This week I want to show you all a classic black tea known as lapsang souchong, made by Taylors of Harrogate. Taylors have been trading since 1886, when Charles Taylor and his two sons started selling tea and coffee and quickly became known for their high quality goods. Taylor of Harrogate actually make the well-known Yorkshire Tea we all know and love. Today though, something a little different from the norm – I think this is the first lapsang souchong we have featured in the Varieteas boxes, so I am excited for you all to try it! Lapsang souchong is made from the leaves of the camellia sinensis plant, like all black, green and white teas are – only this one is dried by smoking it over pinewood fires, giving it a smoky flavour and aroma. Legend has it that this method of drying tea leaves was invented by accident during the Qing Dynasty, as an army passed through the Wuyi mountain region of Fujian, China during tea drying season and delayed production – so the tea makers tried to speed up the drying process by lighting fires to dry out the tea leaves quicker. This smoking process also allows more of the larger tea leaves to be used from further down the plant stem.
This tea is presented in a paper tea bag with strong and tag and is contained within a paper envelope for freshness. Upon opening the envelope, a strong smoky aroma is immediately apparent, which is very pleasant indeed. The tea looks very dark through the bag and is quite fine, but not too fine that any dust comes out, which indicates that this is a good quality tea indeed. I added freshly boiled water to the tea bag in the mug, which straight away increased the smoky scent. This is a very dark brew indeed, darker than one would expect of a regular black tea. I added one sugar but left the tea black so as to gauge whether or not it would need any milk. Note: as this is a black tea much like English breakfast, assam and Earl grey, you can absolutely put milk in it, some people choose to but others prefer it black, so it’s completely up to you. After it brewed for about 2 minutes I took a sip and was amazed and pleased to find it tasted exactly how it smells! You know when you step outside on a crisp Autumn afternoon or evening and you can smell bonfires crackling away in the distance? If you have ever wanted that to be a drink somehow, this is the tea for you! This tea has a very strong but smooth taste with no bitterness at all, just a very rich and delicious smoky flavor. I could go on about how the flavour is redolent of cigars, whisky from aged barrels, slow cooked barbecue meats, incense and cedarwood, which would all be correct, but really if you want to get an idea of how lapsang souchong tastes, just have a good whiff of the tea bag. Some describe lapsang as the ‘marmite’ of tea as it can be quite divisive, with some people loving it or hating it, but I think this is a very enjoyable tea indeed that everyone should try at least once!
Good to know
As with other black teas, lapsang souchong contains antioxidants which can help to protect the cells of the body, plus the amino acid l-theanine, which helps to counter any side effects of caffeine and is thought to promote calm alertness and relaxation. This tea does have caffeine, although some suggest it contains less than other black teas, although there is not much evidence to support this. You can enjoy lapsang souchong with milk or not, as you prefer – some people like it with milk and honey. This would be a great tea for enjoying on a chilly Autumn day at any time. It seems odd to suggest a food pairing for a tea, but lapsang souchong would go well with anything hearty, meaty and rich as it is quite a strong flavour.