Lapsang Souchong: a smokey tea delight


A warm campfire with crackling flames over smoking wood

The sense are brought to a warm and smokey campfire right from the get-go of a lapsang souchong tea session!


Today, I was introduced to a new tea for the first time — lapsang souchong.  It was unlike anything I’ve ever had before while drinking tea!

Ok, so maybe I say this every time I try a new kind of tea — but again and again, I’m simply amazed by just how much diversity there is in tea!

I went to a little tea shop that I really like in Chinatown.  I originally wanted to stop by to pick up some of my usual oolong tea I enjoy drinking.  Not unlike other occasions I go to the tea shop, I found myself leaving with more than I was planning on getting.

The tea is called lapsang souchong in Chinese.  In English, it’s most commonly referred to as smoked tea.  It’s a red tea (or black tea in Western conventions) from China, and originally hails from the Wuyi region of Fujian province.


Lapsang souchong: all about smoked tea

Like other Chinese red teas, the lapsang souchong leaves fully oxidize during the processing procedure.  However, what sets this tea apart from the others is the step in the processing whereby the leaves are hung to dry overtop smoky wood fires — traditionally, the local pine wood of the Wuyi region was used.  The fires are permitted to smoulder and smoke which has an effect on the final product.

And that final product, lapsang souchong tea,  is smokey, smooth, and complex.  I’m mesmerized by it!


A small pile of unsteeped lapsang souchong, or smoked tea, leaves.

By Maša Sinreih in Valentina Vivod (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Like other red teas, smoked tea needs to be steeped in hot water — 100 degrees Celsius is ideal.  1 to 1.5 teaspoons of leaf is all you need to add to the pot.  Once inside the pot, add the hot water.

The first steep will be a rinse, so after filling the pot with water, you can proceed to empty it right away.  I wouldn’t wait more than 3 or 4 seconds, since the longer you wait the more tea compounds are being infused into the water!  The rinse is meant to “wake up” the tea leaves, and it also helps to rinse off any dust or debris that may be hanging on to the tea leaves.

Once all the rinse water has been drained from the pot, you’re ready to steep the leaves again.  This steep will be consumed.  For this first round, I usually let it steep for around 2 minutes.  You can either remove the leaves from the pot (if you’re using a strainer) or pour the tea completely out from the pot once this time has passed, then you’re all ready to enjoy your first infusion!


Two small teapots sitting beside cups of brewed smoked tea

Take the smoked tea leaves out if using a strainer, or pour all the brewed tea from the pot — like when using individual-sized pots like these!

The lapsang souchong leaves themselves emit quite a powerful aroma even before brewing them.  The infused liquid mellows out this scent but it’s still quite apparent.  Take some time to smell the tea before drinking it.  When I close my eyes and smell that first infusion, my mind is taken to a campfire scene out in the forest or wilderness.  You can really make out a pine or cedar scent to it — indicative of the pine wood fires used to dry out the leaves during processing.  Personally, I don’t have a sweet tooth — I tend to crave salty/savoury things.  I’m not sure if this is related or not, but perhaps the smokiness to this tea piques my savoury-minded tastebuds!

This smokey, wooded theme is present in the taste of the tea, too.  It’s very smooth and has a relaxing effect paired with the warmth of the water.  Underneath the dominant smoked / cedar flavours it’s possible to also make out spiced, roasted, cinnamon-like elements.  The mouth is left with a hint of that smokey goodness afterwards, too.  Overall, it leaves me feeling very satisfied and relaxed, while at the same time with a clear and alert head.

Continue to re-steep the leaves for as long as the flavour quality of the tea is to your liking.  Increase the steep time slightly with each successive infusion.  There’s not much science to it, it’s to your tastes’ likings!  Myself, I was able to get a good 4 to 5 infusions out of my lapsang souchong leaves before the flavour began waning.

I’m happy I stumbled upon this new tea to add to my arsenal — it has a very unique flavour which calms me down yet keeps me alert.  I’d recommend it to anyone looking for something new in tea, especially fans of smoked food.  The more adventurous might even try using lapsang souchong in their cooking (here’s an interesting page with dozens of recipes all making use of smoked tea).