Saturday, November 26, 2016

My Cuppa: Is there a fire? I smell smoke!

Originating from the Wuyi region in the Fujian Province in China, is a black tea called Lapsang Souchong that is becoming quite popular. What makes this tea distinctive is its smoky aroma and taste which some may find a bit off-putting at first taste.

"Souchong" refers to fourth and fifth leaves of the tea plant. These leaves are not as desirable as the leaves closer to the top or the buds themselves. They are much larger, tougher, older, less aromatic, and not as flavourful as the newer more delicate leaves at the top. Smoking these leaves gives it new life and a means of purpose, thus, creating a tea that stands on its own. "Lapsang" is a combination of two words: l
ap means pine, sang means smoke. So you get pine-smoked tea.

To make Lapsang Souchong, the leaves are harvested, withered, rolled, and oxidized. Afterwards, the leaves are roasted in bamboo baskets which are heated over pinewood fires. This key step in the manufacturing process, contributes to the unique flavours of Lapsang Souchong which some describe as dried longan, a tropical fruit similar to lychee, and pine smoke. The roasted leaves are then pan-fired, sorted, and packaged. Of course, these are just the basic steps. Some steps may be repeated several times and even re-done in a different order all to achieve the best finished product. 

A smokin' tea!

Legend has it that this processing method originated during the Qing Dynasty, when armies passed through a village to take their rest on a tea plantation. Their stay slowed down the tea production and had the leaves sitting around exposed to the elements. After the troops finally took their leave, the tea producers decided to speed up their process by heating the leaves over pinewood fires. This resulted in a very interesting smoky brew.

To prepare a cup of tea, you make Lapsang Souchong just like other black teas you normally drink. I used 1 teaspoon of tea leaves for each cup of water. After bringing water to a full boil in a kettle, I allowed it to cool down for about 5 minutes before pouring it over the leaves sitting in a sieve. I gave it 5 minutes to infuse before removing the leaves from the bright reddish coloured liquor. You actually can add milk and sugar, but I prefer Lapsang Souchong on its own. The aroma and taste are perfectly smoky without any bitterness or aftertaste. I find the tea quite soothing. 

A smokin' brew!

Much like Matcha or 
Pu’erh, Lapsang Souchong is an acquired taste that may need some time getting used to, but it so worth a try. It pairs very well with barbecued foods, spicy foods, perhaps a pulled pork. It’s also great to cook with. You can used it in a sauce or even as a dry rub. In my next post, I’ll show you what I used it for.

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