Lapsang souchong is a black tea originally from the Wuyi region of the Chinese province of Fujian. It is sometimes referred to as smoked tea (熏茶). Lapsang is distinct from all other types of tea because lapsang leaves are traditionally smoke-dried over pinewood fires, taking on a distinctive smoky flavour.The name in Fukienese means "smoky sub-variety." Lapsang souchong is a member of the Wuyi Bohea family of teas. The story goes that the tea was created during the Qing era when the passage of armies delayed the annual drying of the tea leaves in the Wuyi hills. Eager to satisfy demand, the tea producers sped up the drying process by having their workers dry the tea leaves over fires made from local pines.
History and Culture - The World First Black Tea
Lapsang Souchong(LS) has had a long history behind it. With more than 400 years of history, it was said that LS is the world’s first black tea. LS was produced as early as during the Qing
Dynasty. Dated back to 1604, the Dutch imported LS to the West. It was regarded as a precious medical product and sold at pharmacies. At that time, there was no other black tea in the market.
Thus, it was believed that LS is the earliest black tea invented, and Tongmu Village was the cradle of the black tea in the world. The Dutch dominated the European trade in LS until 1669, when
the English first imported it on a commercial scale. By the time the English East India Company began trading in tea, the drink was well established at the English courts, where it was no longer
valued primarily for its medicinal benefits, but was drunk socially, as an invigorating beverage.
According to historical records, in the year 1662, Princess Catherine from Portugal who when was married to Prince Charles had brought along her favorite LS tea to England. Her passion for tea had played the important role to promote the LS in England. LS was treated as a luxury drink in England, France, Dutch and The Netherlands. In England itself, LS is recognized as the representative of Chinese Tea, and it used to serve England’s Royal Family thus it was known as the Royal Black Tea in England.
The name of LS originated from Wuyi Rock Tea (武夷岩茶). It was an oolong tea in the very beginning of history. Its name was recorded as early as year 1734, where the name Souchong or Xiao-zhong referred to the best quality tea trees grown at the rocky area of the mountain which was used to produce the oolong tea.
After plucking, the leaves are withered over pine wood fires. At the Wuyi mountainous area, sunshine is weak especially during spring. Thus, the withering has to be carried out with additional heat from burning pine firewood
Oxidation - Production of fragrance and color
After the rolling process, tea leaves are placed into wooden barrels and covered with cloth for enzymatic oxidation to take place. At high altitudes of the mountainous area, due to the much lower atmospheric temperature, the tea leaves are gathered together and kept in the barrels in order to maintain the optimum temperature for enzymatic reaction. When the weather gets cooler, the barrels will be placed nearby the cook-stove to keep tea leaves warm. When 80% of the tea leaves have turned into a copper color and begin to emit their own pleasant fragrance, this indicates the oxidation is sufficient.
Pan frying - inactivation of enzyme
Unlike any other black tea which is dried immediately after the oxidation process, LS is instead pan fried followed by subsequent drying. During the pan-frying session, the high temperature in a short time heats up. This treatment will inactive the enzyme instantly and prevent prolonged oxidation, stabilize the quality and characteristic of fermented tea leaves prior to long hour drying (8-10 hours) in the following step.
While the fried tea leaves remain hot, it is quickly macerated for the second time. The tea leaves are rolled and tightened, more tea fluid is squeezed out and remain on the leaves’ surface. The expression of the juice over the leaf particles increases the strength In addition, it helps to absorb the smoke at a later stage.
Drying with Small Fire
In China, during the production of high grade tea, regardless of whether it is green tea, black tea or yellow tea, drying of tea leaves in the bamboo basket that is heated over burning firewood was the common final step. Unlikely to other kinds of tea, pine tree was used as the firewood for LS.
when LS is produced, the first drying stage with strong flame, reduced the moisture content of tea leaves to 20%, and then, the burning of pine wood is suppressed. This additional drying step with smoldering fire is proceeded until the tea leaf dried to < 5% of moisture.
Flavour and aroma
High grade lapsang souchong possesses a taste of dried Longan for the first few brews.
Lapsang souchong's flavour is strong and smoky, similar to the smell of a campfire or of Latakia pipe tobacco. The flavour of the pine smoke is meant to complement the natural taste of the black tea, but should not overwhelm it.
The unique aroma of lapsang souchong is due to a variety of chemical compounds. The two most abundant constituents of the aroma are longifolene and α-terpineol. Many of the compounds making up the aroma of lapsang souchong, including longifolene, originate only in the pine smoke, and are not found in other kinds of tea.