According to my extensive research (aka looking it up on Wikipedia just now), Lapsang Souchong (or “smoked tea”) is made from coarser, less desirable lower leaves on the tea plant, away from the highly prized bud. The smoking process that gives it its distinctive flavor is intended to make an otherwise low-grade product marketable; in China, where subtlety and complexity are valued in tea, it’s considered swill for Westerners who don’t know any better.
Personally, I love Lapsang Souchong’s smokiness, imparted by the process of drying the tea leaves over burning pine boughs. It has a peaty, tarry character, reminiscent of a certain kind of Scotch. It smells like a campfire. It’s a wonderful afternoon pick-me-up.
I’ve been a tea drinker from a tender age, and I enjoy its many variations. But, while I appreciate a roasty Genmaicha, a delicate Milk Oolong, or a rounded vanilla-y Rooibos, “tea,” to me, is black tea. English or Irish Breakfast, Earl Grey, and of course, Lapsang Souchong. The stronger the better. One sugar, whole milk. Sometimes honey and half and half. Lately I’ve been using a spiced simple syrup.
Growing up in England, I learned to take tea seriously. Tea provides a comforting sense of order and structure. In the morning, it helps ease the transition from sleep to the demands of waking life. At elevenses, it’s a welcome respite from day’s busyness. In the afternoon, it fortifies you till dinner (or, as it’s called in the UK, “tea.”).
Iced tea is an abomination. I like to drink scalding tea on a hot day. There is some science behind this – something about sweating – but I like it for its aura of homey homeopathy.
As I go about my day, bolstered by a modest caffeine buzz, I’m going to think about food I can make with Lapsang Souchong (smoked tea ice cream, for one thing!).