Lapsang Souchong Tea
Accidents happen, we are all guilty of it. Yet how often can our accidents be perceived as historic triumphs? Lapsang Souchong tea is one such example. Its origin is, by rights, the product of a potentially catastrophic mistake.
Today, however, there is no mistaking the immense popularity surrounding this distinct and flavoursome brew. Lapsang Souchong Tea is easily recognised by its unique, smoky flavour and enticing aroma.
It has survived the test of time, despite its turbulent history, rising through the ranks to become one of the most Popular Flavoured Black Teas currently available on the market. But how has this beverage come to inspire tea connoisseurs around the world? And what does the future hold for this full-bodied Chinese Black Tea as modern science continues to uncover its incredible health benefits?
What is Lapsang Souchong Tea?
Lapsang Souchong Tea is native to the Wuyi Mountains of the Fujian Province, China. In fact, to this day, Lapsang Tea is still grown and produced in the area which is renowned for its ancient, unearthly landscape, scattered with a maze of stunning gorges, unexplored caves, and breathtaking forests.
Known informally as “the smoky tea”, the name “Lapsang Souchong” is twofold. The term “Lapsang” was first coined in the area surrounding the village of Tong Mu Guan, where the tea was first created; it means “smoky variety”, or “smoky sub-variety”. “Souchong”, meanwhile, refers to the fourth or fifth leaf used from the Camellia sinensis plant.
And then in its native China, Lapsang Souchong Tea goes by the name “Zheng Shan Xiao Zhong”.
The Black Tea leaves used in the making of Lapsang Souchong Tea are dried over pinewood fires, which in turn imparts the delectably smoky flavour unique to this tea. The fourth or fifth leaves harvested for its production are usually coarser and less aromatic, but when the tea undergoes the “smoking” process, it creates a marketable product from a ‘less desirable’ leaf.
Process Used to Make Lapsang Tea
As a whole, the process used to create Lapsang Souchong is very lengthy, intricate, and requires a high level of attentive professionalism. The entire processing method is as follows:
- Harvesting: Usually taking place in the second week of May, large tea leaves are plucked from the Camellia Sinensis plant to be used in the processing of this beverage. The moderate climate of the Wuyi Mountains accounts for the relatively late harvesting calendar.
- Withering: There are two methods of withering most tea types: “sun” withering, and “heat” withering. The former involves placing the tea leaves outside to wither naturally under the sun; the latter sees the tea leaves subjected to heated air in a controlled environment.
- Rolling: The next stage of processing is crucial for the fermentation of the leaves which follows; this may be conducted by hand or with the use of a specially designed machine, which sees the leaves bruised lightly by rolling, shaking or “tossing” the tea.
- Fermentation: Also known as “hot fermentation”, the tea leaves are lightly pressed back into bamboo baskets and then covered with a thick cloth. This stage should see the leaves change colour to their easily recognisable reddy-brown tone.
- Pan-firing: Skill, observation, and experience are vital when pan-firing Lapsang Souchong Tea. It is unique to the making of Lapsang Souchong Tea and involves a well-seasoned worker placing the leaves in a hot, iron pan and ‘stir-frying’ the tea until fermentation has ceased.
- Re-rolling: Traditionally conducted by hand, the modern age has since introduced machinery to twist the tea leaves into their distinct, ‘Lapsang Souchong’ shape.
- Smoke Baking: For this stage, tea leaves are scattered into bamboo sieves and then placed in a baking room to dry over a pinewood fire. During this stage, the smoke from the fire allows the tea to absorb its characteristic woody, smoky flavour and aroma. It is arguably the most important stage in making Lapsang Souchong Tea and may be repeated to ensure it is of the finest possible quality.
After the tea has been harvested, withered, rolled, fermented, pan-fired, and re-rolled, it remains a semi-finished tea (毛茶, or “mao cha” tea) until it meets the standards required of a high-quality Lapsang Souchong, which includes sifting through the leaves and extracting any tea that is of a lower standard.
The inspection of the leaves was originally conducted by hand, and later with the use of a machine known as a ‘winnower’. Any broken leaves or remaining stems are extracted before the tea is ready to leave the factory during the inspection and finally, the Lapsang Souchong is ready for market.w
This is where it passes through the nurturing hands of The Kent and Sussex Tea and Coffee Company to be purchased by you. And even before then, we carry out our own inspections just to double-check it is only the best of the best.
History of Lapsang Souchong Tea
Lapsang Souchong has been consumed for hundreds of years and is one of the oldest Black Teas, if not the oldest. However, like Earl Grey Tea, Lapsang Souchong Tea has many legends associated with how it first came to be. It is believed to have originated from the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) during a time of great political upheaval in China.
The most popular story, one of many versions, tells the tale of a group of farmers near the village of Tong Mu Guan who one day was burdened by thieving bandits looking to plunder the area for all it was worth. Anxious to get their whole crop to market before the bandits descended on the farmers, the workers decided to dry the harvested tea leaves over pinewood fires to speed up oxidation.
The result was a “smoked tea”, the farmers disheartened by the terrible ‘mistake’ they had made. Yet they persevered, reluctantly packing their tea for the market in the faint hope that someone might be prepared to purchase the stock. At the port, the farmers were approached by Dutch traders interested in sampling their tea. As they stood in silence, expecting the worst, the traders looked up from their first sips - they loved it! Astounded by this strange turn of luck, the farmers promised to continue making the tea for the Europeans. Without fully realising it at the time - a new tea had been born!
But there are almost countless variations of this legend. One suggests that, instead of bandits, there had been an almighty army passing through the province. Instead of drying the tea leaves in desperation, the eager farmers chose to smoke the tea to satisfy the demand of weary warriors. There is likewise a similar tale that indicates that the tea leaves had been stored in pine sheds for oxidation. When the bandits (or army?) returned to plunder the farms, they set these sheds ablaze with the surviving tea absorbing the smoke from the fiery inferno.
Whether there is any truth behind any of these stories is a subject of great debate. Yet the result is always the same: a wonderfully aromatic tea fit for a king! In fact, it is rumoured that, although not quite royalty, the world-famous British Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965), favoured Lapsang Souchong Tea for his afternoon brew!
Many Historians theorise that Churchill liked Lapsang Souchong because its taste resembled his much-loved cigars, which he smoked at least 10 times a day. It is even considered that the smoky air, combined with this smoky tea, reminded him of his campfire days when he was an army officer in the Sudan and Boer Wars. Why he chose Lapsang Souchong remains unknown outside of speculation; however, many biographies have established that he enjoyed the brew with a dash of Scotch whiskey!
Today, Lapsang Souchong is no longer exclusive to the Fujian Province. During the 19th Century, production of Lapsang Tea began in Taiwan during a time when the island nation was still a part of China. Two centuries previously, Taiwan, then known as “Formosa”, had been a strategic port between China and ships bound for Europe.
As it grew substantially in size, new opportunities prompted mass-Chinese migration to the island. Many of these inhabitants brought their skills in the tea trade with them and soon after, production of teas, such as Oolong, began. Now an independent country unto itself, Taiwan has maintained a booming tea industry despite its political turbulence with neighbouring China.
Formosa Lapsang Souchong, as it is known, boasts stronger flavours than its Chinese counterparts and is one of the many varieties we sell here at The Kent and Sussex Tea and Coffee Company.
Lapsang Souchong Health Benefits
It is no secret, or at least not anymore that all Green Teas, including Matcha Tea and Jasmine Tea, have skyrocketed in popularity ever since a multitude of scientific studies have uncovered its true potential.
Most Black Teas, including Lapsang Souchong Tea, have been underappreciated in comparison, which is unfortunate as these delicious brews can likewise offer incredible benefits when consumed as part of a healthy and active lifestyle.
Many reputable institutes have focused on Green Tea due to its incredible antioxidant capability as it contains a polyphenolic catechin (an antioxidant compound) called Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), which is capable of combating a vast number of common ailments prevalent in western society.
However, it is important to note that Black Teas can also offer antioxidant potential. While Green Tea is rich in EGCG, Black Teas such as Lapsang Souchong contain theaflavin and thearubigins, organic compounds that, although believed to be less substantial in their ability to offer beneficial properties, can help to improve our everyday way of life.
Theaflavin and thearubigins in Lapsang Tea can work with the body to neutralise free radicals, which in turn reduces the risk of conditions such as cardiovascular disease and even strokes. These unwanted free radicals are a product of oxidation, oxygen molecules that create stress on our organs and tissues and consequently introduce the harmful atoms into the body.
Consuming just 3 cups of Lapsang Souchong Tea a day, meanwhile, can maintain the introduction of free radicals, which can then lead to a noticeable improvement in your physical and mental well-being by boosting the immune system, enhancing mental alertness, and even reducing “bad” LDL cholesterol.
But potential benefits may differ depending on many factors. Eating healthily and exercising frequently, for example, will improve your chances of reaping Lapsang Souchong benefits.
It is also important to note that no two individuals will ever experience the same health benefits, even with frequent consumption. But even so, Lapsang Souchong has at least taken some of the spotlight off Green Tea owing to its medicinal qualities. In fact, the Tea Industry has already observed a global shift in sales as more is uncovered on how Lapsang Souchong Tea can improve our mind, body, and spirit!
Improved Cardiovascular System
According to statistics from the Heart and Stroke Foundation, 54 per cent of all cardiovascular-related deaths are due to coronary artery disease; 21 per cent due to stroke; and 16 per cent the result of other forms of heart disease. These conditions are prevalent in western society owing to high diets in saturated fats and low physical activity.
In one such western country, Canada, it is believed that nearly 50,000 deaths on a yearly basis are as a result of cardiovascular disease. The antioxidants found in Lapsang Souchong Tea, meanwhile, have the ability to increase blood flow while reducing the amount of ‘bad’ cholesterol introduced into the bloodstream.
Improved Immune System
A compound in Lapsang Souchong Tea known as L-theanine can prime the immune system for attacking invading bacteria, viruses, and fungi according to a study conducted by the National Academy of Sciences in the United States.
Furthermore, another study indicated also that immune system blood cells in tea drinkers responded five times faster to germs than that of blood cells in coffee drinkers.
Ultimately, this means that consuming Lapsang Souchong Tea can ward off minor illnesses such as the common cold and the flu. If, however, you have been unfortunate enough to get sick already, then Lapsang Souchong Tea is an excellent choice for merely relaxing in bed and waiting for your illness to pass.
Improved Cognitive Function
In the UK alone, an estimated 750,000 people suffer from conditions such as Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease with the number set to double in the next 40 years as Britain’s population ages. Could Black Teas such as Lapsang Souchong Tea be the answer?
Black teas are thought to reduce the risks of developing conditions such as dementia or Alzheimer's disease according to research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The Black Tea Study, which was conducted by experts at the University of Singapore, saw 2,500 subjects aged 55 or over undergo intricate testing to measure their cognitive function.
When the experiment was repeated 2 years later, results established that those who had drunk two or three cups of black tea a day during the 2 year period were 55% less likely to suffer from cognitive decline. Those who drank six to ten cups a day, meanwhile, were up to 63% less likely.
Yet until more is known, The Kent and Sussex Tea and Coffee Company strictly do not endorse the consumption of Lapsang Souchong Tea, or any other tea, for the purpose of enhancing and maintaining cognitive function.
Improved Oral Health
Research funded by the Tea Trade Health Research Association has suggested that consuming Lapsang Souchong Tea on a frequent basis can reduce plaque formation as well as restrict bacterial growth.
And they are not the only ones to say so, either.
A collaborative study conducted in conjunction with the College of Dentistry at the University of Iowa and the Institute of Odontology at Göteborg University in Sweden has supported further the notion that Lapsang Souchong Tea, and all Black Teas, improve oral health. The results were presented at a meeting of the American Society of Microbiology in Orlando, Florida. Leading the project was professor Christine Wu of the University of Illinois.
Her team made the decision to focus on Black Tea as opposed to Green Tea to uncover its cavity-fighting potential.
Participants in the U.S. division of the study were given Black Tea to rinse their mouth with for 30 seconds, five times, waiting three minutes between each rinse to simulate the effect of sipping the average cup of tea.
The Swedish division of the study, meanwhile, saw participants rinse their mouth with Black Tea for one minute, 10 times a day. Both co-operating studies discovered that the more participants rinsed, the more their plaque and bacteria levels fell.
But why? It is because the Polyphenolic compounds present in Black Tea can kill or suppress cavity-causing bacteria from either growing or producing acid. The tea also affected the bacterial enzymes and prevented the formation of the sticky-like material that binds plaque to teeth.
Need some extra motivation before your morning jog? Lapsang Souchong Tea may be the pick-me-up you need!
Aside from its ability to enhance alertness, this beverage can also boost the metabolism, which is the chemical reactions that take place in your body’s cells. A metabolism essentially converts the fuel in your food into energy, which is then used to power near enough everything we do.
And by boosting your metabolism with Lapsang Souchong Tea, your body is able to burn fat quicker and more efficiently.
Furthermore, the caffeine content found in Lapsang Souchong can increase the amount of energy your body uses while at rest according to a study published in the 2009 European Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
Test subjects were given a regular black tea dosage of caffeine (approx 50 mg per cup) prior to their exercise routines, which was proven to increase the basal metabolism by 6 per cent; this may not sound like a lot, but combined with the other weight loss properties of Lapsang Souchong Tea, this tea could play a significant role in reaching that your weight loss goal.
There is nothing quite as harmonious as sitting down on the sofa after a long, hard day while enjoying a cup of Lapsang Souchong as you relax. It seems as if all your worries drift away and in a way, they do!
While L-theanine can stimulate the brain, it can likewise keep it in a relative state of calm. Confused? Basically, L-theanine finds the perfect middle-ground. And aside from improving your overall mood, L-theanine also contributes to reducing depression and anxiety.
Furthermore, would you believe us if we said relaxing on the sofa with your favourite brew could help you lose weight? We’ll admit it’s a little obscure but it works nonetheless.
According to new research, chronic stress (i.e not stopping to relax with a nice, hot cup of tea) disrupts our sleep and our blood sugar levels. This leads to increased hunger and comfort eating. Eventually, this can lead to even higher levels of stress and even more disrupted blood sugars. Not only might this cause unhealthy levels of body fat, but also an increased risk of Type II Diabetes! The solution to this is simple: stop, then brew up a cup of any Lapsang Souchong. Could it be any easier than that?
Reduced Risk of Some Cancer
The jury is still out on this one. No one knows for sure whether tea, be it Black, Green, White, or Oolong, can reduce the risks of developing cancer but we live in hope.
There is, however, mounting evidence to suggest it might. In 2015, for example, a meta-analysis found that drinking a cup of tea a day (no matter the type) reduced the risks of some cancers developing. Those who drank the most tea, on the other hand, had a 21% lower cancer risk than those who drank none.
Studies are ongoing but many scientists believe that the antioxidants found in teas such as Lapsang Souchong afford protection against cancers of the lung, forestomach, oesophagus, duodenum, pancreas, liver, breast, colon, and skin. It’s important to note, however, that most trials have been animal based excluding the above meta-analysis. And again, until more is known, The Kent and Sussex Tea and Coffee Company strictly do not endorse the consumption of Lapsang Souchong Tea, or any Tea, for reducing the risks of Cancer. But we do support further research and will be following the development of such studies.
Buy Lapsang Souchong Tea
We stock many varieties of Lapsang Souchong Tea, most of which are named after prestigious animals and can differ in both grade and leaf. Lapsang Souchong Tea Tiger, for example, is noted for it subtle, smoky flavour, with sweet undertones that are reminiscent of Turkish delight.
We also have our very own Lapsang Souchong Tea Leopard, which is perhaps considered a more ‘traditional’ brew, owing to its unmistakably smoky flavours and aromas; lingering on the palate long after you have drained your cup.
Lapsang Souchong Osprey, meanwhile - named after the mighty sea hawk - is one of the finest quality Lapsang Teas available through the Kent and Sussex Tea and Coffee Company, and likewise boasts strong, full-bodied flavours of traditional Lapsang Tea.
Alternatively, for those who are looking to be adventurous, Lapsang Souchong Tea Crocodile is, in fact, a tea created in Taiwan! As the name might suggest, this tea has a ‘snappy’ flavour with especially pungent smoky notes that stimulate the palate rather than merely overpowering it. Despite its different country of origin, this brew shares the same processing method as its Chinese counterparts.
Another Taiwanese Lapsang to try is our brand new Lapsang Souchong Formosa Dragon, and we likewise have other luxurious Chinese varieties, such as Lapsang Souchong Tea Falcon and Lapsang Souchong Butterfly Tea. If you do not have enough time to brew up loose leaf tea, we also provide Lapsang Souchong Tea Bags for your convenience. With each respective beverage being as mouthwatering as the last, we are proud to cater to the many personal tastes of our customers.