Souchong today, tea leaves are withered over spruce or pine fires, where they draw in the wood-fired character via a number of chemical compounds that give Lapsang its distinctive flavour. With an aroma that evokes a well-stoked fireplace, Lapsang is sometimes called a “Marmite of teas” – its bold flavour will not be for everyone (although on this score even Lapsang can’t compare with the love-it-or-hate-it pungency of Puer tea).
This smoky tea is also a perfect complement to fish or meat dishes, fried breakfasts, nuts, toast, and anything else blessed by the gift of fire. And if you prefer this tea in small doses, you might also think of trying our Russian Caravan blend, which combines the smoky flavour with less pungent, malty black leaves.
In the past Lapsang was seen almost exclusively as a man’s drink, as the smokiness was considered reminiscent of fine whisky or cigars. Now women are increasingly drinking it too. But if you are a man buying this tea in a bid to stake out your masculinity, remember: real men don’t add milk.