Lapsang Souchong is a black Chinese tea that originates in the Wu Yi Mountains of China's Fujian province. Tea produced at this point of origin is considered "real" Lapsang Souchong and is a relatively rare tea as demand exceeds supply.
The tea leaves for Lapsang Souchong are withered in the smoke from pine or cypress wood fires. This gives the tea its distinctive smoked flavor. Lapsang Souchong is a strong tea and is often described as an acquired taste.
Because of the high demand for this tea, other regions also produce tea which is marketed as Lapsang Souchong. Although this tea is smoke-withered following the "true" Lapsang Souchong method and has a similar taste, Wu Yi Mountain tea is considered to be the best Lapsang Souchong. This may be due to the growing conditions of the area as Wu Yi is usually fog-enshrouded and is thickly forested with pine and cypress trees which retain the cool, moist air.
Lapsang Souchong dates back to the 17th century during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). Legend has it that a passing troop of soldiers commandeered a tea factory for shelter. While they were there the tea workers could not process the tea leaves, so by the time the soldiers left the tea had to be prepared quickly to get it market. To hasten the tea processing the leaves were dried over pine wood fires.
When the tea was brought to market it proved to be hugely popular. Its fame spread and it eventually found its way to European markets where it became a popular base for blended tea.
Lapsang Souchong brews to a reddish-orange liquor. If brewed too long the taste can be overpowering and bitter. Chinese tea drinkers will often allow this tea to age a year or two to reduce the smokiness and allow the natural fruitiness of the tea to emerge. Many Western tea drinkers prefer Lapsang Souchong in a blend. Unblended, this tea is often served with milk.
The smoky flavor combines well with strong-tasting food. It has also found popularity as an "outdoor" tea for its invigorating qualities. It is often consumed during sporting activities such as hiking or mountain climbing.