The discovery of Lapsang Souchong tea, in the West today one of the most commonly known terms of Chinese tea culture, according to legend is owed to mere coincidence: at the times of the Qing dynasty, China’s last imperial dynasty lasting from 1644-1912, the inhabitants of the village Tongmu, located at famous Wuyi mountain in the Chinese province of Fujian, were once forced by some odd circumstances to dry their tea leaves much quicker than usual. To achieve this, they decided to heat the tea leaves over the hearth fire of burning pine wood. The resulting strong smoke aroma and flavor proved to greatly camouflage the the less desirable taste features of the used, basically low quality (third or fourth grade) tea leafes of the local Wuyi Bohea subvariety. Moreover, the smoke aroma and flavor made this tea something special, i.e. a specialty, which quickly established a a popular variant among Westerners, while Lapsang Souchong was long considered a “poor-man’s-tea” among the Chinese themselves. So initially, too produce the actual original Lapsang Souchong, preferably minor quality tea leaves (a possible meaning of “Souchong” is 4th and 5th leaf) were smoke-dried over fires of fresh-cut pine wood.
The scene underwent drastic change, when Tongmu village in 1979 was declared a Word Heritage Area by the UNESCO: the value of the cropland withing the borders of the UNESCO protection zone multiplied within no time, making the cultivation of lower quality tea unprofitable and effecting a shift towards the cultivation of higher quality tea in general. Part of the set of restrictions coming with the World Heritage Site status was a strict ban on any pesticide use within the UNESCO protection zone, meaning another contribution to higher selectivity of crop and processing quality, but naturally also a desirable organic warranty seen from the perspective of aware consumers and environmentalists.
The production of Lapsang tea in Tongmu village has since developed into 2 directions: once the traditional processing pattern is maintained and enhanced by the use of higher tea and leaf grades, culminating in the best quality of this tea, the Classic Lapsang “Zheng Shan Xiao Zhong” offered here, and in more recent time, a new branch, Lapsang Jin Jun Mei, was introduced, involving a much more decent smoking process and rather highlighting the taste and aroma features of the actual tea instead. Both teas are considered as rather expensive teas in China. Cheaper versions of Lapsang Souchong are today produced in Tongmu village only from tea brought in from outside the UNESCO production zone. Other than Lapsang Zheng Shan Xiao Zhong and Lapsang Jin Jun Mei, which in favor of a more harmonical and altogether improved taste result today are smoke-dried with seasoned, fully dried pine wood, lower quality Lapsang Souchong might still be dried over fire made of fresh-cut pine wood or even more often fire of pine resin.
Our Classic Lapsang Zheng Shan Xiao Zhong is produced by the reputed tea master Liang Junde in Tong Mu village in Wuji Shan, Fujian province. At this, Mr. Junde draws on several hundred years of experience, gathered by his family across many generations of maintaining the tradition of Lapsang tea production in one of the world’s most famous tea cultivation areas. His Classic Lapsang Zheng Shan Xiao Zhong, whose quality grade he himself refers to as “nonpareil”, produces a bright red tea liquor, with a finely balanced, harmonical blend of the tastes of a mild and rich black tea and an artisan smoke-drying process, combining to the sweet Longan taste characteristic for classic Lapsang teas, in a thought middle. The composition is rounded up by a high note of fresh mint that in the mouth melts together with the smoke taste to something new and unique.
In the nomenclature of this tea, “Classic Lapsang” stands for the tradition of smoke-drying black Wuyi Bohea Lapsang tea, „Zheng Shan“ means “Original Mountain” (meant is Mount Wuyi), „Xiao Zhong“ means subvariety, and “Nonpareil” hints at the exquisite quality grade of this tea throughout its harvesting and processing. For more information about and around this tea please also see our Siam Tea Blog article Lapsang Souchong, Zheng Shan Xiao Zhong and Jin Jun Mei Tea – all the same? and our product page Lapsang Jin Jun Mei Golden Eyebrows Black Tea.
To prepare our Classic Lapsang Zheng Shan Xiao Zhong Nonpareil we recommend a dosage of 5 grams on 250 ml hot water, an infusion temperature of 100°C and providing for at least 4 infusions (3-3-4-5 minutes). Of course, more infusions are achieved in tea ceremonies with shorter infusion periods for highlighting individual taste and aroma components and characteristics, and we’d like to encourage tea lovers to experiment with dosaging and timing in order to make the best of each tea for themselves.