Who says that LA isn’t a tea-drinking town?  (Probably the same people who call LA a non-literary town.)  But judging by the crowds who thronged the Japanese American National Museum a few weekends ago for the first (and hopefully annual) LA International Tea Festival, tea has arrived in a big way in LaLa land, with the proceeds from the festival going to support the museum that has long served as a cultural ambassador linking the Japanese community to the rest of the polyglot city.  Focused tastings, guest lecturers (Devan Shah, who spearheaded the event, James Norwood Pratt, and yours truly, among others), tea equipage, and much more were offered over the two-day celebration of the leaf.  What a nice feeling it was to experience the thirst for tea knowledge from a diverse group of attendees, some who migrated over from the Nisei Week festivities on the plaza adjacent to the museum.

Exposing a large crowd to the pleasures of tea beyond the china cup, I was embraced by an attentive audience as I prepared a tea-based frappé (using frozen cubes of mango with cold-brewed oolong tea whirled in a high-powered blender), a kind of instant sorbet.  Knowing that tea and chocolate create such a perfect synergy, I demo’ed a lapsang souchong tea-infused dark chocolate truffle (see recipe below).  At my booth, attendees had a chance not only to try the truffle, but also to compare it with a matcha-based white chocolate truffle.  (Those white chocolate skeptics and matcha-resistant tea drinkers changed their minds after a taste.)  Taking advantage of the seasonal splendor of stone fruit, I offered tastes of a tea-poached plum compote topped with crispy spiced streusel, which attendees enjoyed while sipping tea samples from other booths surrounding me.  A fun sense of adventure and open-mindedness prevailed, with the festival netting many new friends and fans for tea in all of its myriad forms.

Continuing the tea-tasting experience, for those who couldn’t make it to LA for the festival, here is the recipe for the Lapsang Souchong Truffles.  I hope this spurs you to spread the joy of tea in your community.  Keep posted for notices of the next LA International Tea Festival.  Thanks to the enthusiastic response this year, my bet is that this celebration of all things tea will become at least an annual event. 

Dark Chocolate Lapsang Souchong Truffles with Sesame and Ginger

24 ounces dark chocolate, in chunks (Guittard’s 64% Lever de Soleil is what I like to use here)
12 ounces (1½ cups) heavy cream
1 ounce (approx. 30 grams) Lapsang Souchong Chinese black tea leaves
Milk, as needed, to replace the cream that has been absorbed by the tea leaves
4 ounces (scant 1/3 cup) corn syrup
4 ounces (¼ cup) unsalted butter
1 teaspoon roasted sesame oil
To coat tops of truffles:  Approximately 2 ounces (approximately ½ cup) of sesame seeds, toasted in a preheated 350 degree F. oven until fragrant and light golden brown
Optional garnish:  8 ounces candied (crystallized) ginger, cut into ¼ inch cubes Place the chocolate into a heatproof stainless steel bowl.

Prepare a rectangular mold or pan measuring approximately 6 inches by 8 inches by ¾-inch deep by lining the bottom with an acetate sheet.  Set aside.

In a heavy saucepan, bring the cream and tea leaves to the boil.  Remove from the heat and allow to stand for about 5 minutes, or until the tea flavors comes through clearly in the cream.

Pour the mixture through a fine meshed sieve, pressing hard on the tea, to force as much of the liquid as possible through the sieve.  Discard the tea leaves and reserve the cream.  Re-measure the cream and add enough milk to replace what has been absorbed by the tea leaves.  You should have 24 ounces of liquid again before proceeding.  Reheat the liquid to simmering.  Add the corn syrup, butter, and sesame oil, and once again, bring the liquid to the boil.  Remove from the heat and pour the hot liquid over the chocolate in the bowl.  Stir until the chocolate fully melts and the mixture is smooth.  If you find that pieces of unmelted chocolate remain, place the heatproof bowl over a pot of simmering water and stir until completely smooth.  Pour into the prepared mold and refrigerate the mixture until firm, about 2 to 3 hours.

When ready to cut the truffles, remove the mold from the refrigerator.  Invert onto a clean work surface and peel off the acetate sheet.

Remove from the pan and using a heavy chef’s knife, cut into desired shapes and sizes, dipping the knife into hot water and then wiping it clean and dry as needed throughout the cutting process.

Dip the cut truffles into the sesame seeds to coat lightly and then top each truffle with a cube of candied ginger.

Keep chilled until 15 minutes before serving.