Lapsang Souchong – Origin, Legend, and Background
The discovery of Lapsang Souchong, in the west today one of China’s most famous teas, according to legend is owed to a mere coincidence: at the time of the Qing dynasty, China’s last imperial dynasty lasting from 1644 – 1912, the inhabitants of the village Tongmu in the Chinese Fujian province’s Wuyi Mountains due to an unfortunate turn of events (under the threat of attack) were forced to dry their freshly harvested tea leaves in a speeded up manner, which they ended up doing by heating them over the open hearth fire. Later, on the market, the strong “smoke aroma” of the so dried tea proved to be a welcome camouflage of the less desirable taste characteristics of the actually low-quality tea used, a 3rd-4th grade selection of the Bohea tea variety native to this area of Wuyishan. Moreover, the smoke aroma gave the tea a unique note that caused it to establish as a popular tea specialty particularly amongst westerners, while Black Lapsang Souchong Tea in China itself was initially considered a “poor man’s tea” and was rather unpopular among the Chinese. Accordingly, to produce the genuine original Lapsang Souchong, initially preferably minor tea qualities were subjected to intensive smoking over fires of fresh-cut pine wood.
Development of Lapsang Tea since 1979
The scene changed drastically, when the village Tongmu and surrounding was declared UNESCO protection zone in 1979: the value of the cultivation areas within the boundaries of the UNESCO protected zone multiplied within shortest time, rendering the cultivation of low quality (and thereby low price) tea unprofitable and causing a shift towards the cultivation and production of significantly higher quality (Wuyi Bohea) tea. Part of the requirements of the World Cultural Heritage UNESCO Protection Zone is a complete ban on the use of pesticides, another contribution to higher selectivity in both agricultural crop and processing quality and thereby to generally rising prices in Tongmu and within the UNESCO protected zone, but of course also a very welcome organic warranty seen from the perspective of nutrition-conscious consumers and environmentalists.
The production of Lapsang tea in the village of Tongmu and the surrounding mountains has mainly developed into two directions since: once Lapsang “Zheng Shan Xiao Zhong”, both sticking to the classic processing scheme and at the same time upgrading it by using higher quality tea and leaf grades as well as a more restrained smoking process, and since the 1990’s the development of a new branch, Lapsang Jin Jun Mei, for which only the young spring buds of the Bohea tea plant are picked and then smoked gently in the further processing, in order to enrich the superior taste and aroma qualities of this tea by a decent note rather than overlaying it. You will find a detailed comparison of both development branches of Lapsang tea in our pertinent Siam Tea Blog article Lapsang Souchong, Zheng Shan Xiao Zhong, Lapsang Jin Jun Mei – all the same?.
Lapsang Jin Jun Mei Golden Eyebrows
This tea – also called Lapsang “Qingming” (“Tomb Sweeping Day”) tea after a traditional Chinese festival annually falling in the first days of April – is harvested only once a year, namely in the days before the said festival, in a first spring harvest of the year’s first young tea buds.
The traditional handpicking is subject to strict selection criteria and is – due to the tiny volume of the picked material (no leaves are picked) – extremely time and work intense. Not less of an effort is the drying of the freshly harvested tea buds over a fire made of fully dried and well-seasoned and accordingly low-smoke pine wood. However, the taste of our Lapsang Jin Jun Mei Golden Eyebrows is more than worth all the time, work, effort and cost that are required to produce this tea. The fresh scent of the tea liquor already hints at the tea’s high sweetness the spicy aroma of ripe summer fruit and flowers. The deep and bold taste body of the bright red infused tea is formed by a broad complex of spicy-sweet and chocolate-fruity taste notes that pleasantly linger in the mouth for hours after enjoying the tea.
In the nomenclature, the term Lapsang refers to the origins of this tea’s development line as well as to its place of origin in the Chinese province Fujian’s Wuyi Mountains, Jin Jun Mei means the picking standard of pure young spring buds, and “Golden Eyebrows” derives from visual appearance of the dried and processed buds.
To get to fully enjoy the depth and richness of the taste of Lapsang Jin Jun Mei Golden Eyebrows Black Tea, we recommend to pour 250-350ml hot water of a temperature of 90°C to 100°C over 3-5 grams of the tea needles in a clay or china bone teapot and leave for 2-3 minutes for a first infusion. With slightly progressing length of infusing period from steep to steep, Lapsang Jin Jun Mei Golden Eyebrows produces up to 4 delicious, full-value infusions.