Lapsang Souchong: The Classic Smoky Tea

Lapsang souchong is a black tea that has been dried over pine fires. Lapsang souchong translates to smoked with pine. Lap translates to pine and sang means smoke. It comes from Wuyi in China’s Fujian province. The tea leaves used to make it are the 4th and 5th leaves on the stem, which are the same as those used to make oolong and pu-erh teas.

The story of lapsang souchong is that it was first made during the Qing area. The legend is that armies traveling through the Wuyi hills kept tea producers from drying tea leaves. According to the story, the soldiers took over the tea factory so that the leaves had to be moved. To make up for lost time, the tea producers dried the leaves over fires fueled by pinewood after the army left. The leaves took on the flavor of the smoke, and lapsang souchong’s famous flavor profile was created.

While this legend is popular, it is a legend and one of many stories around how this tea was created. The real reason behind the lapsang souchong flavor has to do with the difficulty of preserving the quality of tea over long voyages in the 17th century.

Lapsang souchong actually got its taste from the fact that Chinese exporters needed to preserve the quality of the tea they were shipping to America and Europe. They preserved it by oxidizing the tea leaves and then drying them over pinewood fires. Smoke from the pinewood is what gives the tea its distinctive flavor.

Lapsang Souchong

China also sold lapsang souchong to Russia in the 17th century because of how well it traveled.

The Dutch were the first to bring lapsang souchong to the West where it was first sold as a medicine. They would control the lapsang souchong trade until later in the century when the English began importing it. The tea would become popular in England because of Princess Catherine who brought it with her. Her fondness for it helped to raise its profile.

Lapsang souchong continues to grow in popularity as people find new ways to use it. Within China, it is viewed as a tea for export rather than local consumption.

Lapsang souchong flavor profile

Lapang souchong’s flavor is polarizing, mostly because of its smokiness. It can be surprising and unpleasant to some and crisply delicious to others. That said, there is more to it than smokiness as it is quite complex. It has floral, pine and citrus hints to accompany the smoke.

Health benefits of lapsang souchong

Lapsang souchong tea has many health benefits because it is a black tea. In other words, there don’t seem to be many benefits that you can’t find in other black teas. A cup of lapsang souchong can provide you with the following compounds, which are important for good health:

  • Catechins: The catechins in tea have powerful antioxidant properties that help to protect you from major diseases.
  • Polyphenols: The polyphenols in lapsang souchong are important for bone health among other benefits.

Use lapsang souchong to treat or prevent:

  • Cardiovascular disease: Research shows that lapsang souchong can help to prevent heart disease.
  • Obesity: The caffeine in lapsang souchong may speed up your metabolism to aid weight loss.

Common uses

The classic way to consume lapsang souchong is to steep and drink it like any other tea, but its smoky complexity gives a variety of other applications. For example, you can use the leaves in a dry rub or the tea in a marinade.