At the back of the hill

Warning: If you stay here long enough you will gain weight! Grazing here strongly suggests that you are either omnivorous, or a glutton. And you might like cheese-doodles.
BTW: I'm presently searching for another person who likes cheese-doodles.
Please form a caseophilic line to the right. Thank you.

Friday, March 08, 2013


Winston Churchill was fond of it; it reminded him of his mis-spent youth.
The substance is Lapsang souchong tea (拉山小種 or 拉普山小種), a smoke-cured beverage that originated in the mountains of Fujian province in China, which many white men like, and most Chinese people rather dismiss.
Caucasians and Chinese have had differing tea preferences ever since the Western world discovered the fragrant leaf.

Part of that divergence in taste has to do with trade lines and supplies.
Tea loses much of its flavour over time, and during the age of sail the conditions to which the leaf was subjected in transit did nothing to alleviate that situation, but rather made it worse. Naturally people who lived farthest from tea-growing areas tended towards the more heavily fermented and processed product, and equally naturally, jazzing-up the drink creatively became customary. Hence the Tibetans adding rancid yak butter, onions, and salt, while the English treated it as a pleasant variation on the sweetened hot-milk beverages with which they were familiar. Americans, as is well known, had been long so unfamiliar with tea that they invented all manner of herbal muck as substitutes, and in any case preferred coffee or methamphetamines (so-called 'diet pills') for stimulation.

Many of the teas regarded highly in the English-speaking world are scarcely known in the Chinese environment, though they are grown there: Keemun (祁門茶), Lapsang-Souchong (拉山茶), and Golden Tippy Yunnan (滇紅茶), to name but three.
Flavoured teas are universally regarded as depraved, or leastways dubious.
Lichee black tea (荔枝紅茶) is strictly for white-folks, and few Chinese will even touch the stuff. There are other aromatized teas, but they are similarly regarded. Jasmine tea is the exception.

[Keemun: 祁門紅茶 (kei-mun hong chaa) from Anhui (安徽 on-woei) in eastern China, much preferred for expensive English blends. Golden tippy Yunnan: 金芽滇紅 (kam ngaa din hong) and 滇紅茶 (din hong chaa) is a black tea developed during the latter half of the twentieth century, primarily for export. Lichee tea: 荔枝紅茶 (lei-ji hong chaa) is black tea with lichee fragments added, hence a curiosity for export, fine for ice-tea.
Jasmine tea: 茉莉花茶 (mut-lei faa cha), also called 香片 (heung pin: fragrant slivers) comes traditionally from Fujian province (福建省 fuk-gin saang), and is very popular among southern Chinese. Its taste is tangy and slightly astringent.]

Jasmine tea utilizes green or slightly fermented leaves placed in the vicinity of fresh jasmine flowers for four or five hours, which will permeate the tea with the fragrance of the little white blossoms. This may be done several times, the tea being re-dried after each iteration. The finest quality Jasmine tea will often have very little if any inclusion of dried jasmine, relying instead on the process to imbue the desired flavour. Lesser qualities may have a higher proportion of white petals if only to show that jasmine was indeed used. It is commonly a component of the typical Chinese restaurant blend (a mixture of Jasmine tea, lower grade Oolong or Shui Hsien, and a touch of Pu-Erh for digestive benefit). Like Oolong, the higher grades fetch enormous prices.

[Oolong: 烏龍 (wu-lung: dark dragon), a semi-fermented Fujianese tea also produced in a number of other areas, of which there is a great variety of types and qualities, some of which are quite expensive. Shop around and find one that particularly appeals to you, then acquire a small purple sand teapot (宜興茶壺 yi-heng chaa-wu, or 紫砂茶壺 ji-saa chaa-wu), and indulge. Brewed strong (gungfu style: 功夫茶式 gung fu chaa sik; also called 'old folks tea': 老人茶 lou yan chaa), it can be a wonderful exploration.
Shui Hsien (水仙茶 seui-sin chaa: water fairy tea; the daffodil is called water fairy, btw) is a medium-ferment from Fujian province that has a nectar-like fragrance at the higher grades, a toasty smell at the lower end. Pu-Erh: 普洱茶 (pou nei chaa), a fermented and oxidized pressed tea from Yunnan province (雲南 wan-naam) reputed to be healthful and good for the digestion. You will most often encounter it at dim sum restaurants.]

Lapsang souchong is not thus. By Chinese standards, it is too heavy, and anything worth drinking should NOT be cured over smoke. That may also explain why the Chinese usually prefer Cognac over Scotch, inter alia.


In Chinese stores, Lapsang souchong is more commonly called 正山小种 (jeng-saan siu-jong), rather than the geographically more exact 拉普山小種 (laahp pou saan siu-jong). The term 'souchong' (小种 siu-jong: lesser planting, minor cultivation, sub-variety) applies to the lower leaves, and almost always means a coarser and less delicate product, without the fragrance and sweetness of the buds.

[Buds: one tip and one or two small leaflets, plucked before the heat of mid-day; pekoe (白毫 white fuzz, pronounced 'pek-ho' in Fujian dialect, 'baak hou' in 'Cantonese', so named in reference to the slight remnant of downy filaments still adhering after harvest).]

What distinguishes Lapsang souchong from all other teas is that the leaves are speed-dried over smouldering pine wood fires, thus contributing terpeneols specific to coniferous plants. The result is a remarkable beverage, the taste and smell of which have been likened to both dried fruits as well as, remarkably, barbecued meat and Latakia tobacco.
It is frequently included in Russian Caravan blends, along with Keemun (see mention above), with, in the versions found in many franchise coffee shops, a minor addition of something lighter in the Oolong or Shui Hsien category.
By itself, Lapsang souchong may be described as wine-like, semi-robust, slightly resinous, sweet, perfumy, and smoky.
It goes well with cured salmon.
Or kippers for breakfast.
Altogether lovely.

Some pipe and cigar smokers regard it as the perfect beverage to accompany their indulgence, as it pairs harmoniously with both the fruitiness of the fully fermented tobaccos in flakes or cheroots, as well as the tarry quality of their favourite stinky leaf -- Latakia.
This blogger is not thus. I like Lapsang souchong, but not nearly as much as my apartment mate, a nonsmoker who despaired of ever finding that one brand of favoured Russian Caravan which disappeared from the shelves, and since has developed a remarkable fondness for the straight leaf unblended.
What I prefer while I'm engaged in a pipe is Oolong (gently soothing), jasmine (mouth-cleansing), or even plain red (black) tea. Often I will simply pour some boiling water over a bag of Lipton (立頓紅茶 laahp-deun hong chaa). Four or five of those during the day make life so much brighter, and the mind inestimably clearer.

I often describe my mental state as whacked to the gills.
That's only a slight exaggeration.

I start the day with one or two cups of strong coffee. After coming out of the bath, I have an infusion of hairy crab king (毛蟹王茶 mou-haai wong cha, a greenish Oolong-type much liked in Japan).
All of this gets me up to speed. Everything else is maintenance.
But I might end the day with a bowl of lapsang souchong.
My pots and my favourite goiwun are well-stained.

[Goiwun: (蓋碗 cover + bowl), a handleless cup for brewing, with a lid and a deep saucer. One can drink directly from it, canting the lid slightly, or while with the forefinger holding the lid firm and keeping the leaves within, tip it over another bowl or several small cups to pour. It is also called a chaa-jung (茶盅).]

The number of pipes smoked in a day does not correlate to the quantity of tea that will be swilled. These two habits are independent of each other, their happy overlap merely fortuitous.
Obviously I recommend acquiring both for a well-balanced life.
But your relatives may disagree.
Oh well.


NOTE: Readers may contact me directly:
All correspondence will be kept in confidence.



  • At 4:43 PM, Anonymous Arno said…

    Het klinkt misschien raar, maar een scheutje (liefst geturfde) whisky in de Lapsang souchong kan erg lekker zijn. Zeker in combi met een pijp gevuld met Penzance.

  • At 5:12 PM, Blogger The back of the hill said…

    Raar, nee. Heel logisch zelfs. Een versterker van de smaak.


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