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Lapsang Souchong - Perhaps, The First Black Tea

Recently, I was looking for a nonalcoholic alternative to different styles of whiskeys (eg; smokey, mellow, spicy, blended - dry, fruity) and one of the toughest ones to replace was the smoked, peated styles of whiskey from the Islay region of Scotland - that is, until I came across a really lovely and delicate tea called Lapsang Souchong which has outstanding smokey notes that I was looking for. 

The Lapsang Souchong tea originates from the hills of North Fujian in China. It’s unique large leaf tea differentiates itself by its smoky aroma and flavour with a long-lasting taste that is acquired through drying over pinewood fires. 

According to legend, it is said that the smoking process for the production of the Lapsang Souchong tea was discovered by accident when an army camped in a tea factory and the tea had to be removed to accommodate the soldiers. Once the soldiers left, tea had to be quickly dried and the workers used pinewood to set the fire which was used to speed up the drying of the tea leaves. When the tea went to market the public was pleased with the new flavour of the tea. Another legend says and I believe this might be true that in the 17th century when the Chinese tea producers began to export teas to Europe and America, the traditional green teas did not travel well and quickly lost its quality simply because of the 15 - 18 months journey. The tea producers developed a method of rolling, oxidising and drying their teas so that tea would hold its quality for longer. 

Let’s look into how the tea is produced.

Once the tea leaves have gone through the oxidation process, they are spread over bamboo baskets which are placed on racks in the drying room. The drying room is built over ovens that allow the heat to rise up through the ceiling into the drying room above. To fire the ovens, the producers use a locally sourced pine wood. The pinewood is slowly burned, which creates a smoke that is absorbed by the tea leaves during the drying process. The smoking process gives the Lapsang Souchong its characteristic smokey, piney character that is enjoyed by many tea drinkers.

It is said that it was the Dutch who began importing Lapsang Souchong tea to the west in 1604. Firstly, Lapsang Souchong was regarded as a precious medicine and sold mainly in pharmacies. In 1662 the Lapsang Souchong tea was introduced to England by Princess Catherine from Portugal who married Prince Charles. Her passion for Lapsang Souchong tea has helped to promote Lapsang Souchong as a luxury tea across England and many other countries. Lapsang Souchong tea has been also called The Royal Black Tea as it was served to England’s Royal Family.

Lapsang Souchong tea has a distinct smell of dried longan fruit with a smokey aroma. When you brew the tea it gives the same aromatic profile. A good, authentic Lapsang Souchong tea will keep the dried longan aroma for several more brewings. When it comes to the palate and taste, an authentic Lapsang Souchong will be smooth and thick in taste that lingers.

Tea is a very diverse category and has a vast flavour direction, for which the culinary world has found useful. It is no surprise that Lapsang Souchong has been used for its authentic smokey aroma across cuisine from savoury dishes to sweet treats. At IB HQ we found several different ways to use Lapsang Souchong in cocktails. Here is a recipe to spice up your iced tea game. 

Smokey Iced Tea

1 teaspoon of Lapsang Souchong Tea 125 ml Still water 20 ml Sugar Syrup (2:1 ration) 30 ml Fresh Lemon juice

  1. Cook the water to almost boil. 

  2. Pour the hot water over tea and let it steep for 2 minutes.

  3. Strain the tea and repeat the steeping/brewing process.

  4. Once the tea is brewed, cool it down to room temperature and combine with the rest of the ingredients in a shaker.

  5. Add as much ice as possible and hard shake 10 times and strain into glass over ice.

  6. If you wish, add dark rum, blended whisky, vodka or tequila for an adults “BBQ” version. 

Note: With most good quality teas, you can repeat the process 3 - 5 times. Every time, you brew use an additional 30 seconds to extract the tea.

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