Lapsang Souchong (a phonetic translation of Zhengshan Xiaozhong) was the first Black tea ever produced in the little mountainous region of Tong Mu in Wuyi mountains.
The story goes that in the 1600's the villagers of Tong Mu were in the middle of producing Green tea when an army of soldiers came bundling through this high mountain valley. The residents fled to the forests while the army took over their homes, ate their food and rested before moving on.
When the villagers returned they found that all of their freshly picked Green tea leaves had oxidised and they considered their tea ruined but needed to try to sell it nonetheless. So, one creative person suggested that they lightly smoke the tea over Horsetail Pinewood fires to try to mask the flavour.
After smoking the tea, the villagers brought it to Xingcun where they managed to convince a trader to take their tea to the markets. After several months the trader came back asking for more of that special smoked Black tea and so Black tea was declared a type of tea.
After a while, the international market began to demand stronger smoked tea and so the people of Tong Mu began smoking the tea over heavier, older pinewood with richer resins and the famous Smoked Lapsang was shipped all over the world.
But the producers in Tong Mu were not making big profits and they were restricted by the size of the area, unable to produce the volume of tea to satisfy demands.
In 2006 things changed when a master (Liange Junde) in Tong Mu was asked by a government official to make an unsmoked black tea from the buds of the Xiaozhong variety. The result was the highly prized and expensive Jin Jun Mei and the people of Tong Mu began discarding the smoking techniques in favour of super high quality UNSMOKED Black tea.
Since then the quality of any smoked Lapsangs has declined and much of the production takes place in other provinces like Hubei with lower quality leaves. The magical terroirs of Tong Mu creates rich tea which can stand up to the smoking but most other Lapsangs that I try are weak and overwhelmed by smoke which is why we have not stocked a smoked Lapsang for many years.
In this video we taste two Tong Mu unsmoked Lapsangs and I am amazed at how the same tea variety, from the same area and the same processing can taste totally different depending on tiny factors.
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