17 September, 2008

Lapsang Souchong

Autumn's just about here. The nights are getting cooler and longer, and until I fire up the pellet stove for the season, the house gets a little chilly at night. Chilly enough for a good cup of tea, y'know?

So I brew a big mug of Lapsang Souchong. It's a unique variety of black tea: the leaves are dried over pine fires, which impart an unusual smoky taste to the tea. It's not a "culinary" smoke flavor, like hickory-smoked bacon or applewood-smoked pork. No...it's a"true" smoke. A "wild" smoke. The smoke of a lightning-kindled brush fire, or a latenight campfire.

When I was a kid and October came around, the whole family would work outside on cold clear Sunday afternoons, raking and piling leaves. The days were sunny and the skies were cloudless and bright blue, and we could see our breath as the wide bamboo rakes pulled oak leaves across the yard to the burn pile out by the toolshed. Late in the afternoon, we'd light the leaves and burn the piles down to ash. The fire was warm on our faces and the smoke stung our eyes when the wind shifted. We'd watch the fire and smell the smoke and we were tired from raking leaves and piling branches all day, but we knew there was beef stew with dumplings waiting in the kitchen and besides, the smoke smelled great.

October skies and leaf fires. That was where my very first mug of Lapsang Souchong took me. The aroma and taste of the tea is almost a perfect simulation of that long-ago autumn air.

And that's not the only memory that Lapsang nudges awake. Some of the best times of my life have been wrapped in fire and smoke. Clambakes on the beach cooked over driftwood fires. Half-drunken marathon Monopoly games in front of the fireplace at my best friend's house back in the '70s. Poking at a bright campfire while my three-year-old daughter sings herself to sleep in the tent behind me. Thawing out beside the fire, winter camping during hunting season in Vermont.

Yeah. That's one damn amazing cup of tea.


Anonymous said...

Hello Dave!
I loove Lapsang Souchong. It is just so...strange.

Cajun Chef Ryan said...

Yes sir Dave! I went and got the Tipsy Gourment, a local foodie shop here in Wake Forest, NC to special order me some and I have had about 3 or 4 cups already. I love that stuff! My next trial is to find a way to cook with the smokey tea somehow! I know there is something out there awaiting some of that brewed tea in a culinary preparation.

Your fond memories of leaf burning fires and clear crisp blue sky days are so nice. It really took me back to another world of times past!

Culinarily yours,

Cajun Chef Ryan

sj said...

I've had this and agree it is wonderful stuff... but just as good are your memories here... thank you for sharing!

Sarah said...

The first time I drank Lapsang Souchong, I was totally unprepared for the smoky flavor. Until that time, "tea" meant a cup of Constant Comment peppermint. I was studying in London when a classmate cheekily offered me--the naive American--"a cuppa."

"Shock" is what I associate with my first sip of Lapsang Souchong. Now that I am a bit older and (hopefully) more sophisticated, I can savor the flavor. It still makes me smile, though, remembering how I sputtered over that first cup!

Anonymous said...

Mmmm...tea! OK, question for you. I've had cups of lapsang souchong that I've absolutely adored, and cups that have made me want to run away screaming. So...what brand would you recommend trying? I would love to get some again this autumn, but I feel like there's a giant range in the teas available out there.

a.k.a. The Hungry Mouse

Dave said...

Jessie: Look for Twinings brand, it will be in a deep brick-red box. You'll find the flavor noticeable and pervasive but not overpowering.

Anonymous said...

I also wrote a bit about Lapsang Souchong on my blog - I got totally hooked the first time I tried it! :)
It´s an amazing thing!


/ john