This smoky tea is created by withering the leaves over fires of pine or cypress wood. After pan-frying and rolling, they are pressed into wooden barrels and covered with cloth to oxidize until they give off a pleasant fragrance. The leaves are fired again and rolled into taut strips. Then they are placed in bamboo baskets and hung on wooden racks over smoking pine fires to dry and absorb the smoke flavor. When finished, they are thick, glossy black strips, and produce a dark red beverage with a unique aroma and taste.
One of the things I really enjoy about tea is that like superheros, many teas have origin stories – the majority of which have no documentation to back them up. Lapsang Souchong has more than its share of stories and I’m working on making up a few more – just for fun.
Here’s one that I didn’t make up:
Legend claims that the smoking process was discovered by accident. During the Qing dynasty, an army unit passing through Xingcun (Star Village)* camped in a tea factory filled with fresh leaves awaiting processing. When the soldiers left and the workers could get back into the premises, they realized that it was too late to dry the leaves in the usual way to arrive at the market in time. So they lit open fires of pinewood to hasten the drying. Not only did the tea reach the market in time, but the smoked pine flavor created a sensation!
There are conflicting opinions about whether to add milk and sugar to this tea (sometimes even printed on the same label). My preference is to enjoy it all by itself, but I encourage you to try it both ways and form your own opinion.
*Not to be confused with Star City – the home of the Green Arrow.