Lapsang Souchong – the Marmite of tea

Posted on February 25, 2015, by in .


The distinctive taste of Lapsang Souchong is one that tends to ignite some pretty intense feelings, estranging the lovers and the haters of the smoky brew. Over the years we have noticed that the customers who enjoy our Lapsang Souchong are very passionate about the tea, and yet other people that come into our tea shop in Bath can find the same tea almost repulsive! When it comes to this particular tea, there is little middle ground… You either love it, or you hate it!

Lapsang SouchongLapsang Souchong (£4.50 per 100g) tea differs to the normal production of black tea in that it is not left to dry naturally. Instead, the drying process is intensified by drying the leaves in hanging bamboo baskets, known in China as a ‘hongdong,’ over smoking pine wood in order to give the tea its distinctive smoked aroma and flavour. While for some people this is their idea of tea heaven, to others it might be tea hell.

The ‘souchong’ in Lapsang Souchong refers to the leaves used to make the tea. Leaves are graded in quality according to their position on the tea plant, with the highest bud being the best. ‘Souchong’ means the fourth and fifth leaves are used – these are lower quality, but the smoking process means that these less flavourful leaves can still be used.

For the idealist in us all, however, thankfully there is a story that goes alongside the more technical and frankly less exciting version of how Lapsang Souchong came to be. The belief is that during the Qing dynasty the passage of armies came upon a tea factory in the Wiyi Mountains, and their stopping there (allegedly making beds out of tea leaves) meant that the drying of the tea leaves was disrupted. In order to speed up the process and ensure that they could still distribute their tea, workers began to dry the leaves over burning firewood – thus creating the smoky taste that ended up being so popular. You can decide for yourself which version you prefer!

If you do happen to be pro-Lapsang Souchong, why not pop the kettle on and give a few of our other smokier brews a taste? We have found that those who enjoy our loose leaf Lapsang Souchong also enjoy our loose leaf Russian Caravan tea (£3.50 per 100g). This tea has a subtle smoky taste, created by blending Oolong, Keemun and Lapsang Souchong. The name is misleading – even though it is called Russian Caravan, it actually originated in China. The name comes from the journey that the distributors of tea had to take from China to Europe, going through Russia along the way. There was a more direct route, but the coldness of Russia was thought to provide better conditions for the tea on its long commute – plus, absorbing the smoke from the campfires made on the journey are believed to have been the original source of Russian Caravan’s smoky undertones.

Russian Tea Route

If that’s still not enough, there’s also our loose leaf Golden Yunnan FOP (£5.70 per 100g). The infusion is deep red-brown in colour with a mild smoky flavour, and is different to other black teas due to the amount of leaf-buds (or ‘golden tips’) present amongst the leaves. These buds are graded as a higher quality than the other leaves on the tea plant, as they are the ones at the top of the stem. The ‘FOP’ actually stands for ‘Flowery Orange Pekoe,’ in reference to the tea grading system. For Golden Yunnan, the first bud is picked with the next two leaves, which imbues a certain sweetness alongside the smokiness. You can find out a little more about how tea quality is graded on our blog! (link here!)

If you’re feeling a little more adventurous you could even try our Green Pu-Erh (£4.15 per 100g).

Pu-Erh is produced in the Yunnan province of China, undergoing a lengthy fermentation and maturation process that makes it a very different experience from your ordinary cuppa. The green variety of Pu-Erh has a slight smoky flavour, as well as boasting many health benefits, such as aiding the metabolism and being high in antioxidants.

So, have you tried our loose leaf Lapsang Souchong yet? Perhaps the idea of the warming smoky brew has intrigued your tastebuds… or maybe it has turned them off! We’d love to know your musings on this controversial tea.

The question is –  Do you love it, or hate it? (And feel free to tell us your thoughts on Marmite, while you’re at it!)

Image credit: Poppet with a Camera