Lapsang Souchong Black Tea – Caffeine Content, Smokiness, & Reviews

Enjoy a cup of whole leaf lapsang souchong tea, a rich smoky flavored tea.

Enjoy a cup of whole leaf lapsang souchong tea, a rich smoky flavored tea.

Lapsang souchong, widely known as a “smoky tea” or “smoked tea”, is a Chinese black tea, originating in the Wuyi mountains, which is dried over pine smoke. The pine smoke imparts a unique smoky quality to the aroma of the tea, which, in its smokier incarnations, is described as having an aroma similar to campfire smoke. The traditional lapsang souchongs, however, are considerably more subtle in their smoky aromas, and more closely resemble other high-quality Chinese black teas, such as Keemun.

This article explores several topics related to Lapsang souchong, including the levels of caffeine, and varying levels of smokiness. The article concludes with a brief summary of some of my personal reviews.

Caffeine content:

“Souchong”, written in modern Chinese as “Xiaozhong”, is a grade of tea used to describe a wide variety of black teas. Souchongs, denoted in the standard grading system by an (S), are actually somewhat of a low grade, consisting of larger, tougher, more mature leaves from the tea plant than the standard orange pekoe (OP) grade. The tips and smaller, younger leaves of the tea plant are higher in caffeine than the larger, more mature leaves, so souchongs, including lapsang souchong, are considerably lower in caffeine than other standard grades of black tea (and lower than a number of green and white teas as well).

Smokiness: traditional (subtly smoky) vs. intensely smoky:

Lapsang Souchong Tea Leaves

Lapsang Souchong Tea Leaves

Although there is a broad range of qualities in Lapsang souchong teas, these teas can be roughly divided into two types: the more intensely smoky style, most well-known in the west, especially in British tea culture, and the traditional style, which have a subtly smoke aroma, and are more similar in overall character to other Chinese black teas, like a high-grade Keemun.

Because a lot of people object to the intense smoky quality of the British style of Lapsang Souchong, and because these teas tend to be low in both caffeine and bitterness, these teas are often blended with other, stronger teas, creating a blend which has both a more moderated smoky quality, and more of a kick.

My reviews:

I personally am a huge fan of the traditional style of Lapsang souchong. I would recommend one that I sampled from the small tea company, Life in Teacup, recently. This tea had chocolatey nuances and a pleasing roasted quality. For a more strongly smoky variety, in tea bags, I would recommend looking at Twinings, which is widely available, and for loose-leaf, Upton Tea Imports, which sells an organic version of this tea (ZS85). These teas were both good, even though they were in the more intense style that I do not prefer.

If you want to learn more about these teas, my recommendation is to try them for yourself. If you have not yet tried the traditional style, and are intimidated by the overwhelming smokiness of some Lapsang souchong, I recommend getting your hands on some of the traditional stuff from a company specializing in Chinese teas.


Alex Zorach is the founder and editor-in-chief of RateTea, an online community where anyone can rate and review teas, and an authoritative source for information about tea. RateTea has a searchable database of teas, classified by brand, style, and region, and articles on tea, health, sustainability, and related topics. Find and share Lapsang souchong tea reviews on RateTea.

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