LAPSANG SOUCHONG

Lapsang Souchong, the tea that infuses fear and terror into the most seasoned tea drinkers.  But why?

This time of year my tastes change and I begin looking for deeper, darker, richer flavors – regardless of what foods it might be.  Light, refreshing salads are gone from my table to be replaced by hearty soups and stews.  The seasons have changed.  The sun sets earlier and earlier every day.  The days are cooler and quite often damp and at night I just want to curl up with a good book, a blanket  . . .  and a cup of Lapsang Souchong!

Have you ever been camping  . . .  especially in the Fall?  Is there anything more comforting and inviting than a campsite on a cool October morning when someone has just started the fire for breakfast  . . . or in the evening after a day of hiking and the smoky fire just envelops you.  You can’t help but be drawn to it.  The billows of heady, smoke that comes from a fire is so welcoming.  That same smoky flavor gets imparted into our food (and sometimes into our clothing) and we love it.  So why then do so many tea drinkers say “no thank you” to a cuppa Lapsang Souchong!

Lapsang Souchong … I just love the name!  It’s exotic, unique, rhythmic.  The name comes from the Chinese Fuzhou dialect combining “la” or “pine” and “sang” or “wood” with the size of the leaf, “souchong“, which is the largest or  third leaf in a fine pluck.  The trade name for this tea then became Lapsang Souchong or “smoky, piney large leaf” tea.

This  dark, rich black tea is said to have originated in the Wuyi Mountains of China, as so many distinguished teas have.  The legends about how this tea originated are many.  The one I like most says that during the Qing dynasty in the early 17th century, the Wuyi area was overrun with Manchu soldiers who were terrorizing the local villagers.  The tea growers were already selling teas to the Dutch by that time.  Gathering all their belongings to flea this invasion and not knowing how long they were going to be gone, the farmers quickly dried their tea leaves over open fires in order to speed up the drying process.   Throwing the tea leaves into sacks, they were then able to bury the sacks of teas to keep the soldiers from getting them.  When the farmers returned to their village, they found that their teas were dark and had a smoky flavor . . . ruined, or so they thought.  But to their surprise, not only did they preserve the tea leaves, the Dutch buyers actually liked the flavor better.

The truth, however, is that the Dutch had been importing Lapsang Souchong or bohea tea since long before then.  By the time the East India Company began trading in tea, Lapsang Souchong, was already being drunk in Europe . . .  and happened to be Princess Catherine of Braganza’s favorite tea.  It was, in fact, this Portuguese Princess who is credited with making tea the sought-after beverage of aristocrats in England.   Catherine had grown up drinking tea in Portugal, and in 1662, when she was betrothed to British Prince Charles, along with her other possessions was a chest of tea.  Then, as Queen Consort of England, she helped promote tea into upper-class society with her much-sought-after afternoon tea parties.

Loose Leaf Lapsang Souchong

Lapsang Souchong is available everywhere, on supermarket shelves, through Amazon and from your local tea purveyor.  If you are still unsure about whether or not you might like it, do yourself a favor and invest in the best quality you can find.  There are  ways to produce Lapsang Souchong, which I really don’t want to get into, using artificial smoke flavorings and additives, but you can still find high-quality Lapsang Souchong made the traditional way . . .  in China, in wooden smoking sheds.

After plucking, the large leaves are heated and rotated every 20 minutes until they are pliable.  They are then rolled and, after panfrying, are placed into wooden barrels and covered with canvas, until they are copper in color and have a pleasant fragrance.  The next step is to spray the tea leaves with water, place them into baskets over smoking pine fires to dry and absorb the smoke flavor.  Controlling the withering, oxidation as well as the amount and timing of smoke is critical to producing a great Lapsang Souchong.  A tea which I love.

In the culinary world, the complex piney flavor of Lapsang is a great flavor enhancer.  Add it as an ingredient in marinades or in your next dry rub for meats or fish, or toss a teaspoon into a pot of stew.  The richness and depth of flavor it imparts is wonderful.  Even vegetarian recipes can benefit from a bit of Lapsang Souchong.

Here are a couple of ideas for you.  For a dry rub, mix one tablespoon salt, 3 tablespoons each of brown sugar, paprika and Lapsang Souchong with 2 teaspoons black pepper and ground cumin.  Grind them all in a mill and keep in a closed jar in the cupboard until you’re ready to use.  Or try infusing olive oil with this tea to be used in marinades or to dress vegetables or fish – 2 teaspoons crushed Lapsang into 4 oz. of olive oil, let sit for a week or two and then strain out the tea leaves.  Wonderful!

But, of course, I divert from what is the best way to experience this dark, piney, smoky-flavored tea and that is in your cup!  Steep with boiling water for approximately 3 to 4 minutes.  No milk, no sugar, just hot, comforting and wonderful!!  And should you want to experience this full-bodied brew for yourself, I can recommend the following tea purveyors:

The Larkin Tea Company
Mrs. Kelly’s Teas
The Cozy Tea Cart
Upton Teas
The Tea House

~ ~ ~ ~ ~
References:  Wikipedia, Vicony Teas, Boston Tea Party, New World Encyclopedia, Greenhalge,

CAFFEINE

This site is about ‘tea‘, as well as ‘toast‘ and ‘travel‘.  But, it seems lately I haven’t posted much about the actual beverage ‘tea‘.  Many people think this is a site about food only.  Actually, it was my love for ‘tea‘ and the closing of my tea business which prompted me to start this blog.  I think I still had much more to say on the subject but my audience was gone.  Well, I haven’t stopped talking about ‘tea‘ yet.

I do realize that I still live in that ‘tea world’, a world in which most people do not live.  So when I overhear someone saying ‘yeah, I can’t drink tea because it has too much caffeine‘, or ‘did you know tea has more caffeine than coffee?‘ I have to step away from the conversation, because it still makes me a little crazy.  I feel compelled to set the record straight once more … TEA does not have more caffeine than coffee.  In the most simplistic of terms … ” A cup of tea has HALF the caffeine as a cup of coffee.”

Not enough information for you?  Okay, then here’s my CAFFEINE 101.

Camellia Sinensis plant

Where does caffeine come from?  Well, Mother Nature is responsible for caffeine.  She came up with a natural way to protect over 60 plants from destructive leaf, nut and seed-eating predators.  When these hungry, little insects try to eat these plants they get a mouthful of this bitter organic compound.  For the most part, these plants originated from Asia, Africa and South America, which, of course, is where the trees which give us coffee, cocoa and tea originated.  At this point, I am assuming everyone knows tea (not herbal beverages like chamomile, mint, rooibos, hibiscus, etc.) comes from the camellia sinensis plant, which originated in Asia.

Caffeine Structure

Now we’ve established that caffeine is natural.  It can, however, be ‘manipulated’ and it can also be ‘harvested’.  In the beverage we love so much, there are several factors which determine tea’s caffeine content.  In today’s modern world, it begins with the propagation of the bush.  Plants grown from clones can produce twice as much caffeine as bushes from seeds.  Nitrogen fertilizer can also add another 10% to the normal caffeine level.  From there, the caffeine content in the plant can vary according to the picking season. Teas plucked in cooler weather might produce less caffeine than those plucked in the fast growing hot months. Also, things as subtle as the location of the leaf on the stem, or whether its an unfurled bud, can also affect the level of caffeine.  And let’s not forget that the longer the infusion (the longer the leaves sit in the water), the greater the caffeine content.  Did you know that tea bags, which contain broken leaves, fannings and dust, produce an infusion with far more caffeine than loose leaf tea?

Uber-smart Nigel Melican, research scientist and founder of Teacraft, Ltd., says it best Caffeine varies in the fresh green leaf depending on fineness of pluck. For any tea, be it black, green or white, the caffeine is highest in the bud. Silver needle (white tea) is 100% bud and has the highest caffeine content.  If your white tea is 100% bud then it’s going to be one-third higher in caffeine content than green tea made from two leaves and a bud.”

Learning how to properly pluck tea in China.

Please understand we’re not talking about astronomically high amounts of caffeine … perhaps a variance of 8-10% (which might be just enough to keep some people up at night).  The average tea drinker consumes about 180 mg of caffeine per day as compared to the average coffee drinker’s 330 mg per day (far more if they drink robust coffee such as Starbucks).

Upon drinking this naturally-occurring substance, it is absorbed into the small intestine and within 45 minutes is distributed throughout your body.  Yes, it is a stimulant .  And, yes, it has been shown to increase alertness and concentration, quell headaches (which is why some pharmaceutical companies ‘harvest’ caffeine) and it does speed reaction time.  It also increases digestive juices in the stomach (always served after a meal in Asia).  Although it does not dehydrate the body, it does stimulate the kidneys, which helps the body eliminate toxins.  If caffeine keeps you up at night, avoid drinking it four to five hours before bed (which is the amount of time it takes for the caffeine to work its way out of your system).

For most of us, caffeine really shouldn’t be a concern.  High amounts of caffeine, however, can absolutely have a negative affect on some people.  If you are on medication which is affected by caffeine, or if your doctor is asking you to cut caffeine out of your diet, switch to a decaffeinated tea or a caffeine-free herbal.  (Remember, caffeine is not present in herbals unless they are blended with tea leaves.)  Always consult with your doctor if you have any questions about caffeine’s effects upon your health.

There is much more to say on the subject of caffeine, but I think I’ve gone on enough for the average person.  The next time someone tells me ‘tea has more caffeine than coffee’, I hope you’ll realize that, at that moment, I will be doing everything in my power not to go on a rant … as I’ve done here!  And, for everyone who may still be confused … ” a cup of tea has HALF the caffeine as a cup of coffee.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~
References:  Cha DaoCoffee and Health, Wikipedia, Villanova University,

A Perfect Cuppa

Yes, I know, everyone knows how to make a cup of tea.  Right?  Wrong!  I am simply amazed at how many people make tea BADLY.  The water is generally not hot enough, or too hot.  If they use a teabag, it’s left in the cup or pot FOREVER!  And these are the very same people who would never think of serving a badly prepared cup of coffee.  A well made cup of tea is delicious. Please don’t offer me a tepid cup with a teabag hanging out.  If you do, of course I will accept, but don’t be offended if I don’t drink it.

HEAT THE WATER
Get a tea kettle or a saucepan, fill it with as much water as you think you will need for the pot or cup you are making. DON’T use water that’s been sitting in the kettle most of the day.  The oxygen has dissipated and now it’s flat.  Use freshly drawn water from the tap. Bottled water is not necessary.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

You don’t need any fancy appliance.  By all means, if you have an electric kettle, use it, but if not, put the kettle or a saucepan on the stove.  Please do not use a microwave.  It’s just not possible to know what the temperature of the water is when using a microwave oven.  And, if the water gets too hot, there is a chance the cup will explode. Yes, it does happen!

WATER TEMPERATURE
The temperature you heat the water to is very important.  If you use boiling water (210°) for green tea, you will stew the leaves and it will be bitter.  If you use water that’s under the boil (180°) for black tea, it will be flat and insipid.   When making black tea (English Breakfast, Earl Grey, etc.), bring the water to a rolling boil.   When making green tea (Jasmine, flavored or unflavored greens), bring the water to a soft boil and let it cool for a minute or two before pouring over the tea.  It’s not complicated.

POT OR NO POT
Yes, I use a teapot every time I make tea.  Do you have to use a teapot?  No.  But I truly believe it adds to the ceremony and enjoyment and taste.  Using a teapot doesn’t mean you need to get Grandma’s old 6-cup porcelain pot from the back of the cupboard.  Teapots come in all sizes and styles.  In the morning I use a three-cup ceramic pot, perfect for making two large mugs of tea.   Later in the day, I use my two-cup glass teapot, for an afternoon pick-me-up.

LOOSE OR TEA BAG
Do you drink instant coffee?  No.  Then why would you use a teabag, which is nothing more than instant tea?  Yes, teabag offerings have become much better recently.  This is only because the large tea companies were losing market share as consumers started buying more and more loose leaf tea.  As a result, these large tea companies had to step up their game to compete with the loose leaf tea market.  Certainly you can use a tea bag if you’d like, but given the choice use good quality loose leaf.  Don’t you deserve it?

HOW MUCH TEA TO USE
 Use one teaspoon of tea for each 8 oz. cup.  An 8 oz. measuring cup is not the same as a teacup. Teacups are usually 5 oz.  Mugs are usually 12 to 14 oz.  All the more reason to use a teapot for accurate measurements.  A three-cup teapot uses three teaspoons of tea.  What is the capacity of your teapot?  Just get a measuring cup and find out.

Green teas and white teas are lighter in weight than black teas.  You may want to use a bit more green or white teas than a teaspoon.  Black teas are heavier.  You must want to use just a bit less than a teaspoon.  Your taste will ultimately determine how much to use.

Then put the tea into an infuser or directly into your teapot.  Pour the boiling water (if it’s black tea – cooler than boiling if it’s green tea) over the tea.  Cover and let it steep.

TIMING – HOW LONG TO STEEP
This is also a critical point.  You need to steep the tea long enough for the flavor to be extracted from the leaves.  30 seconds is plenty of time for a tea bag, but certainly not enough for loose leaf tea.  For black tea, steep for 3 to 5 minutes.  For green tea and white teas, steep for 2 to 3 minutes.  Start with these times and then adapt to your own taste.  If you like your tea steeped a little more, or less, adjust the steeping time slightly.  But, please, remember you must take the tea bag or infuser out of the cup or pot at the end of the steeping time.

POUR AND ENJOY
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAgain, please remove the infuser or the teabags from the teapot or cup.  Don’t leave them in the pot or your tea will oversteep and become bitter.  Do you take milk and sugar with your tea? Feel free.  Now relax and enjoy!

To recap, all you need to make the perfect cuppa is:
.. good quality tea
.. water at the right temperature
.. steeped for the correct amount of time

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

What’s in your cup?

Victorian Tea Chest

The timeline is England, late-18th century.  Tea has found its way from the table of the aristocracy to the table of the every man.  Gone are the days when tea was served to only men in English coffeehouses.  In the homes of the aristocracy, tea now is locked away in elaborately-carved wooden tea chests; the key kept safe by the “lady of the house” should the chambermaid, the footman or the butler decide to help him or herself.  Tea now is also being enjoyed in almost every home, tea room and workplace. Maid servants are enjoying a ‘tea break’ twice a day … with an allowance taken from their wages to pay for the tea.  Apprentices in manufacturing plants are allocated a parlor where they can have a twice daily tea break.  Children in orphanages are given tea with milk and sugar.

1700 teaNot everyone, however, thinks this ‘tea drinking’ is appropriate for the lower classes.  Jonas Hanway in A JOURNAL OF EIGHT DAYS JOURNEY wrote “The use of tea descended to the Pleboean order among us, about the beginning of the century … men seem to have lost their stature, and comeliness, and women their beauty.  Your very chambermaids have lost their bloom, I suppose by sipping tea …  It is the curse of this nation ….”

He wasn’t alone.  William Cobbett wrote in COTTAGE ECONOMY, “The tea drinking has done a great deal in bringing this nation into the state of misery in which it now is.  It must be evident to every one that the practice of tea drinking must render the frame feeble, and unfit to encounter hard labor or severe weather.”

By the mid-1800’s, a professional man (doctor, lawyer) might earn £50 a year, while the average workman was only earning about 20 shillings a week.   A live-in chambermaid might earn £5 per year, while the butler of the house would earn £20 .  With Tea selling for more than £26 a pound, how was anyone ever going to afford this beverage?  One word …. “smouch“.

We might call it recycling, they called it “smouch“.   Servants in the royal and affluent households, as well as workers in coffee houses, would take the used tea leaves and sell them through the back door to unscrupulous dealers.  These “smouch” dealers would then add things like tree leaves, sheep’s dung and saw dust as fillers.  They would color the leaves with iron sulphate, verdigris and copper.  They would dry this mixture and then sell the “smouch” back to the tea merchants.  It is believed that within an eight mile area, approximately 20 tons of “smouch” was manufactured every year.  This flourishing underground market, in addition to smuggling, is what made it possible for tea to reach the commoner.

METHOD OF MAKING SMOUCH WITH ASH LEAVES TO MIX WITH BLACK TEAS”
“When gathered they are first dried in the sun then baked.  They are
next put on the floor and trod upon until the leaves are small, then
lifted and steeped in copperas, with sheep’s dung, after which, being
dried on the floor, they are fit for use.”
Taken from Richard Twining’s “Observations on the Tea
and Window Act and on the Tea Trade, 1785”.

tea cartoonThe tea that was being imported from China and enjoyed now by all classes was green tea … not black tea as so many people associate with Great Britain.   It was what we now refer to as “gunpowder” green tea.  Black tea came about because the Chinese were becoming just as unscrupulous as the “smouch” dealers.   The Chinese, knowing that people expected their green teas to have a bluish tint when steeped began adding gypsum to their tea just before firing the leaves, giving their cheaper teas the right color.

Partly due to the fact that forests were being completely decimated in order to manufacture “smouch”, and due to the fact that poisonous dyes were being used, an Act of Parliament was passed in 1725 banning the mixing of tea leaves with any other leaves. This Act went completely unnoticed, which prompted another edict from the government in 1777 banning the sale of “smouch” altogether.

Tea drinkers eventually became concerned about some of the more bizarre ingredients they were ingesting.  When you think of all the copper, lead, gypsum and iron that people were drinking, sheep’s dung doesn’t sound so bad!  The public became so concerned about these poisonous dyes, they began asking for ‘black’ tea … which is why black tea is the predominate tea enjoyed throughout Great Britain.  And with smuggling so rampant at that time “smouch” was no longer an issue.

So how about it …… would you like a little “smouch” with your tea?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~
References:  World Wide Words, Boston Tea Party, The Victorian Web, The Farm Antiques, Twinings

Not for “All the Tea in China” . . .

Who remembers this phrase?  “No way, no sir, not for all the Tea in China!”  That phrase was not to be challenged.  You meant ‘no’ and you were standing firm.

I believe the phrase began around the turn of the century.  China was the largest producer and exporter of the world’s most popular beverage and everyone knew it.  With more than 45 countries producing tea today, China still continues to produce more tea than any of the other tea-growing countries.  They have, however, dropped to No. 3 in exporting.  India, Kenya and Sri Lanka have taken over as the largest exporters of tea. These three countries alone produce the more popular CTC (crushed, torn, curled) grade of tea, which is blended and appears in your grocery stores as tea bags.  But apparently India, Kenya and Sri Lanka are producing too much black tea because now there appears to be a glut of tea in the marketplace and prices are falling.  It seems consumers (especially Millennials) are finally demanding higher-quality teas, green teas, oolongs and specialty teas.

Who is drinking all this tea?  According to Quartz, the biggest tea drinkers in the world live in Turkey!  Which is amazing to me.  I would definitely have thought it was the U.K.  Having been to Turkey, I did not notice an overwhelming tea-drinking culture.  Tea was served in restaurants, cafes, and always offered in upscale retail shops and tourist areas, but statistics don’t lie.  They report that each person in Turkey drinks, on average, 6.96 pounds of tea each year, whereas a U.K. tea drinker enjoys 4.83 pounds each year.  Could it be that in Turkey they use twice as much “tea” to make a cup?

So how much tea does the average American drink?  In 2014 AmFotolia cover man drinking teaericans enjoyed over 80 BILLION cups of tea!   But this research is also flawed, because Americans drink more ready-to-drink bottled tea than any other country, not to mention powdered tea-drink mixes. According to the Tea Market Report by the American Botanical Council tea-drinking Americans still prefer black tea –  84% drink black tea – while only 15% drink green and the remainder drink oolong, white, etc.

It’s almost impossible today to watch television and not see an advertisement for one bottled tea or another.  Lipton may be the leader in most ad dollars spent, but six years ago Snapple introduced an ad that had everyone talking about tea.  See if you remember this ……

The ready-to-drink, bottled tea market is huge today and negatively impacting the soft drink market.  Sales of carbonated soda beverages have dropped steadily for the past nine years as consumers are choosing healthier alternatives in a ready-to-drink beverage.  Chai concentrates are another way of enjoying convenient, prepared tea and are very popular.  Another fast growing segment of today’s tea drinking society is actually not tea at all, but herbal beverages.   (Yes, I know, everyone still calls it “tea”.)  The herbal ready-to-drink market is also growing rapidly, with the most popular herbs being chamomile, ginger, echinacea, mint, dandelion and valerian root.

Matcha-flavored KitKat Bars

Matcha-flavored KitKat Bars

But it’s not all about tea drinking.  When was the last time you went into CVS or Target and noticed all the ‘tea-related’ products.  Not only can you buy green tea concentrates and capsules to supplement your diet and help you lose weight, you can choose from a variety of green tea shampoos and conditioners.  Green teas and white teas are incorporated into soaps and body washes, face and body creams.  Have you tried green tea ice cream?  It has been around for years and is delicious!  How about Earl Grey-infused truffles?  Matcha-infused KitKat bars?  Not to mention Tea-smoked duck and Lapsang Souchong bbq sauce?

Green Tea Mint Julep

Green Tea Mint Julep

Mixologists in all the upscale hotels and restaurants are using tea concentrates in their cocktails.  Tea-tini anyone?  According to the Sterling Rice Group, a Boulder, Colorado-based communications firm, TEA is one of the top food trends this year.  Chefs everywhere are incorporating TEA into their recipes.  If you haven’t already, you’ll soon be seeing tea on menus in everything from appetizers to entrees.

There are cookbooks now dedicated to using “tea” as an integral part of the recipe.   CULINARY TEA by local chef Cynthia Gold is fabulous with over 150 recipes using “tea”.  TEA COOKBOOK by Tonia George is another great cookbook using whole leaf tea in its recipes.  Whether sweet or savory, tea is a versatile ingredient that can be used in many recipes …… and we haven’t even talked about how good it is for you!

So jump on the “tea trend” and enjoy your tea.  It’s not just about “All the Tea in China” anymore.  It’s tea anyway you can get it!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~


Top 10 Tea Producing Countries

and the amount of tea they produce*

1. China = 1,000,130 tons  –  2. India  = 900,000 tons  –  3. Kenya = 303,000 tons
4. Sri Lanka = 295,000 tons  –  5. Turkey = 175,000 tons – 6. Indonesia = 157,000 tons
7. Vietnam  = 117,000 tons  –  8. Japan = 89,000 tons  –  9. Argentina = 69,000 tons
10. Iran = 84,000 tons

* These figures are lower than the overall high production of 2013.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
References:  World Tea News, Tea Market Report, Quartz, TEA USA