One might argue the point, but China is probably better known for its green teas and puerh than for black tea – which the Chinese sometimes refer to as red tea. Some of the best-known Chinese black teas include Yunnnan, Keemun and an unforgettably distinctive variety known as Lapsang Souchong.
“Real” Lapsang Souchong originates in the Wuyi Mountains in Fujian province, which is located in southeastern China. Accounts vary, depending on who’s doing the telling, but Lapsang Souchong more or less translates to “smoky sub-variety” or simply “smoke tea,” a reference to its unique flavor.
Included among the myriad of tea-related legends is one that explains the origin of Lapsang Souchong. At some point during the Qing Dynasty, farmers in the region found their tea harvest disrupted by an invading force. When it was all over, the farmers found that their tea leaves were presumably ruined. Trying to make the best of the bad hand they’d been dealt, they dried the tea over a pine fire, which infused it with a distinctly smoky flavor.
At one point this subtly flavored smoke tea was referred to as Lapsang Bohea and differed from the more full-flavored Lapsang Souchong that came along later. The Dutch are probably the first to export these varieties from China and they may have appeared in England as early as 1662.
There are a wide range of smoke-flavored black teas sold as Lapsang Souchong, but the only genuine varieties originate in the Wuyi Mountains. They are produced by withering the leaves over pine, cypress or cedar fires. The tea leaves are then placed in bamboo baskets and hung over smoky pine fires, which results in the unique taste and aroma.
This aroma and flavor make Lapsang Souchong useful for drinking and cooking.
Check out a few delicious recipes: