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Black Tea Origins

Updated: Aug 23, 2023

To many people, black tea is the most familiar of the six types of tea. But it’s origin, like many teas, was the result of an accident.

The Wuyi Mountains, in Fujian

According to legend, a family of tea farmers in the Wuyi Mountains of Fujian, China, had laid their harvested tea leaves out to try - an important first step in tea processing. The next step would be heating the leaves to stop oxidation and preserve the green color, as is typically done when making green tea. But before they could get to that, they heard about an army passing through the region and went into hiding. By the time the army was gone, the tea leaves had oxidized, turning dark brown and orange. The farmers were distraught, thinking their crop was ruined. They tried to cover the oxidized leaves by smoking them over pine wood. They couldn’t find anyone who would buy the tea, until they happened on some European traders who were eager to learn what tea was all about. The farmers happily sold them the ‘ruined’ tea.

As it turned out, the smokey, rich flavor of the tea was a hit with Europeans, and tea farmers all over China began producing oxidized tea to meet the foreign tastes. Over time, black tea became popular in China as well.

The original smoked tea is known as Lapsang Souchong (or Zhengshan Xiaozhong in Mandarin). It is still popular in Europe and Russia. But as with many teas, experimentation and evolution of tastes continues. Now it’s becoming popular to drink un-smoked Lapsang Souchong. Without the smoke, the tea has a very sweet fruity character, almost like nectar or honey. That’s what we picked up on when we named our Summer black tea - Hummingbird, an un-smoked Lapsang Souchong. (We also have a smoked version in the shop, if you want to compare!)


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