I burn some olive pit charcoal to compliment my new Dan Congs arrived today. Flash light was used when taking the top picture. These charcoals are still black in whole, and a few with small area of white ashes. Not a trace of smoke is coming out of these charcoals, however smell of the charcoal are apparent and pleasant. The second picture shows the actual flame, still no smoke. It's been burning for less than 5 minutes in these pictures.
There are speculations of smoke from burning charcoals. Wood burning smoke are common food preps to enhance flavor of meat, dairy products in both the west and east. It's also used to add flavors to tea, ie Lapsang Souchong. In some instances, it can be accidental, ie Russian Caravan. Traditionally, all tea were heat dried by wood/charcoal fire before electricity was born, or sun/air dried. Wood fired teas could very well absorb flavor of the wood and smoke from wood. However charcoal on the other hand is much less smoky than wood. Traditional Anxi charcoal roasted TGY does not have a signature smoky flavor, neither does Taiwan Tan Pei Cha (charcoal roasted tea). Smoke comes from burning off moisture, oil, jelly and other chemicals between wood fiber.
Modern day bamboo charcoal making is not just putting a log of bamboo on fire and letting it turn black. Logs of bamboo are placed in large kiln like ovens, then heat up to 800°C, while carbonizing fibers, chemicals are extracted into bamboo vinegar. The finishing products are carbons with very little chemical residues. Hence very little to no smoke when burning. If charcoals were not stored properly, ie moisture got in the charcoal for a period of time, bacteria and other organic live forms develop over these charcoal. When burning such charcoal will release smoke and funky taste.
Olive pit charcoal are made with similar high heat "baking" method.
Like tea, fresh carbonized charcoal is the key to smokeless and odorless charcoal burning, hence does not smoke our teas.