A lot of friends ever told me that they don't like Lapsang Souchong and even hate it because of its overwhelming smoky taste and some of them even wonder why Lapsang Souchong won popularity in 1600s and 1700s in Europe and was treated as a luxury drink in England, France, Dutch and The Netherlands. During recent years, we visited Tongmu, Wuyi Mountain for several times. We talked and worked with the local producers, and established firm relations with them. When we gained an insight into it, we don't wonder any more why Lapsang Souchong won the love of people and we also got to know why the fake Lapsang Souchong is hated by the people.
Here, we listed the two conditions which we think the authentic smoky Lapsang Souchong should meet:
1. Growing and made in Tongmu, Wuyi Mountain, a national nature reserve seen by Chinese tea experts as the core Lapsang Souchong tea producing area. The area is only about 50 square kilometers.
2. Made by the manufacturers who stick to the traditional methods. The smoky Lapsang Souchong tea should be made through the crucial drying process using smoldering pine fire.
For condition 1, we will make an article to describe the growing environment of the Tongmu in detail with many photos to let people know why the fresh tealeaves harvested in Tongmu are special. Tongmu is the birthplace of Lapsang Souchong, the first black tea in the world. As a very important place during the tea history, it has very beautiful scenery and is now a national nature reserve that isn't open to the tourists. Thanks to the help of the local people, we can go to there each time.
Here, we elaborate the difference in production between the authentic smoky Lapsang Souchong and the fake smoky ones in the market.
In fact, as now Chinese especially young people who don't like the black tea with even a little smoky taste (partly because they are reluctant or have no opportunity to approach the authentic smoky Lapsang Souchong), now the annual output of the authentic smoky Lapsang Souchong was declining year by year. More and more producers shift to making unsmoked Souchong black tea using the common modern production method. The unsmoked members of Lapsang Souchong family include Jin Junmei, Yin Junmei and Chigan (while there are also smoky Chigan made in the traditional ways). Some producers even totally abandoned the production of the smoky types.
While there are still the producers who made the both types; traditional (smoky) and new type (unsmoked) like the one we are now collaborating with. The traditional smoky Lapsang Souchong was still made in the old facilities which they call Qing Lou (the black house we see in the photo) and all the unsmoked Lapsang Souchong was made in the facilities newly established several years ago. The new facilities were almost the same as those we can find elsewhere for making other kinds of black teas.
The traditional Qing Lou (black house) for making the smoky Lapsang Souchong is really special. When we visited them in the early March, 2012, we asked them to show us around and they gladly agreed. There are four floors. When the production of the Lapsang Souchong begins, the pine woods are fired at the bottom. The house is designed so well that the heat and smoke can rise through the first to the fourth floor. When the fresh tealeaves harvested, they are at first placed at the fourth(highest) floor for withering, then moved to three floor for oxidation and then after the processes such as pan frying and rolling, it is finally placed to the first floor for first drying stage to reduce the moisture content to 20%. Later, they are moved to the second floor for the second drying to reduce the moisture under 5%.
Due to the smoldering pine fire generates smoke containing vaporized amber essence, which absorbed by tea leaves, gives Lapsang Souchong typical pine smoke flavor. The drying process takes 8-10 hours in order to ensure complete drying and develop the distinctive flavor of smoky Lapsang Souchong. The authentic smoky Lapsang Souchong has dried Longan aroma and pleasant while not overwhelming smoky flavor.
In fact, we noticed that most of the people (about 90%) would like the authentic smoky Lapsang Souchong while 98% people would dislike the commonly found smoky Lapsang Souchong in the market. There are two main reasons; one is that the two kinds were made of the totally different Chaqing (fresh tealeaves). The other is that they were made in the totally different ways. Unlike the complicated processes the authentic smoky one was made through, the commonly found smoky Lapsang Souchong is usually made by directly smoking the finished black tea. The finished black tea was usually of inferior quality and difficult to be sold out so people had no way but to smoke them, wishing to cover up the unpleasant taste with the smoky flavor so this kind of smoky Lapsang Souchong is usually overwhelming smoky and very cheap.
The interior of the Qing Lou: