Notes from the Field: Tea Adventures Zhengshan Xiao Zhong

At Tong Mu Village, where the original Zhengshan Xiao Zhong was made and later became known as the Lapsang Souchong in the West. As foreigners are not allowed to go into this region, we had to get a permit, and Mr. Zhang, the villager who makes the tea, had to run around 11 times to get the government officials to agree. You see, from sheer effort alone, we know there are zero real Zhengshan Xiaozhong out there. So let’s let those teas continue to be called Lapsang Souchong- what the villagers don’t know, won’t hurt them right? They don’t know that people send smoke into low quality black tea to create that pine smoke flavor, or how possibly carcinogenic that is. They don’t know that although they make some 300-500 lbs a year for the entire village, worldwide there are literally a ton of Lapsang circulating the globe. Why did your ancestors smoke the tea in the first place, we asked? Mr. Zhang replied that originally they discovered oxidation because some bandits invaded and they left their green tea covered as they fled. When they came back a couple days later, the tea leaves oxidized on their own. That’s how red/black tea was born. As for using pine wood to dry the leaves, that was because the tea preserved better with this wood vs another, that was all. I tend to believe these ordinary, accidental type stories. Tasting Mr Zhang’s various traditional Zhengshan, especially one with a distinct mandarin orange palette, the smokiness is subtle and a background to round out the smooth ripe fruitiness. The leaves were wild foraged in the mountain above the village, and the water was super mineral rich. It was a good tea day.

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