Lapsang souchong (正山小種) is a black tea originally from the Wuyi region of the Chinese province of Fujian. It is more commonly named 正山小种 in Chinese (zhèng shān xiǎo zhǒng) and Japanese (seisanshōshu). It is sometimes referred to as smoked tea (熏茶). Lapsang is distinct from all other types of tea because lapsang leaves are traditionally smoke-dried over pinewood fires, taking on a distinctive smoky flavour.
Lapsang souchong is the first black tea in history, even earlier than the famous Keemun tea. After the lapsang souchong tea was used for producing black tea called Min Hong (meaning "Black tea produced in Fujian"), people started to move the tea bush to different places like Keemun, India and Ceylon.
Xiǎozhǒng (小種) means "sub-variety". Lapsang souchong is a member of the Wuyi tea family of teas. Wuyi is the mountain area producing a large family of tea in South-East China). The story goes that the tea was created during the Qing era when the passage of armies delayed the annual drying of the tea leaves in the Wuyi Mountain. Eager to satisfy demand, the tea producers sped up the drying process by having their workers dry the tea leaves over fires made from local pines.
Lapsang souchong from the original source is increasingly expensive, as Wuyi is a small area and there is increasing demand for this variety of tea.
Flavour and aroma
High grade lapsang souchong possesses a taste of dried longan for the first few brews.
Lapsang souchong's flavour is strong and smoky, similar to the smell of a barbecue or campfire, or of Latakia pipe tobacco. The flavour of the pine smoke is meant to complement the natural taste of the black tea, but should not overwhelm it.
Tea merchants marketing to Westerners note that this variety of tea generally produces a strong reaction, with most online reviews extremely positive or strongly negative.
Tea connoisseurs often note that Formosan lapsang souchong typically has a stronger flavour and aroma, the most extreme being tarry souchong (smoked, as the name implies, over burning pine tar).
The smoke roast version is roasted in a bamboo basket called a honglong, which is heated over burning firewood which contributes to the dried longan aroma and smoky flavor. Pine wood is used as the firewood for lapsang souchong and contains the characteristic resin aroma and taste.
The unique aroma of lapsang souchong is due to a variety of chemical compounds. The two most abundant constituents of the aroma are longifolene and α-terpineol. Many of the compounds making up the aroma of lapsang souchong, including longifolene, originate only in the pine smoke, and are not found in other kinds of tea.