Keemun Panda China Black Tea (Photo source: The English Tea Store)

Keemun Panda China Black Tea (Photo source: The English Tea Store)

I don’t have a problem with smoke flavoring in foods. It seems like a sensible idea, although given that I don’t eat meat anymore I’m probably not able to take full advantage of it. When it comes to tea, however, it’s a different story.

I’ve been drinking tea for more than seven years now, and in the early days I approached almost everything with an open mind. As time passed it became increasingly apparent that I didn’t like any smoky tea – at all. For a while I kept trying them – and not liking them – and there came a point when I finally threw in the towel.

When it comes to smoky teas you can find off the wall stuff like a smoky variety of Earl Grey, but there are really only three varieties I can think of that are worth mentioning and some of these might not even fit the bill in all cases.

There is, of course, Lapsang Souchong, the granddaddy of them all. “Real” Lapsang Souchong is a Chinese black tea that hails from the Wuyi mountain region of China’s Fujian province. The real deal is made by smoking the leaves over pine wood fires, though I’d be willing to bet that the cheap stuff you buy in the grocery store is not made that way.

Keemun is another Chinese black tea that’s not necessarily known for its smoky flavor, but most of the ones I’ve tried have at least some degree of this flavor component, though it can be quite subtle. Whether or not gunpowder tea is actually a smoky tea may be matter for debate, but for my money the varieties of this Chinese green tea that I’ve sampled always have seemed to have at least a hint of it.

It’s a pretty good bet that I’m never going to like Lapsang Souchong, though I’m still willing to give it a shot, just in case there’s an exceptional one out there that might make a convert of me. Ditto for Gunpowder, which lacks any of the subtlety or smooth flavors which make green tea such a desirable commodity for me.

Which leaves Keemun, a tea that I’ve become moderately fond of lately. The amount of smoke in this tea can vary from very faint to fairly intense, though I have yet to run across any that even begin to hold a candle to Lapsang Souchong. Surprisingly though, I’ve found that just a hint of smokiness in a tea that’s otherwise got that full and robust black tea flavor that I’m so fond of is not necessarily a bad thing. Who would have guessed?

See more of William I. Lengeman’s articles here.

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