Lao Cong Lapsang Souchong (老枞小种) is an exquisite traditionally smoked tea that is picked from old native Qizhong tea bushes that are around 100 years old. These grow wild at an altitude of about 1,000 metres around Tongmuguan, Wuyi Shan in Fujian Province of China; the reputed birthplace of black tea. Carefully hand picked and hand processed, it is smoked in a traditional local smoke house over natural pine wood. Made according to a family heritage recipe, we source this tea directly from the makers, the Chen & Zhou family. This Lapsang Souchong produces a very balanced flavour with a lightly smoky profile that nicely compliments the sweetness of the tea. This batch was harvested on 20 May 2022.
This Old Bush Lapsang Souchong is also known as Lao Cong Xiao Zhong (老枞小种) in Chinese. Lao Cong means Old Bush or Old Tree and refers to tea that is picked from older tea plants. Generally these would be 100+ year old trees, although some producers will classify some of the younger plants belonging to this category. Xiao Zhong is the reference to Zheng Shan Xiao Zhong, which is the common Chinese name for this style of black tea from Wuyi Shan. In fact, Lapsang Souchong is very much a Western name (although originating in China and vastly altered) and really is used to describe a smoked Zhen Shan Xiao Zhong. To try to avoid confusion, we refer to the smoked version as Lapsang Souchong, a name that is more commonly used in the West. And we stick with Zheng Shan Xiao Zhong for the unsmoked version of this tea. Incidentally, you may be interested in trying an early spring Ming Qian Zheng Shan Xiao Zhong from the same family, albeit harvested from slightly younger trees.
Unlike mass produced Lapsang Souchong teas that are smoked using modern machinery and consisting of poor quality tea that is smoked to make it more sellable, this heritage style goes through traditional processing and smoking methods. The smoking process is done using only natural pine wood. After the fresh leaves are picked from the plants, they are sent to the smoking room for withering in a bamboo sieve. The smoking house, Yan Fang (烟房), is a specially designed house for tea smoking – as you can see in the pictures on this page. The withering process lasts 2-3 days, during which time the leaves loose moisture and absorb some of the smoke. The next step is rolling, during which the leaves are shaped and the cells in the leaves are broken to improve the taste of the finished tea. The rolling stage only takes 20-30 minutes.
The next step in processing is oxidation, sometimes erroneously referred to as fermentation. This is the fundamental process that breaks down the chemicals in the leaves to turn them into what resembles black tea. It is carried out by rolling the leaves in a basket and letting them absorb more of the smoke in the smoking room for approximately another 16 hours. After the leaves achieve the desired level of oxidation, they are finally dried. Drying is done by spreading the leaves on a bamboo sieve in the smoking room, letting them absorb more of the pine wood smoke. The drying process takes 2-3 days depending on the moisture content of the leaves and weather conditions. Sometimes if the quality of the tea is lower, it will be sorted again after drying.
We source this Old Bush Lapsang Souchong from a wife and husband team who represent the Chen and Zhou tea master families respectively. The family has gardens in Wuyi Shan and in Zhenghe County of Fujian Province, as well as having gardens in Guangdong Province. They specialise in producing hand crafted artisanal teas. Compared to larger gardens and factory productions, these are made in small batches and are still made according to traditional methods passed down the generations in their families. We have a wide selection from the Chen & Zhou family gardens available already, including a wide range of Yancha. This particular tea ticks all the boxes when it comes to a proper Lapsang Souchong: it is grown in Tongmuguan, made of old trees of the Qizhong native plants and is crafted and smoked over natural pine wood according to the traditional family recipe.
This Lapsang Souchong consists of larger leaves, mixed with some smaller ones. It produces a bright and clear liquor with a light amber colour. The aroma is definitely smoky, but also quite fruity, akin to smoked prunes. The elegant flavour is finely balanced, with no flavour being overpowering. Nothing like a cheap version where the only thing you can taste is smoke and tar! The profile is definitely smoky but it has quite pronounced fruity notes of prunes and plenty of honeyed sweetness. The aftertaste is lasting, with more sweet smoky flavour returning. It is an evocative tea, bringing images of campfires and walking through a forest of a warm and sunny autumn day with the smell of smoke from a nearby fireplace in the air.
We suggest brewing at 90°C for 3 minutes according to your taste. It should be brewed multiple times depending on your taste preferences. For best results, gongfu brewing is advised.