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Black Tea

Lapsang Souchong

One legend of how the tea originated goes something like this-- during an un-peaceful period of the Qing dynasty, soldiers took over a Wuyishan tea factory full of fresh tea leaves preventing the workers from being able to process the tea. 

By the time the soldiers left, the tea had fully oxidized.  In an attempt to salvage the tea, the tea workers dried the tea over a pine fire.  When they took the tea to market, it became famous for its smoky scent and soon became famous at home and abroad.  

However, according to the book Min Xiao Ji (Fujian Record) written by an official of Fujian Province named Zhou Lian Gong (1612-1672), “Chi Zi” (meaning Red Purple) was the first oxidized tea and the ancestor of oolongs and black teas. Chi Zi oxidization technology continued to improve and mature during the early part of Qing dynasty. 

During the same period advances in oxidation technology were occurring in Wuyi oolong teas as well. It was during this same period that the Wuyishan area created its first fully oxidized tea, Lapsang Souchong, and black tea was born.

Lapsang Souchong almost immediately gained popularity in Europe during the Qing Dynasty.  Lapsang Souchong began exportation in the early seventeenth century, first to Portugal and then to Europe by a Dutch businessman, as early as 1604. 

Bohea continued to gain popularity during this period. Fully oxidized Bohea was easier to transport than green tea because it stored better during the long sea voyages. This is a partial explaination for why  non-Chinese people in Europe and the Americas generally think of black tea when the topic of tea is brought up. 

In 1662, several cases of the tea were brought to England by Portuguese Princess Catherine as her dowry during her marriage to Charles II. It is said that she drank a cup of Lapsang Souchong every morning when she awoke. The East India Company officially introduced tea to England in the 1600s and presented Charles II with gifts of tea for Catherine in 1664 and 1666 to please him.  

During this time tea was highly taxed and a luxury in very short supply and thus generally only drank by the European upper class.  However, as time passed Bohea tea became part of European poetry and culture, an example being its mention in Lord George Gordon Byron’s (1788-1824) Don Juan /Canto the Fourth:

“For if my pure libations exceed three,
I feel my heart become so sympathetic,
That I must have recourse to black Bohea:
'T is pity wine should be so deleterious,
For tea and coffee leave us much more serious.”

The English custom of afternoon tea began with Duchess Anna in the mid-1800s who took ate cake and biscuits with her tea. Lapsang Souchong continues to be enjoyed in Europe and America with an instantly recognizable aroma and taste that is either loved or left.