Not to be confused with smoking tea leaves – apparently, it’s a thing – what we’re talking about here are tea leaves that have been infused with smoke.
History of Smoked Tea
I’ve heard a couple of theories as to how smoked tea came to be.
The first says that it happened as the tea leaves were being carried by horseback from China to Russia. As the people and horses stopped for the night and built a campfire, the teas gradually became infused with the smoke so that once they arrived in Russia they had a smoky flavor.
The second says that during the Qing era in China the annual drying of the tea leaves was delayed by the passage of armies through the Wuyi Mountains. In order to process the tea quicker, the drying process was sped up by drying the leaves over a fire made of pine.
Either way, smoked tea seems to be one of those happy accidents.
Varieties of Smoked Tea
The most famous of the smoked teas is Lapsang Souchong. It’s a black tea made from the larger, coarser tea leaves that are on the lower part of the branch. These leaves naturally have less flavor, so drying them over smoke gives them a much-needed boost. I find the smoked aroma to be stronger than the actual smoky taste.
You can also find tea with a smoky flavor in the blend Russian Caravan (see theory #1 above). This is a blend of Lapsang Souchong, other black tea, and oolong tea. The smoky flavor is less than in straight smoked tea.
If you like the idea of tea with a smoky flavor, but those are both too bold on the smoke, you can try teas that naturally have a hint of smoky toastiness to them like Keemun and Dark Rose. If you love a good smoky scotch, you’ll probably love a good smoky tea as well.
You have to try a smoked tea at least once. If it’s not for you, fine. But you might find you’re pleasantly surprised by it.