by ali on June 28th, 2013
Canton Tea Club Week 39: Original Lapsang Souchong
Jen and I were lucky enough to visit Tong Mu, a small village in the heart of a protected reserve in Wuyi and the birthplace of Lapsang Souchong.
We visited tea Master Liang Junde, a highly revered master who is famed for inventing one of the most expensive and highly prized black teas available, Jing Jun Mei (this tea costs about £2400 per kilo). However, we were not on the hunt for Jing Jun Mei, but Lapsang Souchong. Mr Junde’s family has been living in Tong Mu for 250 years and making Lapsang Souchong for just as long. He began his career working in a nearby Lapsang Souchong ‘factory’ and later started his own small factory which uses only the highest quality leaves and traditional techniques to make high grade Lapsang Souchong. Now at 65 he has begun the process of handing the reigns over to the next generation, so we spent the day with both him and his son. The day began with a marathon Lapsang and Jing Jun Mei tasting session (what a privilege), after lunch we were shown the fantastic traditional smoking rooms and his picturesque tea gardens.
The invention of Lapsang Souchong in 1610 was an extremely important milestone in the history of tea; it is in fact the first black tea in recorded existence, before the arrival of Lapsang, the Chinese only drank green and oolong teas and this new black tea proved extremely popular. From Lapsang came other famous Chinese black teas, such as Keemun and Bai Lin Gong Fu; and of course from China black tea spread to other tea producing areas such as India, Africa and Sri Lanka. So Lapsang Souchong is the original black tea and ancestor to all black teas.
Lapsang Souchong is made up of the cut leaves of the Xiao Zhong varietal which have been smoked over Pine wood fires. Different kinds of Lapsangs are made for the Chinese and international market; The Chinese prefer a lighter smoke, so the tea for the Chinese market is smoked over young pine; traditionally the international market has demanded a much stronger smoke flavour so the tea is smoked over aged pine which has a higher content of oils. The tea we have for you is a lighter fruitier Chinese version.
The smoking of the tea is done in two rooms (one on top of the other). Under the room on the ground floor is a fire pit, which is covered by a brick floor with gaps in it to allow smoke to rise through it. The room above has a permeable floor made of a bamboo matt which allows some of the smoke from the lower floor to pass through. The process starts off in the top room where the freshly picked leaves are laid on the bamboo floor to wither. As the green leaves are withered in a smoky environment this allows the smoke to truly penetrate the leaves, meaning that the smoke flavour is not simply washed away after the first infusion. The withering leaves are then rolled vigorously to encourage oxidisation (which turns the tea black). The tea is then laid out over raised racks in the lower room. This is much warmer than the upper room (approximately 60 degrees Celsius) and much smokier. The tea is left in here to smoke and dry out. The next stage is to chop the leaves and sort it into grades. Finally the tea is baked at a higher temperature to fix it at its optimum state.
We call this tea ‘Original Lapsang Souchong‘ and it is available to buy on our website.
I liked this very much. It did not wow me as much as some of the other teas. I think this is because I have had a couple of different high grade lapsang souchong teas before so I knew what to expect. @adp3355 I certainly agree that standard supermarket lapsang is a one trick pony compared to this.
I'm one of those who likes a smokey 'English style' Lapsang Souchong now and again. Indeed, in 2012 BC (before Canton) it was one of two teas that sat alongside builders' tea in my kitchen cupboard. But in retrospect the big brand lapsang I bought back then had little else other than the smokeyness to recommend it. I curently have a better version (not Canton's I confess) which is based on a good quality black tea. So what about this week's tea club version? Well I have to say that for me the smokeyness is very subtle, but that is a good thing as it means it doesn't hide or spoil what is is lovely complex black tea with great , lingering sweetness. On the contrary it complements and supplements it. As said by others, it is very refreshing and satisfying. Also, I realy enjoyed Ali and Jennifer's descriptions of the production method. I don't think this week's version will replace my current lapsang - partly because I now have little room in the cupboard, which has filled up with about 24 tins of other tea varieties from Canton and there is a limit to how much tea even I can drink. However, I feel privilaged to have been able to try it through the club.
Love, love this tea! If only all Lapsangs were created equal...! Smooth, gentle smokiness, long aftertaste and re- infuses brilliantly. Still TRYING to appreciate the subtleties of white teas and oolongs but... No effort required here at all. Thank you!
I have just had my 1st pot of the Lapsang. I followed the instructions precisely
and it was superb!! Refreshing enervating, clean on the palate. Everything a black tea should be - my opinion. Hints of chocolate, but not sweet, just very satisfying:) to drink.
@KathyMonaco I would say energising rather than enervating (which means exhausting or draining of vitality!) This lapsang is the perfect summer tea - for a real lift and wonderfully subtle flavours.