Red teas, in Western countries called Black teas, are all about artfully achieving a high level of oxidation in the leaves. Generally, the leaves are withered, then repeatedly rolled by hand or machine until the leaves are tightly twisted and all the water has been released. The leaves are consequently placed in a humid and warm environment to promote oxidation in a process known as wet-reddening (ASL wò hóng). The leaves are then sun or oven-dried. Red tea is generally rich, heavy and fragrant. Even though red tea was first documented in the Fujian mountain regions during the Ming dynasty (1368-1644 CE), it was never very popular among Chinese tea drinkers. It gained massive popularity in Britain after the tea-loving Portuguese Princess Catherine of Braganza (who later became Queen of England) introduced it to her people in 1662. In the 1800s, Britain managed to roughly replicate the Chinese red tea-making process on the tea plantations of its colonies, including India and Sri Lanka.

Xiao Chi Gan 小赤甘 (Lapsang Souchong)

Xiao Chi Gan 小赤甘 (Lapsang Souchong)

When you ask about Lapsang Souchong at a Chinese tea market, the sellers will most likely show you a black tea that is not smoked, different from the orthodox Lapsang Souchong tea, which smells strongly of pinewood smoke. We are talking about Xiao Chi Gan 小赤甘 tea.