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Lapsang Souchong and Other High-Fired Teas

One of the more well known teas is Lapsang Souchong famous for its smoky flavor. Over the years this tea has suffered so many transformations and became so far removed from the original. Many tea producers would take old tea smoke it heavily and/or add chemicals with smoke flavor, and sold it as Lapsang Souchong.

Recently, we sourced from Fujian Province, a wonderful example of what true Lapsang Souchong is. Here we shed some light on the history of this classic tea, as well as highlight some other highly fired teas that we carry. For the history of Lapsang Souchong we have borrowed from "All the Tea in China," by Chow & Kramer (a wonderful tea resource). Enjoy.

Lapsang Souchong: Lapsang Souchong originates from the Wuyi Mountains in Fujian, China. The Fukienese word 'souchong' literally means 'little variety' or subvariety.

Legend claims that the smoking process was discovered by accident. During the Qing Dynasty, an army unit passing through Xingcu (Star Village) camped in a tea factory filled with fresh leaves awaiting processing. When the soldiers left and the workers could get back into the premises, they realized that to arrive at market in time, it was too late to dry the leaves the ususal way. So they lit open fires of pine wood to hasten the drying. Not only did the tea reach the market in time, but the smoked pine flavor created a sensation a new product was born.

The leaves are first withered over fires of pine or cypress wood. After panfrying and rolling, they are pressed into wooden barrels and covered with cloth to ferment until they give off a pleasant fragrance. The leaves are fried again and rolled into taut strips. Then they are placed in bamboo baskets and hung on wooden racks over smoking pine fires to dry and absorb the smoke flavor. When finished they are thick, glossy black strips, and produce a dark red beverage with a uniuqe aroma.

This production lot was grown at high elevation in the Wuyi Mountains of Fujian Province. It was not blended with lesser teas from other regions as is the custom. These plants are older and more care is taken with the smoking process. This results in a tea that is far more subtle and refined than most. Some call this the origin of red tea, or black as it's known in the west. The leaves are first withered over fire and rolled, then lightly smoked in bamboo trays over a wood fire.

Our other high-fired teas (not smoked, technically) are:

Crooked Horse Oolong: This Tieguanyin-style tea is grown in the red, sandy soil of Anxi, Fujian Province, China. The area has the perfect balance of soil, climate and elevation. The tea varietal, wai-ma-tau, literally translates as "crooked horse peach." The tip of the tea leaf is hooked like a local peach called Crooked Horse, hence the name. This is a medium-oxidized oolong. The leaves are fired in an oven after oxidation to give a richness and depth to the aroma and flavor. Look for the dark green leaves, the golden liquor and the lingering sweet taste of autumn fruit.

Aged Pu-Erh Leaf: This tea is made by a Chinese family living in northern Thailand. The area known as the Golden Triangle evokes images of steep sloped poppy fields and stories of the drug trade. Its fragile ecosystem needs crops that don't cause more erosion. As it turns out, tea is a great replacement crop for the poppy since the entire plant isn't removed when it is harvested. Rewarding us with a rich and earthy bouquet, this tea has a full flavor.

Wood Dragon Oolong: This is one of the most popular teas in Taiwan, enjoyed in many restaurants and homes. It is a twig tea with a strong roasted flavor. This is a result of an extra firing after the tea is made. The farmer who grows this tea comes from a family of tea growing artisans. They hand process the tea differently depending on the weather and the final result they are looking to attain.

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